'It wasn't a facade': Friends, fans remember Jim Nabor's talent, wit and folksy charm

'It wasn't a facade': Friends, fans remember Jim Nabor's talent, wit and folksy charm
Published: Nov. 30, 2017 at 12:37 PM HST|Updated: Nov. 30, 2017 at 5:34 PM HST
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(Image: Hawaii News Now)
(Image: Hawaii News Now)

HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - TV legend Jim Nabors, a longtime Hawaii resident who was best known for his role as Gomer Pyle in "The Andy Griffith Show," died Thursday at home.

He was 87.

Nabors died about 3 a.m. after battling health issues for some time, veteran producer Phil Arnone said.

He was born on June 12, 1930 in Sylacauga, Ala., where he sang in high school and church.

He later acted in skits while attending the University of Alabama.

He rose to national stardom playing a goofy gas station attendant in "The Andy Griffith Show" from 1962 to 1964. That led to the spin-off sitcom "Gomer Pyle, USMC," in which he played the leading role from 1964 to 1969.

New audiences became familiar with him in the years that followed through re-runs of the program. He was also a regular guest on "The Carol Burnett Show" and hosted his own variety and talk shows in the 1970s.

"Jim and I remained close for 52 years. He was the godfather of my daughter, Jody," said Burnett, in a statement. "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."

A singer known for his rich baritone voice, Nabors also performed in musical theater productions in Florida, Nevada and Hawaii. For 10 years, until 2006, he starred in the annual production of "A Merry Christmas With Friends and Nabors" at Hawaii Theatre in Honolulu.

""People had heard him as Gomer for so long that when he talked it was one thing, but when he started to sing, they couldn't believe what they were hearing," said longtime friend Phil Arnone.

Arnone said that Nabor was "one of the nicest guys you'd ever meet."

"If he was out somewhere and people recognized him, he didn't brush 'em off. He didn't just say, 'Oh, thank you,' and leave. He stopped and talked to them. He cared about people."

Friend Anna Meng said she'll miss Nabors' kindness, too.

"I'll miss his down-to-earthness," she said. "He welcomes everybody like everybody is the most important person in his life."

Added friend Karen Keawehawaii: "No matter who you were, you didn't have to be someone of notoriety, he made you feel special. It wasn't a facade."

Nabors said he said he knew he loved Hawaii the first time he traveled to the islands in the 1960s.

"I just walked off that plane and knew this is where I wanted to be. It was the air and the friendship and the friendliness and the people, you know. I just knew, there's something inside me that told me 'Hey, you're gonna end up here,'" Nabors said. "I love this place. I love everything about it."

He ended up moving to Hawaii in 1976. While in the islands, he continued his role in entertainment and immersed himself in the Hawaii community. He produced the "Jim Nabors Polynesian Extravaganza" at the Hilton Hawaiian Village.

During his free time, he ran a macadamia nut and flower farm he bought in Hana, Maui.

In 2013, Nabors married his longtime partner, Stan Cadwallader, in a private ceremony in Seattle, where gay marriage became legal in 2012.

Nabors met Cadwallader in 1975 when Cadwallader was a Honolulu firefighter.

Cadwallader said Nabors' health had been declining for the past year and his immune system had been suppressed after a liver transplant about 20 years ago. Cadwallader was by Nabors' side when died at home.

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