Jim Nabors (1930 - 2017)

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Jim Nabors (Getty/CBS Archive)
Jim Nabors, the actor known best for playing Gomer Pyle on "The Andy Griffith Show" and its spinoff, "Gomer Pyle, U.S.M.C.," has died at the age of 87, according to multiple news sources.

His husband told the Associated Press he died at his Hawaii home.

Gomer Pyle was never intended to be a recurring character, let alone carry his own show. The role was going to be a one-off, popping up in a single episode of season three of "The Andy Griffith Show." But Nabors, who was discovered by Griffith while doing cabaret theater at a Santa Monica nightclub, played the country-bumpkin gas station attendant so well that he was brought on in a recurring role. When the character's popularity continued to grow, "Gomer Pyle, U.S.M.C." was spun off.

"Gomer Pyle, U.S.M.C." saw the character leaving Mayberry to join the Marines. It was a perennial ratings leader, making it into the top-10 shows for each of its five seasons. In 1969, after playing Pyle for seven years, Nabors was ready to move on, so he announced his resignation and the show was canceled. But the seven years were enough to typecast Nabors, and the majority of his future roles would be in comedies harking back to his sitcom roots.

Nabors played similar characters in "The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas," "Stroker Ace" and "Cannonball Run II." On the children's show "The Lost Saucer," he played an android trying to find his way home. In 1986, he reprised his Pyle role in the TV movie "Return to Mayberry." Carol Burnett asked him to appear on each season premiere of "The Carol Burnett Show," considering him a good-luck charm.

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In addition to acting, Nabors was also a skilled singer who recorded a number of albums and had a hit in Australia with his recording of "The Impossible Dream." In the U.S., Nabors musically associated with "Back Home in Indiana," which he sang at the start of every Indianapolis 500 race from 1972 until 2014.

Born June 12, 1930, in Sylacauga, Alabama, Nabors used his Southern upbringing as he envisioned the country character he performed in his cabaret act that would become Pyle. He was honored by his home state: He was inducted into the Alabama Stage and Screen Hall of Fame, and U.S. Highway 280 was named "Jim Nabors Highway" where it runs through his home county of Talladega County.

On Jan. 29, 2013, Nabors married his longtime partner, Stan Cadwallader, in Seattle. The pair, who lived in Hawaii and had been together for 38 years, married a month after same-sex marriage was legalized in Washington. Nabors was open with friends about his sexual orientation but chose not to go public with it before the couple wed. He commented, "I haven't ever made a public spectacle of it. Well, I've known since I was a child, so, come on. It's not that kind of a thing. I've never made a huge secret of it at all." He is survived by Cadwallader.

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