George Lindsey, 'Andy Griffith's' goofy Goober Pyle, dead at 83

Versatile actor portrayed funny North Carolina sticks hick for 30 years on three different shows. Photo: AP

NASHVILLE, Tenn., May 6, 2012 — Goober Pyle is dead. Actor George Lindsey—who spent nearly 30 years as Gomer Pyle’s beanie-wearing, happy-go-lucky, goofball cousin on the popular “The Andy Griffith Show” and its later spinoff, “Mayberry RFD”—passed away here Sunday morning, May 7, after what has been termed a “brief illness.” He was 83 years old. Final arrangements have not been announced.

Mr. Lindsey played Goober, a service station attendant from fictional Mayberry, North Carolina, for nearly thirty years. He launched the character on the original Griffith show in 1964, portraying Goober until 1968 and moving without a break to “Mayberry RFD” after the original Griffith show ceased production. When “Mayberry” itself breathed its last, so popular was Mr. Lindsey’s enduring character that Goober—and Mr. Lindsey—were picked up by “Hee Haw,” a cornpone answer to TV’s earlier “Laugh-In” that ended up running through 1993, an amazing longevity record.

Reporting in The Tennessean, Cindy Watts noted that a statement from Andy Griffith, now 85, had “accompanied the family’s Sunday morning announcement of Lindsey’s death. ‘George Lindsey was my friend. I had great respect for his talent and his human spirit. In recent years, we spoke often by telephone. Our last conversation was a few days ago. We would talk about our health, how much we missed our friends who passed before us and usually about something funny. I am happy to say that as we found ourselves in our eighties, we were not afraid to say, ‘I love you.’ That was the last thing George and I had to say to each other. ‘I love you.’ “

The Pyle cousins, Goober (George Lindsey) and Gomer (Jim Nabors.)

The Pyle cousins, Goober (George Lindsey) and Gomer (Jim Nabors.) (AP)

Mr. Lindsey originally appeared on “Andy Griffith” essentially as a replacement character for the even nuttier Gomer Pyle, said to be his “cousin.” As portrayed by Jim Nabors, Gomer had quickly become so popular that his character was spun off to his own sitcom, “Gomer Pyle, USMC.” The new Pyle series itself became a big TV hit.

Meanwhile, back in Mayberry, Mr. Lindsey’s Goober took up where Gomer left off, becoming a new, if slightly less endearing regular on the Griffith show and its later iteration.

The name of Mr. Lindsey’s character name was supposedly derived from the southern nickname for the peanut, itself a derivation of the African word “nguba,” which also referred to the popular ground nut. “Nguba” was eventually Americanized to “goober” or “goober pea” in the coastal Carolinas. Hence the nickname of Gomer’s cousin.

But “goober” also enjoyed heavy use in Yankee slang as a humorously derogatory term describing a prototypical Southern “hick” or “hayseed”—a notion probably not lost on the Griffith series’ writers when creating Mr. Lindsey’s character.

Goober was not Mr. Lindsey’s first part, however. He’d been a character actor for years, with plenty of additional credits both before and after his stint in the Mayberry continuum. He once played a bad guy who actually shot James Arness’ Marshall Matt Dillon in the long running “Gunsmoke” TV horse opera. He also appeared in various roles on other shows, including “The Real McCoys,” “Alfred Hitchcock,” “Twilight Zone,” and “M*A*S*H.”

Movie credits included “Cannonball Run II” as well as voiceover roles in several Disney full-length animated films.

Born, like his onetime TV sidekick Jim Nabors, in Alabama, Mr. Lindsey attended college at what is now known as the University of North Alabama where he played football and majored in physical education and biological science. After graduating in 1952, he joined the Air Force for one tour of duty before leaving the service to coach sports and teach history in a high school not far from Huntsville, Alabama.

Mr. Lindsey was not to remain a teacher for long. He’d been bitten by the theater bug back when he was a teenager, after seeing a performance of the musical Oklahoma! He started performing in college theater, even though he was there primarily on an athletic scholarship. He ultimately ended up moving to New York 1950s to pursue acting which had become his first love. There he soon found himself appearing in musicals like “Wonderful Town,” whose bright and catchy score was composed by the young Leonard Bernstein.

But the incomparable allure of Hollywood soon beckoned. Mr. Lindsey left the bright lights of New York and relocated to Tinseltown early in the 1960s. And it was there at last that he eventually and unexpectedly stumbled into his life’s work via the two Mayberry TV series and “Hee Haw,” the latter of which started out on CBS, but then self-syndicated in 1971, beginning its astonishing, 20-year run as a syndicated show. Since “Hee Haw” was taped primarily in Nashville, Mr. Lindsey eventually relocated to that city.

Although he became a longtime resident of Tennessee, Mr. Lindsey’s heart remained in Alabama. Mr. Lindsey’s alma mater holds an annual film fest in his name. He was inducted into the Alabama Sports Hall of fame in 1983 and also won an award from the Alabama Music Hall of Fame. Even a road, a portion of Highway 78 in Birmingham, was renamed “George Lindsey Highway.” Mr. Lindsey, in return, set up an academic scholarship program in Alabama and also generously supported the Special Olympics program.

Married to the former Joyanne Herbert from 1955 to 1991, Mr. Lindsey is survived by his son George Lindsey Jr., currently a resident of Woodland Hills, California; his daughter, Camden Jo Lindsey Gardner, residing in Valencia, California; and his longtime companion, Anne Wilson of Nashville.


Read more of Terry’s news and reviews at Curtain Up! in the Entertain Us neighborhood of the Washington. For Terry’s investing and political insights, visit his Communities column, The Prudent Man, in Business.

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Terry Ponick

Now writing on investing, politics, music, and theater for the Washington Times Communities, Terry was the longtime music and culture critic for the Washington Times (1994-2009). 

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