Television star Jim Nabors has died at 87.
Nabors died early Thursday morning, according to a Hawaii News Now report. A native of Alabama, Nabors also recorded more than two dozen albums with a rich, operatic baritone voice that defied his authentic Southern accent.
For racing fans, Nabors was the voice that sang “Back Home Again in Indiana” during the opening ceremonies for the Indianapolis 500. His final such performance was back in 2014, before permanently settling down in Honolulu, Hawaii.
At that point, he expressed the sentiment that he was becoming too ill to travel.
According to the Indianapolis Motor Speedway staff, Nabors’ journey to performing “Back Home Again in Indiana” was an anecdote he enjoyed telling. He was the guest of casino magnate Bill Harrah at the 1972 Indianapolis 500 when, on Race Morning, Nabors was approached shortly before pre-race ceremonies to sing during the festivities. He presumed he would be asked to perform the national anthem.
Instead, race officials asked Nabors to sing “Back Home Again in Indiana.” He didn’t know the lyrics, so he scrawled them on the palm of his hand and wowed the huge crowd with his performance.
Nabors returned to sing each year from 1973-78, becoming a big hit with fans and the Hulman-George family. Other singers performed the song from 1979-82, with Nabors returning in 1983 and 1984. Nabors was in Indianapolis to sing in 1986, but the race suffered two full days of rain delays. He was unable to return to sing when the race ran the following weekend.
In 1987, Nabors began a run of singing “Back Home Again in Indiana” for 27 of the next 28 years. He missed the 2007 race due to illness, and his rendition in 2012 was taped in advance and shown on the track’s video boards since Nabors couldn’t travel from Hawaii due to illness.
Nabors’ final performance came in 2014, when he also joined IMS Chairman of the Board Emeritus Mari Hulman George to give the command to start engines for the 98th Indianapolis 500.
Nabors the actor was perhaps best known for his appearances on “The Andy Griffith Show,” playing Gomer Pyle. He was signed for just one Season Three episode but was so popular that he appeared in 23 installments of the popular show.
In fact, he was so popular that he warranted his own spinoff series, “Gomer Pyle U.S.M.C.”
But above all, he was a racing enthusiast.
The Hulman-George Family, owners of the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, issued the following statement on Thursday afternoon:
“Jim Nabors was such a kind, caring man, and we will miss him greatly. Jim was born in Alabama, but he became a Hoosier to all of us almost immediately after he began his superb performances of ‘Back Home Again in Indiana’ starting in 1972. He loved coming back home to the Speedway almost every May for more than 40 years and seeing his friends and race fans, who loved him dearly. Jim was not only a treasured friend, but truly a cherished member of our family. We will never forget his genuine kindness, sincerity and loyalty. He was a wonderful man who inspired millions of people across the globe every May and throughout his entire life.”