The Return of Stuff Happens, week 52: RIP

As the last blog of 2017 – and the last in the Stuff Happens series of blogs –  let’s look at the names we lost in 2017.

January

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Mary Tyler Moore

Milt Schmidt, 98, the former Boston Bruins great and most frequently accidentally mispronounced name in hockey history … Jimmy ‘Superfly’ Snooka, former pro wrestler who lived to the unusually ripe age of 73 (unusual for a wrestler, anyway) … Anthony Armstrong-Jones, 86, former husband of Princess Margaret, recently featured in The Crown. Probably a good thing he died before he could see how he was portrayed in the series … William Peter Blatty, 89, author of The Exorcist, made into the scariest movie ever (at least I thought it was back when I saw it when I was 18) … Tony Rosato, 62, briefly a member of both SCTV and Saturday night live … Eugene Cernan, 82, last man on the moon. Poor guy; he goes to the moon, and nobody remembers … Mary Tyler Moore, 80, star of two of the most beloved sitcoms in TV history, The Dick Van Dyke Show and Mary Tyler Moore. I wish some channel, somewhere, would start showing MTM again … Mike Conners, 91, who starred in the old TV show Mannix, which nobody is clamouring to see again … John Hurt, 77, Brit actor Oscar-nominated for The Elephant Man, not that you would recognize him from the movie.

February-March

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Bill Paxton

Brunhilde Pomsel, 106, who was the private secretary to Nazi propaganda minister Joseph Goebbels. Like all good Nazis, she said she knew nothing about all the bad stuff … Mike Illitch, 87, owner of the Detroit Red Wings and the man who inflicted Little Caesars Pizza on the world .. Darrel K. Smith, 55, former Eskimo receiver … Stuart McLean, 68, all-Canadian CBC broadcaster … George ‘The Animal’ Steele, 79, wild man of wrestling who in real life had a master’s degree in science … Bill Paxton, 61, all-purpose leading man of movies, most often described as ‘not Bill Pullman, Bill PAXTON’ … Bernie Custis, 88, first black QB to play pro football with the Hamilton Tiger Cats … Joseph Wapner, 97, the original People’s Court judge… Chuck Berry, 90, the father of rock and roll and the first of a superstar gallery of rock stars to exit the stage in 2017 … Larry Highbaugh, 67, five-time Grey Cup champ with the Eskimos as a defensive back and punt returner in the days when there was no blocking on punts … Betty Kennedy, 91, longtime panelist on Front Page Challenge (for younger readers, ask your parents, or grandparents) … Chuck Barris, 87, creator of The Gong Show and The Dating Game. Not necessarily anything you want to brag about.

April-May

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Don Rickles

Don Rickles, 90, one of the greatest stand-up comics of all time … J. Geils, 71, guitarist and band leader of the J. Geils Band, who inflicted ‘Centrefold’, ‘Freeze Frame’ and ‘Love Stinks’ upon an unsuspecting world … Aaron Hernandez, 27, former New England Patriot whose promising career went off the rails when he was convicted of murder. He committed suicide in prison … Erin Moran, 56, who played Joanie on both Happy Days and Joannie Loves Chachi. In her last days, she was reportedly kicked out of her trailer park for unruly behaviour. Happy days, indeed … Jonathan Demme, 73, director of Melvin and Howard, Philadelphia and The Silence of the Lambs … Stan Weston, 84, creator of G.I. Joe, fighting man from head to toe … Roger Ailes, 77, villainous genius of Fox News and a man who did more to damage American democracy than anyone before Donald Trump … Chris Cornell, 52, singer of Soundgarden and Audioslave … Roger Moore, 89, the most British of all the James Bonds (he played him seven times), and the star of some of the worst Bond films (Octopussy and Moonraker)… Greg Allman, 69, member of the Allman Brothers Band (Ramblin’ Man, Midnight Rider) … Bill White, 72, former NHL defenceman and member of Team Canada ’72.

