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He'll just sing from now on

Using that southern drawl is no problem for Jim Nabors.

He is, after all, a Southern boy, born in Sylacauga, Ala. And he stuck around Alabama for a while _ long enough to graduate from the University of Alabama with a degree in business administration.

But he soon was to discover that he really didn't have much need for a business degree.

"I'd never been anywhere," he said, "so I went to California for a little while, then to New York. I wanted to see what those places were like."

He had done a little entertaining during his last year at college, he said, mostly in his fraternity house. "I broke out a little bit, singing and just entertaining," he said, "but I had no illusions about making it in show business."

And he didn't "make it" in show business in New York. Instead, he got a job as a typing clerk at the United Nations. "I had taken typing in college," he said, "and I think I was the fastest typist at the U.N."

But that really wasn't what he had in mind. After 1{ years, he went to Chattanooga, Tenn., where a friend had gotten him a job as a film cutter at a television station. That lasted two years before he headed to California for another job as a film cutter.

He also began singing evenings at a Santa Monica club called the Horn. It was a master stroke. The contrast between his rich baritone singing voice and his speaking voice, eventually to be universally recognized as the Gomer Pyle twang, was a real attention-getter.

Steve Allen heard him and invited him to appear on his Steve Allen Show. Then Andy Griffith heard him and soon had Nabors on his show playing the role of Gomer Pyle, filling station attendant.

"The character I was doing at the club was Gomer," he said. "He just didn't have the name. But it's been a wonderful character to play. And I think there's a great similarity between Gomer and Forrest Gump _ they have the same purity, the same way of thinking."

Nabors was on Griffith's show in 1963-64, then appeared in his own series, Gomer Pyle USMC, from 1964 to 1972. Then there was the Jim Nabors Hour (1969-71) and the Jim Nabors Show (1987). And countless guest appearances on television, a few movie roles, and many appearances as a nightclub headliner in Las Vegas and Reno, Nev.

All the while he was recording, scooping up 11 gold albums and one platinum among his "35 or so" albums.

Nabors tried to disappear for awhile, in the late '70s, taking refuge on at his 500-acre ranch in Hawaii. But it didn't work. He soon was performing again, first in Hawaii then at Las Vegas in 1984 with a four-month contract to star in shows at the Las Vegas Hilton.

He doesn't get to spend much time at that Hawaii ranch anymore. "I was only there for two weeks this past year," he said. In February, he underwent a liver transplant.

"It was a tough one," he said. "Time was growing short; I probably didn't have but about 10 days or two weeks left when they found a matching organ for me. You stand in line with everyone else, and the liver had to be the right size, match tissue-wise, etc."

But he healed quickly. "It was sort of a miracle as far as I'm concerned. Now this is like a total new life."

Nabors, 64, has never married. He has two sisters. One is in Alabama. The other, along with her husband, has always lived with him and is at the Hawaii ranch. "My mom lived with me until she died six years ago," he said.

He hasn't done any performing since the surgery, but has scheduled some concerts for March.

And he says he is going to have to give up life in Hawaii. "I have to check into the hospital (in Los Angeles) about once a month," he said, "and I just can't take that commute every month. But I have a ranch in Montana, and I can go up there."

When he resumes entertaining, he says, it probably will be limited to singing. "There's an emotional release in singing that I don' think is possible in acting."

Among the concert venues he he hopes to reschedule is St. Petersburg's Mahaffey Theater.