James Thurston Nabors has taken his final bow, passing today after spending more than 60 years in showbiz. Jim Nabors became a star playing the clumsy deputy sheriff Gomer Pyle on The Andy Griffith Show (1960-68) and eventually starred in his own spin-off. He died peacefully at home in Hawaii by his husband by his side. Nabors’ health had been declining for the past year. His immune system was suppressed after he underwent a liver transplant about 20 years ago.
He squandered some of considerable intelligence, talent and beautiful baritone singing voice to play a hillbilly, but America loved him for it.
Nabors denied his gayness for the sake of his career, even partying with Ronald and Nancy Reagan. He was a Republican, but I forgive him easily, it was a different era of the GOP. Nabors lived in an era when being gay and being a star were hardly compatible and rumors could ruin a career.
I like that his story was a happy one and that Nabors finally found love and became an out and proud gay man.
In early January 2013, with just a simple exchange of rings in front of a judge in a Seattle hotel room, Nabors married Stan Cadwallader, his partner of 38 years. Nabors met Cadwallader, a former firefighter in Honolulu, in 1975. It was Cadwallader who announced the passing of his husband.
”We had no rights as a couple before we were married, yet when you’ve been together 38 years, I think something’s got to happen there, you’ve got to solidify something, and at my age, it’s probably the best thing to do.”
Nabors was born and raised in Sylacauga, Alabama. He originated the character of the hapless but lovable gas-station attendant Gomer Pyle on The Andy Griffith Show and reprised the role in five seasons of Gomer Pyle, U.S.M.C. on which his goofball character was perpetually making trouble for his military superiors, but not for being gay. He was a big television star back in a time when he would never tell even if he was asked. I always felt Gomer was just going through the motions with Lou-Ann Poovie on the series. His character’s famous catchphrases: ”Sur-prise, sur-prise, sur-prise”, ”Shame, shame, shame”, ”Shazam!” and ”Goll-ll-y!” became part of the lexicon of the 1960s and 1970s.
My insider sources tell me that Nabors was extremely popular in the industry and the ultimate professional on the set. Funny and versatile as a comic actor, he was a regular guest on The Carol Burnett Show (Nabors and Burnett had a comedy act together at the start of their careers), The Dean Martin Show, The Muppet Show, and he even had his own CBS variety series, The Jim Nabors Hour (1969-71).
Nabors had always been open about his gayness to his co-workers in showbiz; his was an open secret in Hollywood. He claimed that he never wished to get involved in the national debate over Gay Rights. Nabors:
”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.”
We all giggled and smirked through that urban legend in the 1970s that had spread suggesting that Nabors and Rock Hudson were married and had a ceremony at Roddy McDowall’s place, and that Hudson was going to change his last name to that of Nabors’ famous television character, making him Rock Pyle. The cruelty of the rumor ended the friendship between the two entertainers, never being able to be seen together in public again. The tale was part of that homophobic mindset that any two gay men could never resist having sex together. Yet, as a youth, I laughed along with my friends.
The happy Nabors-Cadwalladers lived together in Hawaii. The couple had a macadamia nut farm in Maui, plus homes in Los Angeles and Montana.
Nabors was 87-years-old when he left this world.