June-July

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Martin Landau

Manuel Noreiga, 83, pizza-faced former dictator of Panama … Adam West, 88, the only true Batman, from the TV series of 1966-68 … Sam Panopoulous, 83, Canadian restaurant owner who created the Hawaiian pizza in 1962 … Don Matthews, 77, the most successful coach in CFL history … Stephen Furst, 62, who played Flounder in Animal House … my brother Richard, 73 … Dave Semenko, 59, beloved former enforcer for the Edmonton Oilers, the man who never let anyone lay a finger on Wayne Gretzky … George A. Romero, 77 who changed the horror genre with his film Night of the Living Dead … John Heard, 71, character actor best known as the dad in the Home Alone movies .. Kenny Shields, 69, lead singer of the Canadian rock band Streetheart … Martin Landau, 89, Oscar-winning actor for playing Bela Lugosi in the film Ed Wood, and before that he starred in the great old TV series, Mission: Impossible. Mind you, he also appeared in The Harlem Globetrotters on Gilligan’s Island … June Foray, 99, the voice of Rocky the Flying Squirrel, Granny from the Warmer Brothers cartoons, and many others.

August-September

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Jerry Lewis

Sam Shephard, 73, Pulitzer Prize-winning American playwright and sometime actor (nominated for a supporting actor Oscar in 1983). New York magazine called him the greatest American playwright of his generation … Glen Campbell, 81, country singer who achieved huge mainstream popularity with a string of hits like Wichita Lineman, By the Time I Get To Phoenix, and Rhinestone Cowboy. In his last years, he became the public face of Alzheimer’s Disease; if you have Netflix, I highly recommend the documentary Glen Campbell: I’ll Be Me, which follows his final tour. He had a great late career return … Dick Gregory, 84, pioneering black stand up comic who brought race issues to the comedy stage, and who later devoted his life to “agitating” … Perhaps the biggest loss in the entertainment world this year was the departure of Jerry Lewis, 91, one of the most popular, and often critically reviled comics in film history. His best films, like The Nutty Professor, The Bellboy, The Stooge, Cinderfella, are considered comedy classics. His worst films were, well, unwatchable. He was also a raging egomaniac and often quite a nasty person.

October-November

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Hugh Hefner

Walter Becker, 67, guitarist, bassist and co-founder of one of my all-time favourite bands, Steely Dan. With partner Donald Fagen, Steely Dan produced unique hit songs like Reelin’ in the Years, Rikki Don’t Lose That Number, Hey Nineteen, Kid Charlemange, Peg, and of course, Deacon Blues, which is in the Top 5 of my all-time favourite songs … Shelly Berman, 92, a very successful stand-up comic in the 1960s, and frequent comic actor. He most recently played Larry David’s father on Curb Your Enthusiasm … Skip Prokop, 73, co-founder and drummer for the great Canadian band Lighthouse, described as the world’s first 13-piece rock orchestra. Lighthouse had hits with One Fine Morning, Sunny Days, and the truly great song, Little Kind Words … Don Williams, 78,  a singer of heartfelt country ballads who emerged as one of the biggest stars in country music during the late 1970s. His hits include You’re My Best Friend, Lord, I Hope This Day Is Good, and Tulsa Time … Harry Dean Stanton, 91, familiar American character actor, best known for important parts in Alien, The Green Mile and many, many other movies …Jake LaMotta, 95, former boxer immortalized by Robert DeNiro in Raging Bull… Bobby ‘The Brain’ Heenan, 72, former WWE wrestler, manager and commentator … Hugh Hefner, 91, creator and publisher of Playboy magazine. Hefner’s impact on society can scarcely be understated. He created the first widely distributed magazine to feature female

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Tom Petty

nudity (my teenage self thanks you, Hef). But it wasn’t just a nudie magazine; Playboy featured writing from some of the most important and influential writers of the 20th century. You could actually say that you read Playboy for the articles, and not be laughed at … David Mainse, 81, Canadian televangelist who created and hosted the long-running 100 Huntley Street ….  Monty Hall, 96, the Winnipeg-born host of the long running game show Let’s Make A Deal … While a lot of musicians who died this year were well past their prime, that wasn’t the case with Tom Petty, 66, one of the most enduring and widely popular rock and roll artists of the last few decades.  … also gone well before his time was Gord Downie, 53, the poet laureate of Canadian rock as the lead singer and songwriter for The Tragically Hip … on the other end of the Canadian entertainment spectrum, Juliette, 91, at one time one of Canada’s most popular singers as star of her own long-running TV series which ran from the 1950s to the 1970s. She was known as ‘Our Pet Juliette’. Different times, different times  … Fats Domino, 89, rock and roll pioneer, famous for hits like Blueberry Hill, Ain’t That A Shame, and I’m Walkin‘.

