Out actor Jim Nabors, who famously starred as Gomer Pyle on the Andy Griffith Show, died early this morning at age 87. The incredibly popular entertainer retired at the height of his career.
Nabors was only intended to play Mayberry’s dim-witted auto mechanic for one episode, but the character proved so popular he became a mainstay of the program. Nabors’ character was spun off to create Gomer Pyle, USMC which ran for five years.
After the show ended, Nabors hosted a variety show and made a few appearances in movies, but his heart remained in music. With a rich baritone voice, Nabors also became a popular singer; he opened the Indianapolis 500 every year with a rendition of “Back Home Again in Indiana” from 1972 until 2014.
“Jim and I remained close friends for 52 years,” Carol Burnett said in a statement to The Hollywood Reporter. “He was the godfather of my daughter, Jody. Every year he was always the first guest on my variety show. I considered him my ‘good luck charm.’ My heart is heavy. I’m grateful he was a large part of my life. I miss him. I love him.”
In 2013, Nabors married his partner of almost 40 years, Stan Cadwallader, in a private ceremony in Seattle. The men made their home in Honolulu, Hawaii. The wedding announcement was the first time Nabors had publicly acknowledged his sexuality.
“I’m 82 and he’s in his 60s and so we’ve been together for 38 years and I’m not ashamed of people knowing, it’s just that it was such a personal thing, I didn’t tell anybody,” Nabors said at the time. “I’m very happy that I’ve had a partner of 38 years and I feel very blessed. And, what can I tell you, I’m just very happy.”