The news that Jim Nabors had died, at the ripe old age of 87, took me by surprise, mainly because I was surprised that he was still alive this far into the 21st Century. Nabors was best known for his portrayal of the klutzy, naïve but lovable, Gomer Pyle. He played at first, the most incompetent gas station attendant in Mayberry on the “Andy Griffin Show,” and next, the funniest Marine private in the history of the Corps in, “Gomer Pyle, USMC.” Nabors was famous for a couple of other things as well, but more of that anon.

The klutzy Marine who never went to war

Just as the fictional town of Mayberry was a southern town that existed in an alternate universe in which no civil rights struggle, Ku Klux Klan, or black people existed, Gomer Pyle’s Marine Corps resided in a place where there was no Vietnam War. Sitcoms in the 1960s, before “All in the Family” changed things forever, didn’t involve themselves in issues. Vietnam was not even mentioned during the five or so yearlong run of “Gomer Pyle Usmc.”

The trope was that Pyle was the most irritating Marine private there ever was, which served as a constant source of exasperation to Gunnery Sergeant Carter, the gruff, but hardly the severe sort of character that R. Lee Emery later made famous.

I have fond memories of the show, which I watched religiously between 1964 and 1969. By modern standards, it was fluff but that was okay for a nine to twelve-year-old. The show was family friendly in a way that is non-existent on modern television.

A night at the rodeo

Because I liked the show, I greeted the annual trip to the Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo, in the spring of 1967, with rare excitement when I learned that Jim Nabors would be the featured entertainment.

Along with the bronco riding and other sports that features strong men and large animals, the Houston Rodeo always featured entertainment. I was not sure what I expected from Nabors, perhaps comedy riffs based on the show.

Instead, Nabors belted out songs in a deep, authoritative, baritone voice that I had never heard come out of that mouth, which usually uttered soft pitched catchphrases like, “Shazam!” Nabors was apparently a man of more than one talent.

The Rock Hudson rumor

One other interesting fact about Nabors was that he was a closeted gay man until 2013 when he married his long-term partner, Stan Cadwallader, in Seattle, a month after same-sex marriage became legal in Washington State. A story was put out in the 1970s that Nabors had “married” Rock Hudson, another closeted gay actor. The two were never more than friends. Though the rumor started as a joke, it was spread far and wide by people who took it seriously. As a result, Nabors and Hudson never spoke to one another again.