December

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Rose Marie

David Cassidy, 67, teen heart-throb from The Partridge Family TV show … Charles Manson, 83, notorious cult leader who led a murderous group of followers, resulting in one of the most infamous murder sprees of the 1960s. As the saying goes, the good die young … Della Reese, 86, singer and former star of Touched by an Angel … Mel Tillis, 85, longtime country music star and member of the Country Music Hall of Fame … Malcolm Young, 64, the guitarist and songwriter who with his brother Andrew helped found the Australian rock band AC/DC … Jim Nabors, 87, who played the amiable hick Gomer Pyle on The Andy Griffith Show, and later on his own show. Nabors spoke in a typically Southern drawl, but sang in a deep operatic baritone that was a weird contrast, to put it mildly .. Dick Enberg, 82, famed American sports broadcaster … Terry Cavanagh, 91, former mayor of Edmonton … Keely Smith, 89, American singer (That Old Black Magic) … bookending the passing of Mary Tyler Moore in January, this month saw the passing of Rose Marie, 93, who played the rarest of rarities – a female comedy writer – on the Dick Van Dyke Show … Sue Grafton, 77, wildly successful mystery writer who wrote a series of murder mysteries starting with A is for Alibi. She made it all the way to Y is for Yesterday just this year … Johnny Bower, 93, legendary NHL goaltender.

And this brings to an end the long running and widely ignored series Stuff Happens. Three years of this is enough, I think, particularly since I’m trying to wean myself off of news as best I can. I will still write occasional blogs on topics of interest. Thank you for reading.

 

 

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The Return of Stuff Happens, week 51: The year in books (well, books I read, anyway)

OK, I’m well aware Stuff Happened this past week. Justin Trudeau had his knuckles rapped for accepting an all-expenses paid trip on a private island, courtesy the Aga Khan some sort of religious leader/zillionaire. Trudeau claimed that the Aga Khan was a “close family friend”, when in fact the last time he saw him was at daddy Pierre’s funeral. The mini-scandal makes Trudeau look like a spoiled little rich boy, which is pretty close to the truth. Meanwhile, Donald Trump got his tax reform plan passed despite the almost universal opinion that it greatly benefits the rich at the expense of everyone else. Did we expect anything else?

I’m sure other stuff happened, but I don’t really care. I’m weaning myself off of news in anticipation of my Year of Not Caring Anymore. So this week I’m offering something different … my list of favourite books of the year.

First,  The Stranger in the Woods: The Extraordinary Story of the Last True Hermit is one of the best of the year (again, by that, I mean MY year). The amazing true story of a guy who just up and quits civilization, and what happens after, is absolutely gripping. I also highly recommend Killers of the Flower Moon: The Osage Murders and the Birth of the FBI a true-life murder mystery about one of the most monstrous crimes in American history, the systematic murder of an entire tribe in the 1920s. Another slice of American history can be found in The Kelloggs: The Battling Brothers of Battle Creek, the story of the founding of one of the great food companies in the world, Kelloggs, and the two brothers behind it. You will never look at Corn Flakes the same way again.

The best biography I’ve read in a long, long time is Ali: A Life by Jonathan Eig. In this meticulously researched but never boring warts-and-all biography, Eig shows that Ali was one of the genuine giants of the 20th century.

On the political side, if you haven’t had enough of Donald Trump and the U.S. election, I recommendInsane Clown President: Dispatches from the 2016 Circus  by Rolling Stone writer Matt Taibbi. Not for all tastes perhaps (if you like your political commentary with a frown, this won’t work for you), but if you want something flippant and thoughtful at the same time, this is your book. I also thoroughly enjoyed Vacationland: True Stories from Painful Beaches by peculiar comic/writer John Hodgman, a frequent contributor to The Daily Show back when it was good. Genuinely laugh out loud funny. Fans of David Letterman will want to read Letterman: The Last Giant of Late Night, more warts-and-all stuff.

