Jim Nabors, the shy Alabaman whose down-home comedy made him a TV star as Gomer Pyle and whose surprisingly operatic voice kept him a favorite in Las Vegas and other showplaces, died Thursday. He was 87. Nabors, who underwent a liver transplant in 1994 after contracting hepatitis B, died peacefully at his home in Hawaii after his health had declined for the past year, said his husband, Stan Cadwallader, who was by his side. "Everybody knows he was a wonderful man. And that's all we can say about him. He's going to be dearly missed," Cadwallader said. The couple married in early 2013 in Washington state, where gay marriage had recently been made legal. Nabors' friends had known for years that he was gay, but he had never said anything to the media, reports the AP.
Nabors became an instant success when he joined the Andy Griffith Show in the early 1960s. The character of Gomer Pyle, the unworldly, lovable gas pumper who would exclaim "Gollllll-ly!" proved so popular that in 1964 CBS starred him in Gomer Pyle, USMC, which lasted five seasons. Audiences saw another side of Nabors in appearances in TV variety programs—his booming baritone. For two seasons beginning in 1969, CBS presented the Jim Nabors Hour, on which he joshed with guest stars, did sketches, and sang country and opera. Offstage, Nabors retained some of the awed innocence of Gomer. At the height of his fame in 1969, he admitted, "For the first four years of the series, I didn't trust my success. Every weekend and on every vacation, I would take off to play nightclubs and concerts, figuring the whole thing would blow over some day." The AP has much more here.