Best known for playing the appealing but dimwitted Gomer Pyle on television's Andy Griffith Show and in the spinoff Gomer Pyle, USMC, Jim Nabors (1930- ) is also a successful recording artist and musical theater performer. He has been a star of variety shows and musical theater for more than 40 years and is also a savvy entrepreneur and investor and supporter of the arts.
James Thurston Nabors was born on June 12, 1930, in Sylacauga, Talladega County, to Fred Nabors, a police officer, and Mavis Pearl Newman Nabors, a homemaker, joining two older sisters. Nabors suffered from asthma as a child and was often ill. Unable to participate in sports, he was attracted to music at an early age. He mastered several instruments and developed a powerful singing voice and belonged to both his church choir and the glee club at Sylacauga High School, where he also played clarinet in the school band. After graduating high school in 1947, Nabors went on to earn a bachelor's degree in business administration from the University of Alabama in 1951. While at the university, he also got his first introduction to acting, performing in skits with his fraternity.
Although Nabors enjoyed performing, he did not initially pursue acting as a career, believing that he did not fit the gritty, heroic mold of many male Hollywood stars of the era. After graduating, he moved to New York City and took a job as a typist at the United Nations. Shortly after his move, his mother became ill, and Nabors returned briefly to Alabama to help care for her before heading west to Los Angeles, California, in search, as Nabors has noted, of a direction in life. He found a job in the production department at NBC studios in the Los Angeles suburb of Burbank and soon was spending his evenings singing in cabarets and nightclubs.
In 1962, Nabors was performing at The Horn nightclub in Santa Monica when television star Andy Griffith happened to stop in. Griffith was impressed with Nabors's performance, particularly by the humorous commentary he delivered between numbers; he invited Nabors to audition for his hugely popular television series, The Andy Griffith Show. Although the initial audition was for a one-time guest spot, Nabors was so popular with viewers that he was invited to join the fictional community of Mayberry in the role of Gomer Pyle, a lovable, childlike auto mechanic. Pyle's catch phrases "well gollee" and "shazam" would become household words among the viewing audience. Nabors continued on the series until 1964, when he was given his own spin-off, Gomer Pyle, USMC, which was premised on Pyle's induction into the U.S. Marine Corps. Appearing during America's involvement in Vietnam, the show steered clear of major political issues relating to the conflict, but Nabors did sing Bob Dylan's anti-war song, "Blowin' in the Wind," as Pyle during one episode. He even recorded an album as Gomer Pyle entitled Shazam (1965), on which he performed the songs in a "hillbilly" twang. Nabors also negotiated part-ownership of the series, providing him with great financial rewards. The series was a great success, running for five years, and earned Nabors huge popularity among the public.
Despite this success, however, Nabors still longed for a career in music. When his series was canceled in 1969, Nabors was able to return to his first love with a new variety show on the CBS network, The Jim Nabors Hour, and was a recurring guest on the hugely popular variety series The Carol Burnett Show. The show lasted only one season, but Nabors continued to make guest appearances on the numerous variety and talk shows of the 1970s, including The Sonny and Cher Comedy Hour, Dinah's Place, and The Tonight Show. His friendly and approachable personality also landed him a role on the popular children's series The Lost Saucer, in which he and comedian Ruth Buzzie starred as a pair of the inept alien explorers lost on Earth. The show ran for 16 episodes in 1975.
In 1976, Nabors left his Hollywood home, although not his career, and moved to Oahu, Hawaii. He had been visiting the island since the 1960s and decided that it was where he felt most at home. Nabors continued to appear in guest spots on various television shows and hosted a 3-episode revival of The Jim Nabors Show in 1978. By this time, as well, Nabors had begun putting his business degree to use and established several business and investment ventures in Hawaii, including a 500-acre macadamia nut and cut-flower farm on the island of Maui. Nabors also returned to his music career and began recording albums of popular songs and Broadway show tunes. His releases include numerous albums, three of which have achieved gold status in sales, and dozens of singles, and he has been a frequent performer at the casinos in Las Vegas, Nevada.
Nabors continued recording and performing throughout the 1980s and early 1990s and even joined the revived Carol Burnett cast in a variety show in 1991. That same year, he was honored with a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame. But his career almost came to an abrupt end in 1994, when he was diagnosed with liver cancer. In part because of the efforts of friends such as Burnett, who worked behind the scenes to help find him a transplant, Nabors underwent a successful surgery and regained his health. He continued with his singing career after the transplant but has spent increasing time at home focusing on his agricultural endeavors and business investments. His initial farm is now preserved as a park by the National Tropical Botanical Gardens, and Nabors continues to be involved in its operations in a volunteer capacity. He also maintains a home on the property. Each year, he travels to Indianapolis, Indiana, to perform the song "Back Home in Indiana" at the opening of the annual Indy 500 auto race, as he has since 1972.
In October 1978, the state of Alabama renamed the section of U.S. Highway 280 that runs past Sylacauga the Jim Nabors Highway. In 2001, the U.S. Marine Corps held an official ceremony, attended by Nabors in uniform, promoting Gomer Pyle to an honorary lance corporal, and in 2007 he was promoted to honorary corporal. In January 2013, Nabors married his partner of 38 years, Stan Cadwallader. Nabors continues to live in Hawaii, where he supports the arts and other cultural institutions.
Cohn, Paulette. "Jim Nabors in Paradise." American Profile, January 13, 2008. [See Related Links]
Claire M. Wilson
Published September 1, 2009
Last updated October 22, 2014