Lest you believe, based on the above-mentioned books, that I read exclusively American, let me assure you that I am as Canadian as the next guy. The trouble is that nothing from our home and native land that I read this year was as good as the American stuff. In honour of our 150th, I read Charlotte Gray’s so-so The Promise of Canada: 150 Years–Building a Great Country One Idea at a Time, Mike Myer’s elementary school introduction to Canada, called, imaginatively, Canada.

A Number of Things: Stories of Canada Told Through Fifty Objects by Jane Urquart is pretty academic. Much more entertaining was Puckstruck: Distracted, Delighted and Distressed by Canada’s Hockey Obsession.

If I had to pick a top book of 2017, I’d have to choose Churchill’s Ministry of Ungentlemanly Warfare: The Mavericks Who Plotted Hitler’s Defeat by Giles Milton, an almost too crazy to be true, hugely entertaining account of the British men who created and led guerilla attacks on the Nazis. The stories are absolutely fantastic, and Milton is a splendid writer. When non-fiction is this good, I see no need to read fiction. If I had it in my power, I would turn this book into a multi-part Netflix series.

If you’re really bored, you can find a list of every book I read this year at my Goodreads page.  It wasn’t all good, believe me, but why dwell on the lousy when you can celebrate the good?

And finally, if you’re sitting around with nothing much to do during the Christmas break, check out this photo collection from the New York Times. It will seem impossible that Donald Trump was only inaugurated THIS YEAR (seems like at least five), but the photos don’t lie.

RIP

Dick Enberg, 82, famed American sports broadcaster … Terry Cavanagh, 91, former mayor of Edmonton … Keely Smith, 89, American singer (That Old Black Magic)

 

The Return of Stuff Happens, week 50: The year in Google

In lieu of an actual look at the past week, here’s a look at last year, as tabulated by most popular searches on Google.

Here in Canada, Hurricane Irma was the top search for the year, even though it never touched Canada. Surprisingly, the no. 2 overall search was Meghan Markle, the fiancee of Prince Harry, or Charles, or Jimmy, or whatever that ginger royal goes by.  No. 3 on the list was Tom Petty, which is a little surprising in that Gord Downie – The Tragically Hip singer who also died in an orgy of mourning and much ultra-Canadian commentary about how important he was to the country – wasn’t even in the top 10 (he was no. 4 on the list of ‘losses’, behind Tom Petty, Chris Cornell, and even Bill Paxton). For some reason, the Ottawa Senators were in fourth place (I assume they did something in the Stanley Cup playoffs; I stopped watching once the Oilers were eliminated). After that, we searched North Korea, Chris Cornell (another dead singer), 13 Reasons Why (which, as I understand it, is a Netflix series), the fidget spinner (which, as I understand it, was a fad of some sort), the iPhone 8 (not the iPhone X, but the 8), and the Super Bowl. Aside from the Senators, that’s not a very Canadian list.

There was more Can-con on the list of most searched political figures. Trump was no. 1, naturally, but a surprise no. 2 was Andrew Scheer, most likely people asking ‘who the hell is Andrew Scheer?’ Third was hipster NDP leader Jagmeet Singh, which is kind of embarrassing that such a cool dude wasn’t searched as much as a dullard like Scheer. New Governor-General Julie Payett came in at no. 7, and Valerie Plante was no. 9. In case you’re wondering- (and I know you are –  she was the surprise winner of the Montreal mayoralty.

Just out of curiosity, I checked out Australia’s Google search list. (Google supplied a list of Aussies most frequently searched, but offered no such list for Canada. Even New Zealand got its own list of most searched Kiwis, so apparently we don’t rate). The top overall searches in Australia couldn’t be more Australian: no. 1 was the Australian Open, no. 2 was the Melbourne Cup (which, believe it or not, is a horserace), and no. 3 was Wimbledon. In New Zealand, the top search was for lotto results.

Harvey Weinstein topped Canada’s most searched people list, which included at no. 4 Eric Salvail. Yes, Eric Salvail. THAT Eric Salvail. Don’t feel badly if you’re asking who the hell Eric Salvail is. Turns out, he’s a Quebec TV personality who is, like every other male celebrity today, charged with sexual misconduct. Again, what could be more Canadian than the no. 4 searched name in Canada being unknown to 80% of the population.

