(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF YAHOO NEWS)
Jim Nabors, who gave popular culture its most enduring image of a wide-eyed, good-natured if none too bright hayseed in a character whose very name – Gomer Pyle – would become synonymous with lovable rube, died Thursday in Hawaii. He was 87.
The news was first reported by Hawaii News Now.
With catchphrases “Shazam!” and “Golly” (the latter drawn out to four or five lilting syllables), Nabors debuted his downhome, gas station attendant character in 1962 on The Andy Griffith Show, where the slow-going, dim-witted Gomer was a constant irritation to Don Knotts’ officious, high-strung Deputy Barney Fife.
The Gomer character, and Nabors’ odd-couple chemistry with Knotts, proved so popular with audiences that he was given his own spin-off series in 1964. Gomer Pyle, U.S.M.C, co-starring Frank Sutton as his ever-yelling drill sergeant Vince Carter (“I can’t heeearrrr youuu!”) ran until 1969 on CBS.
Gomer Pyle U.S.M.C. was an instant smash when it debuted in September 1964. The series finished No. 3 among all prime time shows that season with a 30.7 rating –- ahead of Andy Griffith – and was No. 2 behind Bonanza for the following 1965-66 season. The series slipped in the ratings after its move from Fridays to Wednesdays for the 1966-67 season, but CBS returned Gomer Pyle to Fridays the following season and it ranked No. 3 and No. 2 in prime time during the next two seasons.
Nabors’ comic persona, with his natural Alabama accent stretched to a near-cartoon drawl, evaporated when switched gears to sing, utilizing a baritone that sounded both formal and trained, a dichotomy used to great effect as far back as the Griffith show.
His 1966 LP Jim Nabors Sings with All Your Heart, made the Billboard Top 25 and went gold. He charted a dozen albums through 1972 and though he never matched that initial chart success two more were half-million-sellers. One of those was Jim Nabors’ Christmas Album, which topped the holiday albums chart in 1967 and again two years later.
His singing made him a frequent guest of variety shows in the 1960s and ’70s, particularly The Carol Burnett Show, and Nabors even became a Indianapolis 500 tradition with his rendition of Back Home Again in Indiana performed during the race’s opening ceremonies.