The ’70s were a different era for the gay community, and the world was not as accepting of other sexual preferences as it is today. So when Jim Nabors opened up about his sexuality, it became a topic of mockery.
Jim Nabors was not your ordinary Hollywood star. He was a comedian, a singer, and an actor, known widely for his signature acts Gomer Pyle in “The Andy Griffith Show.”
The spade-jawed-friendly actor’s story began in Alabama, where he was born to a policeman father, Fred Nabors, and mother Mavis Pearl in 1930.
Owing to his asthmatic condition, Nabors moved to California and started working as a film cutter for NBC TV Networks. After he settled in Los Angeles, he began performing at the now-defunct Santa Monica nightclub.
He would often perform a cabaret act on stage at the then-popular nightclub “The Horn.” He used a combination of his brilliant unique characterizations and his classical singing to wow the crowds.
While there, comedian Bill Dana saw Nabors’ act and invited him to appear on “The Steve Allen Show.” Nabors signed on to the show, but production canceled it shortly after his appointment.
GETTING INTO SHOW BUSINESS
Having made his acting debut on the “Today in Dixie” show, the tall gifted actor was not new to the screens. Thus, when Andy Griffith offered him the role of Gomer Pyle, he was happy to take and execute it the best way he knew how.
He played a dimwitted gas attendant, which became so popular that he became a regular on the show. He eventually earned a spin-off show “Gomer Pyle, U.S.M.C.,” where his character joined the Marines.
Even though the sheepish, bug-eyed expressions worked well for his character, he soon felt pigeon-holed and wanted to explore more. So after five seasons of his sitcom, he opted out.
He started making appearances on top primetime shows such as “The Joey Bishop Show,” “The David Frost Show,” “The Dean Martin Show,” “The Tonight Show,” and “Sonny and Cher.”
CBS was impressed, and they entrusted Nabors with his T.V. series “The Jim Nabors Hour,” a show that featured his “Gomer Pyle” costars, Ronnie Schell and Frank Sutton. It ran for two seasons.
Nabors also appeared in his good friend Burt Reynolds’s films “Stroker Ace” and “The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas” in 1982.
HIS HIDDEN ‘DON’T ASK, DON’T TELL’ SEXUALITY
Fans from far and wide were always glued to the screens, awaiting the hilarious Nabors to enter the stage, but many did not know that he was gay.
Even though he did not go to any extra lengths to keep his sexual orientation a secret, he did not openly speak about it. It was a “don’t ask, don’t tell” open secret, and only those close to him knew about it.
Unlike many actors who would often get into heterosexual marriages to avoid the controversies that accompanied gay relationships, Nabors was not one to hide who he was from the world.
Opening up to Hawaii News in 2013, he disclosed that he was happy to have had a loving partner and felt very blessed for the past 38 years. He added:
“I’m 82, and he’s in his 60s, and so we’ve been together for 38 years, and I’m not ashamed of people knowing. It’s just that it was such a personal thing. I didn’t tell anybody.”
“THE ANDY GRIFFITH SHOW” CREW REACTION
Nabors disclosed to Hawaii News that he always knew he was gay since he was a child, and his coworkers were never in the dark about it too.
He, however, preferred not to discuss his private life. Instead, he chose to keep a low profile and work on his projects without necessarily incorporating his choice of partner in his work life.
Unfortunately, his choice was not without its repercussions. Ron Howard, who grew up on the set of “The Andy Griffith Show,” recalls experiencing some very real horror, prejudices, and problems.
Among the offensiveness are memories of some crew members on the show calling Nabors belittling names such as “homo.” Howard added that they were very mean to Nabors behind his back.
A WEDDING THAT WAS A LONG TIME COMING
Nabor met his long-time partner in 1975. Stan Cadwallader was a fireman in Honolulu, and after going to work for Nabors, the two became friends then began dating soon after.
Following the legalization of same-sex marriage in Washington State in 2013, Nabors married his long-time partner, who he’d dated for 38 years.
Their intimate ceremony was held at the Fairmont Olympic Hotel in Seattle, Washington, where a judge presided over the ceremony in the presence of a few close friends.
Nabors was happy as it took him close to four decades to officiate a wedding with his partner. Speaking to Hawaii News through the phone, he said:
“It’s pretty obvious that we had no rights as a couple, yet when you’ve been together 38 years, I think something’s got to happen there. You’ve got to solidify something.”
NABORS DECLINING HEALTH AND HIS DEATH
In 1994, Nabors suffered a near-death case of hepatitis B that caused liver failure. He disclosed that he had contracted the disease while in India after cutting himself with a contaminated razor.
After the doctors diagnosed him, a friend, Carol Burnett, arranged for Nabors to have a liver transplant. After the surgery, the celebrated actor and musician began getting involved with the American Liver Foundation.
Nabors passed on in 2017 after his health took a severe decline. He died peacefully at his home in Hawaii, where he had a 500-acre macadamia nuts farm on the island of Maui.
He waved the world goodbye with his husband by his side. He was 87 years old at the time of his passing and is remembered for the legacy he left behind, one that decorated him for his outstanding contribution to the show industry.