Under the How category, Canadians were most interested in how they name hurricanes, and at no. 2, the eternally vexing question, how many teaspoons in a tablespoon. At no. 8 for some reason … how often should you wash your hair.

Under the Why category, two are absolutely fantastic. Aside from the expected (why are NFL players protesting the national anthem; why are women marching; why are there so many hurricanes), there were two gems. At no. 8, Canadians wanted to know ‘why doesn’t Caillou have hair’, and at no. 9, ‘why is everything so heavy’. These are great, but my favourite why question comes from Australia: at no. 6, ‘why is my poop green’. In New Zealand, which is clearly a weirder country than I imagined, no. 5 on the ‘What is’ list is ‘what is the time’.

You can see the whole list, from every country, here.

RIP

Zarley Zalapski, 49, Edmonton-born former NHL defenceman with Pittsburgh, Calgary and Hartford. He died of a viral infection in Calgary.

 

The Return of Stuff Happens, week 49: Pure Canadiana

I’ve written so much stuff about American political craziness (more to come, I’m sure), I feel that I’ve been neglecting my home and native land. So this week, let us turn our gaze inward.

First, let’s go to Quebec, the Florida of Canada, the province that passed a law earlier this year that denied basic government services to anyone wearing a face covering (so that would be Muslim women and … bank robbers?). This week, the Quebec legislature (or, as they grandly like to call it, the ‘national assembly’) unanimously passed a resolution that  “all merchants and their employees who have contact with local and international clients to warmly greet them with the word ‘Bonjour.’ “‘

Whaaa? Why would they need a resolution to encourage retail people to be polite? I know the French are notoriously rude, but I thought that was only in France.

Well, in Montreal – Canada’s most effortlessly bilingual city – stores and restaurants routinely welcome visitors with “Bonjour-Hi”. If the person responds with ‘bonjour’, the speak French; if they get a ‘hi’ they speak English. Nice compromise, right? Very courteous, and very Canadian. Not to the Quebec ‘national assembly’. PQ Leader Jean Francois Lisée called it an “irritant and example of galloping bilingualism.”, as if bilingualism was a bad thing. The first I heard about this was in an online story from The New York Times, so it’s got international traction. The BBC also picked up the story. There will be plenty of people around the world, potential tourists, who will hear the story as “In Quebec, they’re not even allowed to say ‘hi’ to you. I’m sure as hell not visiting there.” Au revoir-goodbye, Quebec.

Meanwhile, in Ottawa …

A minister is in hot water (OK, maybe tepid water). Disabilities Minister Kent Hehr was meeting with a woman, Jennifer McCrea, who is part of a group of women suing the government over allegations they were denied benefits while on maternity leave.  McCrea said she specifically asked Hehr why Ottawa is continuing to fight sick women, to which he replied ‘Well, Ms. McCrea, that is the old question, like asking … ‘When did you stop beating your wife?’ ” Ms. McCrea said he couldn’t reply, because her jaw hit the ground. NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh appeared taken aback by the remark. “He can’t be talking about violence against women like that,” he said. “We need our leaders to be denouncing violence against women and in no way making light of it.” Seriously, Jaggy? Have you never heard that expression? And you’re in politics?

Hehr has, of course, apologized for the comment. But I don’t see much to reason to be sorry. The ‘beating your wife’ line is an old one, a way of indicating that you’ve been asked a loaded question that you can’t answer without looking bad. It’s fairly common, particularly in political circles. I can see how Mr. McCrea might not have been familiar with that expression, but surely Singh knows (or should know) that it has nothing to do with violence against women.

Man, I would hate to be in politics today.

RIP

Conrad Brooks, 85, an American film actor whose filmography includes some of the “best” of Ed Wood, including Glen or Glenda and Plan 9 from Outer Space. Among his other films were (ready?) Jalopy, Bride of the Monster, Night of the Ghouls, The Mad Magician, The Sinister Urge, The Atomic Monster: The Beast of Yucca Flats, A Polish Vampire in Burbank, and F.A.R.T. The Movie … Fil Fraser, 85, longtime Alberta broadcaster … Christine Keeler, 75, the central female figure in the notorious Profumo Affair scandal in Britain in the 1960s.

