Jim Nabors - Comedian, Singer, & American Icon

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Kathryn E. Darden
May 24, 2011
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Jim Nabors - Gomer Pyle

Although actor Jim Nabors is best known for performing "Back Home Again in Indiana" every year at the Indianapolis 500 for over 30 years, Nabors first sauntered into American pop culture with his country gait and a deep-fried drawl in the 1960s playing Mayberry's lovable mechanic, Gomer Pyle. Before that Nabors had been performing in The Horn, a Santa Monica, California nightclub. Someone told Andy Griffith he should check out Nabors' act, so Griffith went to see the young comedian. Actor George Lindsey had been slated to appear on "The Andy Griffith Show"as Gomer Pyle, but when Andy Griffth saw Jim Nabors, he knew he had found Mayberry's mechanic. George Lindsey had to wait until Jim Nabors became "Gomer Pyle, U.S.M.C" to get his turn to portray Gomer's cousin, Goober Pyle.

Jim Nabors - Background

Jim Nabors was born June 12, 1930 in Sylacauga, Alabama. Growing up, he sang at church and at school. Nabors attended the University of Alabama, which is where he began acting. After college, Jim worked for a year at the United Nations as a typist, before moving to Chatannooga, Tennessee, where he worked as a film cutter for a local television station. Nabors suffered from asthma, so he moved to California for the climate. In LA, he got a job as a film cutter for NBC, and it was there he began to pursue a comedy career. His first break was joining the cast of "The Steve Allen Show," but that show was canceled soon after Jim Nabors was hired. However, Andy Griffith discovered him soon after that, and Jim became a star, first on "The Andy Griffith Show" and then on his own sitcom "Gomer Pyle, U.S.M.C."

Jim Nabors - Singer

Both shows featured not only the comedic style of Jim Nabors, but also allowed him to showcase his singing voice. Nabors would be talking in his Gomer Pyle voice one moment, and then he would open his mouth to sing. It was like another person took his place as his rich baritone singing voice replaced the higher-pitched, twangy, Gomer voice. Jim Nabors pursued a successful career as a singer, cutting twenty-eight record albums as well as touring in a popular theatrical production of "Man of La Mancha" where he made the song "The Impossible Dream' popular.

Jim Nabors - Variety Shows

His dual talent made Jim Nabors a popular guest on variety shows, and he hosted a couple of his own shows, including a variety TV show, "The Jim Nabors Hour" which he hosted from 1969 to 1971. After his show was canceled, Jim Nabors starred in his own national roadshow. From 1977 to 1978, Nabors hosted another variety show, "The Jim Nabors Show." Nabors also was a guest on every season premiere of "The Carol Burnett Show" because Carol Burnett considered Nabors a "good-luck charm."

Jim Nabors - Movies

In the 1980s Burt Reynolds talked Nabors appeared in three feature-length films with Reynolds: The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas (1982), Stroker Ace (1983), and Cannonball Run II (1984). In 1986, the television movie Return to Mayberry was made for NBC (although "The Andy Griffith Show" originally aired on CBS). Most of the cast of The Andy Griffith Show reunited, including Jim Nabors and George Lindsey, and cousins Gomer and Goober Pyle finally operated Mayberry's service station together.

Jim Nabors - Liver Transplant & Semi-Retirement

Jim Nabors has continued performing since then, going into semi-retirement a couple of times, but always returning to the stage. One of his retirement periods was after he suffered from a near-fatal case of hepatitis C in 1994. However, Carol Burnett was determined to save her "good-luck charm," and she made made an arrangement with the transplant division of UCLA and Nabors received a liver transplant. It seems Carol Burnett was also Jim Nabors' "good-luck charm."

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Jim Nabors - Honors

Jim Nabors' liver transplant was a success and his career continues today, and Nabors continues to win honors. In 1991, Nabors received a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame. In 2001, "Gomer Pyle" received an honorary promotion to Lance Corporal from the Commandant of the Marine Corps James L. Jones, and in 2007, he was promoted from Lance Corporal to Corporal by Lt. General John F. Goodman in honor of Nabors' years of contribution to the Marine Corps' image worldwide through the "Gomer Pyle, USMC" TV show. In 2006, Jim Nabors was inducted into the Alabama Stage and Screen Hall of Fame. On January 19, 2007, Jim Nabors along with U.S. Senator Daniel Inouye, was honored at "A Night of American Heroes," held in benefit of the Battleship Missouri Memorial at Pearl Harbor. U.S. Highway 280 in Talladega County, Alabama, has even been named "Jim Nabors Highway" in his honor.

Jim Nabors - Back Home Again in Indiana

Today Jim Nabors is best known for performing his version of "Back Home Again in Indiana" at the Indianapolis 500 which he has done for over 30 years. He continues the tradition this year after being forced to miss the 2007 race due to illness.

Actor, comedian, singer, transplant survivor, and macadamia nut grower, Jim Nabors is still going strong, and I hope he sings "Back Home Again in Indiana" for another 30 years or so.

From our archives: 5/25/09

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