One of my childhood neighbors was a Southern Belle, relocated to the New York Metro Area after marriage. Besides being a neighbor, she was the receptionist at our family dentists' office. She was a wonderful woman, as sweet as could be. Before she got married, she was a kindergarten teacher, and one of her star pupils was a nice boy named Jim Nabors, a fact which gave her instant celebrity status among myself and my siblings. Mr Nabors, who died yesterday, was a particular favorite comic actor of ours, playing the addlepated-but-decent country boy Gomer Pyle on The Andy Griffith Show and its spinoff Gomer Pyle, U.S.M.C.. In my retrospective after Andy Griffith's death, I noted that one of my all-time favorite comedic scenes was Jim Nabors' citizen's arrest of Don Knotts' Barney Fife:
This scene, which never fails to crack me up, perfectly showcases Mr Nabors' portrayal of Pyle, with his humorous high-pitched drawl, naïf optimism, and sense of justice in the face of an authoritarian bully. In the spinoff series, Pyle was a Marine recruit who just didn't have a sense of what he'd gotten himself into:
The spinoff series completely elided the realities of the Vietnam War era, something which I didn't pick up on as a child watching it in syndication.
Despite his high-pitched, nasally drawl, Mr Nabors had a smooth, baritone singing voice, which came as a marvel to a young bastard:
Surprise, surprise, surprise, indeed! He released devotional songs, opera, nostalgic songs, and Christmas carols:
Mr Nabors, while long maintaining privacy about his romantic inclinations, married his longtime male partner back in 2013. I consider this a particularly significant cultural moment because Jim was an icon of Southern culture, a simple, decent, God-fearing country boy who worked with his hands, served his country as a Marine, and just happened to like other men. Jim was a damn sight better Christian than the whole passel of anti-gay bigots who seem to infest the pulpits of these here United States.
Jim Nabors was a childhood favorite of mine- comic, crooner, country-boy... he was a unique icon, a memorable pop-culture presence. I don't ordinarily get misty-eyed about a celebrity passing away, but Jim Nabors was one of those special talents whose work I found impossible to outgrow.