 

The Return of Stuff Happens, week 46: Trump loses it.

I swear I didn’t want to write another word about Donald Trump. But some weeks – almost any week, in fact – he’s inescapable. So, with apologies, here we go again…

When the history of the Donald Trump presidency is written (my guess is sometime around mid-2018), Dec. 1, 2017 will be seen as the beginning of the end of his presidency. At least, we can hope.

On Friday, Michael Flynn – the former national security advisor to Trump, a former U.S. general, the guy who lead “lock her up” chants at the Republican convention, and a guy who clearly fell in with a bad crowd  – pleaded guilty to lying to the FBI about his contacts with the Russians. He admitted to just the one charge (he was facing a whole raft of them) in exchange for telling the special investigation everything he knows about the Trump campaign’s links with Russia. Flynn is ready to spill the beans about who was giving the orders to talk to the Russians, and the word is that the source is very high in the White House, possibly Jared Kushner, Trump’s son-in-law, primary advisor and background extra on The Walking Dead. And if the orders came from Kushner, you’ve got to know that the First Father in Law was well aware as well. (A top White House lawyer called Michael Flynn “an ‘Obama administration official” in statement distancing Trump from Russia plea deal.) The walls are closing in on Trump and his clown posse.

The Flynn flip capped a brutal week for the president. Earlier in the week, he retweeted a batch of videos that purported to show Muslims doing bad things. One of them allegedly showed a Muslim attacking a guy on crutches, another allegedly showed Muslims throwing people off buildings, and another showed some swarthy types (i.e. Muslims) smashing a statue of the Virgin Mary. All of the videos came from Jayda Fransen, the deputy leader of a far right wing outfit called Britain First. Fransen was thrilled with the attention, tweeting “GOD BLESS YOU TRUMP!” for giving her discredited organization a boost. And, of course, the videos had all been debunked a long time ago. The British government was outraged. A senior member of Teresa May’s government tweeted: “So POTUS has endorsed the views of a vile, hate-filled racist organisation that hates me and people like me. He is wrong and I refuse to let it go and say nothing.” The leader of the Labour Party called the retweets “abhorent, dangerous and a threat to our society.” Trump retaliated by tweeting at Theresa May, or so he though. He sent the tweet to someone named Theresa May Scrivner.

And just to wrap up the week in Trump, there are now people openly suggesting that he is mentally unwell. The guy who co-wrote Trump’s book, The Art of the Deal, said on TV this week he thinks Trump is genuinely crazy, as in mentally ill. A poll found 56 percent of the population says he’s unfit to serve, and even senators have been caught on tape describing him as “crazy.” Aside from his core of fanatical followers (a large group, to be sure) it’s hard to find anyone who doesn’t think that he’s mentally unbalanced.

So this is the situation we’re in. The United States of America, the bulwark of democracy, is crumbling before our eyes. It is under the control of a man who may not be in full position of his faculties. Crazy or sane, he’s dangerous, and the U.S. of A. is falling apart. Britain is in free-fall thanks to the Brexit decision. Germany – stable, dependable, powerful, no-longer warlike Germany – is struggling, since two months have past since the federal elections failed to produce a working majority for Angela Merkel (or anyone else), Germany is in a state of limbo, and Merkel’s time may be done. Meanwhile, China is getting stronger every day, and still a one-party state that brooks no dissent. Russia is led by a cunning, cold-eyed killer who will do anything to advance the cause of Russia. North Korea is under the control of fat little lunatic with nukes.

The major democracies are in crisis, the major anti-democratic nations are strong and confident, and getting stronger and more confident every day.  Just as Trump’s history may look back upon Dec. 1, 2017 as a pivotal moment in his presidency, future historians may look back on 2017 as a pivotal moment in world history.

And I’m worried what they’ll find.

RIP

Jim Nabors, 87, who played the amiable hick Gomer Pyle on The Andy Griffith Show, and later on his own show. Nabors spoke in a typically Southern drawl, but sang in a deep operatic baritone that was a weird contrast, to put it mildly. Go to about the 3 minute mark of this video to get a feel for Gomer Pyle the character, and Jim Nabors the singer.