It’s hard when a popular celebrity passes away; we almost feel as though we’ve lost a close friend or family member. Such was the case this week we we said goodbye to one of the most beloved television icons of the 20th century. Jim Nabors, aged 87, died on November 30, 2017 and leaves behind heartbroken fans across the world. He was best known for his hilarious portrayal of the hapless rube, “Gomer Pyle,” on both the “Andy Griffith Show” and “Gomer Pyle, U.S.M.C.”
Yes, there’s hardly a person alive who hasn’t heard of Gomer Pyle, but did you know that Jim Nabors was also an accomplished vocalist? He had one of the most beautiful baritone voices in the entertainment world - one that seemed to contradict the popular persona he so perfectly portrayed: the bumbling country bumpkin with a heart of gold!
What’s that you say? You didn’t know about the “beautiful baritone voice” part? Not many people did. I’ll bet you even thought that episode of “Gomer Pyle” when he sang “The Impossible Dream” was dubbed by someone else! Nope! That was actually Jim’s natural singing voice; the high-pitched, “Gomer” southern twang was a fabrication, created especially for his iconic role on “The Andy Griffith Show.”
Jim Nabors was born in 1930 in Alabama, residing there during the first couple of decades of his life. He eventually graduated from the University of Alabama and went on to ordinary employment for the next few years. Because his asthma was so bad, he needed to move to a drier climate; that's how he ended up in the showbiz capital of the world - Los Angeles, California.
His first few jobs in the “entertainment business” were less-than-glamorous; he began his career as a film cutter at NBC. He went on to fill minor roles on stage and in nightclubs, but his big break came when Bill Dana discovered him and found something endearing about Jim's unique combination of classical singing and an 'aww, shucks' persona. With Bill's help, Jim auditioned for "The Steve Allen Show" where he appeared several times. It was on this program that Andy Griffith spotted him and thought he would be perfect for the role of Gomer Pyle.
Nabors' role on “The Andy Griffith Show" was meant to be a one-time thing, but fan-response to his portrayal of the bumbling-yet-lovable hayseed changed those plans! Scripts were adjusted and Gomer Pyle became a regular character; he went on to appear in two dozen more episodes before winning his own show, a spin-off called, "Gomer Pyle, U.S.M.C."
This wildly-popular sit-com introduced us to such memorable characters as Duke, Bunny, Lou-Ann Poovie, and of course the inimitable Sergeant Carter. The program aired for five years and, even today, enjoys a healthy after-life in the form of reruns shown on many subscription networks.
After his show ended in 1969, Jim appeared on popular television shows such as "Sonny & Cher," "The Tonight Show," and "The Carol Burnett Show." Recognizing his distinct talent for the variety show genre, CBS gave Jim his own series, “The Jim Nabors Hour” where fans got to visit with their old friends from the “Gomer Pyle” show - Frank Sutton (Sergeant Carter) and Ronnie Schell (Duke) - who were regular guest stars. This program lasted only two years, but Nabors returned to the variety format a decade later with Emmy-nominated “The Jim Nabors Show.”
Free of the grind of a weekly series, Jim was able to spend more time focusing on his singing, and the world got to hear more of his gorgeously rich baritone voice. Over the course of his singing career, Nabors recorded several commercially-successful albums, including “The Lord’s Prayer” which earned him a gold record. In all, he earned five gold records and one platinum record.
Poor health forced him to undergo a liver transplant in 1994. He recovered but his life would never be the same. He made occasional professional appearances over the next couple of decades but spent most of his time relaxing and living a quieter lifestyle at his beautiful home in Hawaii.
By all accounts these were happy years for Jim; he enjoyed relatively-good health up until the last few years when his health took a downward turn. Jim Nabors died peacefully in his sleep on November 30th. We extend our condolences to Jim’s family and friends as they mourn his loss. We will miss having this beloved man in the world.
As a tribute to this unlikely star’s achievement of the “impossible dream” of international fame, please enjoy his rendition of the classic of the same name. Just click on the video, below, to see Jim Nabors doing double duty - beloved Gomer Pyle giving a priceless performance in his lesser-known role of accomplished vocalist: