HONOLULU (AP) — Jim Nabors, whose rendition of "(Back Home Again In) Indiana" was a beloved part of the Indianapolis 500 for decades, has died at the age of 87.
Nabors became an instant success when he joined "The Andy Griffith Show" in the early 1960s. His character of Gomer Pyle, the unworldly, lovable gas pumper proved so popular that in 1964 CBS starred him in "Gomer Pyle, U.S.M.C."
His connection with the Indianapolis Motor Speedway started in 1972 when he attended his first Indy 500. IMS owner Tony Hulman met Nabors race morning and asked him if he would like to sing. Nabors said yes, thinking he'd perform the national anthem. But just before the ceremonies began, he found out he was singing "(Back Home Again In) Indiana."
Nabors had to use notes to remember the lyrics during that first performance, but he pulled it off and became a fixture in the Memorial Day weekend event for the next four decades.
The Hulman-George family, owners of the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, released a statement on the passing of Nabors 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."
Nabors died peacefully at his home in Hawaii on Thursday with his husband, Stan Cadwallader, at his side.
Cadwallader says Nabors' health had been declining for the past year. His immune system also was suppressed after he underwent a liver transplant about 20 years ago.
The Associated Press contributed to this article.