HONOLULU, Hawaii -- Indianapolis 500 icon Jim Nabors has passed away at age 87. He died peacefully at his home in Hawaii on Thursday with his husband, Stan Cadwallader, by 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.
He’s a former actor best known as Gomer Pyle on "The Andy Griffith Show." He was also known for singing "Back Home Again in Indiana" prior to the start of the Indianapolis 500 over the span of more than 40 years.
Nabors had to give up the gig after the 2014 Indianapolis 500, saying that his health was limiting his ability to travel.
“The first time that I ever sang at the Indy 500 in 1972, the warmth I got from the crowd immediately made me become a lifetime Hoosier; and I’ve always cherished it,” Nabors said in an interview with FOX59 in 2014. “I’ll see you all in May; but I’ve come to the conclusion that my health doesn’t permit me to travel very much anymore. So I’ll be retiring from singing ‘Back Home Again’ at the Indy 500 after this year.
The Hulman-George family, owners of the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, released the following statement on Thursday:
"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."
IMS President J. Douglas Boles issued this statement on Twitter:
"Heartbroken. Jim was as much a part of @IMS & the 500 as every driver that has competed here. His performances of Back Home Again in Indiana on race day every year were the best 90 seconds of the year for many of our fans! Not born here, but a true Hoosier."
After "The Andy Griffith Show" in the early 1960s, he starred in the popular spin-off television comedy "Gomer Pyle, U.S.M.C." from 1964-69. His catchphrase on both shows, "Gollllll-ly!" was flavored with the Southern drawl of his native Alabama.
Nabors' common touch and humility also were displayed annually to thousands of IMS fans who loved him dearly as an institution of "The Greatest Spectacle in Racing." He always had a kind word for everyone and posed for countless pictures and signed seemingly limitless autographs.
Nabors is survived by his husband, Stan Cadwallader.