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Jim Nabors is Back Home Again, Passes Away at 87

The "Back Home Again in Indiana" singer died after a long career as Gomer Pyle, but so much more.

INDIANAPOLIS--Jim Nabors passed away Thursday at age 87. He became an Indiana legend, even though he was from Alabama, singing "Back Home Again in Indiana" for four decades at the Indy 500. He decided to retire from singing the race anthem in 2014 because he didn't want to leave his home in Hawaii any longer. His health was failing. 

Some good friends

In May, his friend and co-stars Ronnie Schell and Maggie Peterson-Mancuso, from Gomer Pyle USMC and the Andy Griffith Show, discussed Jim on WIBC, when they were in Indiana for Mayberry in the Midwest.

"He was one of my best friends," said Schell, who played Cpl. Duke Slater, Gomer's buddy.

"He was a wonderful man," said Mancuso, who played Charlene Darling on the Andy Griffith Show.

"I played his girlfriend a couple of times. In real life we used to go to the openings of movies--so we not really dated, but it was a look-alike date," said Mancuso.

She said everyone on the set of the Andy Griffith Show loved being there.

"It was a special set. I didn't know it at the time because it was my first experience. But, I never ran into it again. It was special."

Meet Jim Nabors

Nabors was discovered by Griffith, who created the Gomer Pyle character for Nabors after seeing his night club act.

Nabors also recorded 28 albums, five of them gold and one of them, platinum.

"Back Home Again...the tradition"

He began singing "Back Home Again in Indiana" at the Speedway in 1972. Indianapolis Motor Speedway Historian Donald Davidson recalled the first time Nabors performed it.

"I think he thought he was going to do the National Anthem or one of the other songs. When he realized it was 'Back Home Again in Indiana', he said 'I don't know the words.' And so supposedly somebody gave him the words and he wrote it on his hand and got up and did it with no rehearsal."

Davidson said the first time was far from iconic, even though it was a stellar performance. Nabors' Gomer Pyle image may have superseded his incredible singing talent for some people.

"A lot of people laughed and said, 'hey that's Gomer. What's he doing here? Ha ha ha'."

Year after year

But, he ended up singing the song 36 times at the Speedway.

"And he comes back the next year and the next year and over a period of four, five, six, seven or eight years, he became a tradition," said Davidson. "The 500 is all about tradition. It's very interesting to me how that became such an important part of it."

Davidson said you can't create a tradition.

"It either takes off or it doesn't. The thing that takes off and becomes so important usually you think, where on earth did that come from. Who'd have guessed that that would be so popular?"

A replacement? Not yet

But Nabors, the tradition, was popular in Indiana. When he retired in 2014, finding a suitable replacement was a tough task. And a replacement may never be found. Indeed, it may be that anyone who sings it from now on, will only succeed Nabors.

PHOTO: Getty Images/Joey Foley

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