KERRY HUBARTT: Saying goodbye to Jim Nabors, who endeared himself in Indiana

Jim Nabors sings "(Back Home Again in) Indiana" for the final time before the start of the 98th running of the Indianapolis 500 in 2014. (Associated Press file photo)
Kerry Hubartt

Jim Nabors, who died Thursday at age 87, played the lovable, goofy Gomer Pyle on “The Andy Griffith Show” in the 1960s, and since then millions of us who loved that weekly television program have mimicked his hilarious expressions “Shazam,” ”Gollllll-lee” and “Surprise, surprise, surprise.”

Those expressions will live on through the memories of people like me and those who become enthralled with some of the 249 episodes of the nostalgic series through TV reruns, DVDs and Netflix.

An accomplished singer, Nabors endeared himself to Hoosiers by singing “Back Home Again in Indiana” for more than 30 years prior to each Indianapolis 500.

Indianapolis Motor Speedway staff told AutoWeek.com that Nabors was a guest at the 1972 Indianapolis 500 when he was approached shortly before pre-race ceremonies to sing the James Hanley composition. He didn’t know the lyrics (written by Ballard MacDonald), so he wrote them on the palm of his hand and wowed the huge crowd with his performance.

Nabors returned to sing each year from 1973-78, 1983 and 1984. In 1986 he was scheduled to sing, but the race was delayed two days by rain and he was unable to return when it resumed the following weekend. He sang the famous song again in 1987 and for 27 of the next 28 years, missing 2007 because of illness and delivering his performance by video in 2012, again because of illness. His final performance was in 2014.

Nabors was discovered by Andy Griffith when he was singing at a Santa Monica, Calif., club and was hired to play a one-time role as Gomer Pyle, an “addlebrained” gas station attendant, on “The Andy Griffith Show” in December 1962 (season 3, episode 13: “The Bank Job”). He was so popular he was made a regular.

He went on to appear in 23 episodes through 1964 when the fourth-season finale had Gomer joining the Marines as a pilot for the spinoff “Gomer Pyle, U.S.M.C.” sitcom.

Gomer was one of my favorite characters on “The Andy Griffith Show,” which premiered when I was in junior high school, running from October 1960 through April 1968.

It was a wholesome family show with some of the funniest characters I can remember in any television series.

Andy Griffith (Sheriff Andy Taylor) was originally the funny man central figure. The addition of Deputy Barney Fife (Don Knotts), Gomer and his TV cousin Goober Pyle (George Lindsey) from Wally’s Garage and the beloved barber Floyd Lawson (Howard McNear) and town drunk Otis Campbell (Hal Smith), created so much fun each week that the half-hour show (in black and white for its first five seasons) was irresistible.

Nabors was one of the last living actors from the show. Griffith died in 2012 as did Lindsey, Knots in 2006, Lawson in 1969, Frances Bavier (Aunt Bee Taylor) in 1980, Anita Corsair (Helen Crump) in 1995 and Howard Morris (Ernest T. Bass) in 2005.

Andy’s TV son Opie (filmmaker Ron Howard) is now 63, and Barney’s TV girlfriend Thelma Lou (Betty Lynn) is 91 and living in Mount Airy, N.C., Andy Griffith’s actual hometown.

Kerry Hubartt is former editor of The News-Sentinel.

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