By Cindy Watts, The Tennessean
Published: 5/6/2012 1:05:30 PM
George "Goober" Lindsey, most widely known for playing Goober Pyle on the iconic television series The Andy Griffith Show, died Sunday in Nashville after an extended hospitalization. He was 83.
As long as his health allowed, he was still making people smile. The Hee Haw star showed up at Ray Stevens' CD release party Feb. 28 at The Rutledge to lend support to his good friend and fellow comedian. Stevens beamed from the stage as he thanked Lindsey for being there.
"He was in a wheelchair that night, and he was really going out of his way to show up for that," says Stevens, who was friends with Lindsey for 35 years. "That's the kind of friend he was."
Actor Andy Griffith said in a statement that 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.' "
Lindsey's career was much broader than the confines of Mayberry. Lindsey also appeared in MASH, Gunsmoke, Herbie the Love Bug and C.H.I.P.S. He was in movies including Take This Job and Shove It and Cannonball Run II, was a judge for the Miss USA pageant for years, and lent his voice to an assortment of animated Disney characters in movies including The Aristocats, The Rescuers and Robin Hood. He recorded a comedy album in 1971, Goober Sings!, and was a member of the Hee Haw cast for 20 years.
Lindsey, who lived in Nashville at the time of his death, was born in Fairfield, Ala., Dec. 17, 1928, to parents George Ross Lindsey and Alice Smith Lindsey, and grew up in Jasper, Ala. His mother was disabled, and his father struggled to find work. He was the couple's only child and was primarily raised by his grandparents.
He enjoyed spending time at his Aunt Ethel's gas station, where the mechanics wore felt caps to keep the grease and oil from the cars from dripping in their hair. Their caps inspired the beanie Lindsey wore as Goober on The Andy Griffith Show.
From an early age, Lindsey had a sharp sense of humor and comedic timing and became interested in acting at age 14 after seeing a production of Oklahoma! Also an athlete, he played football in high school and went to college at Florence State Teachers College (now the University of North Alabama) on a football scholarship. While there, he also participated in the school's theatrical productions.
Lindsey graduated in 1952 with a teaching certificate and a degree in biological science and physical education. He joined the Air Force and was stationed at Pinecastle Air Force Base in Orlando, where was recreation director. While in Orlando, he met Joyanne Herbert, who became his wife and the mother of his two children, daughters Camden and George Jr. Lindsey and Herbert were married from 1955 to 1991.
Lindsey was discharged from the military in 1956 and moved back to Alabama, where he was a teacher and a basketball coach at a high school outside Huntsville. From there, he and his wife moved to New York City in the late 1950s, where the teacher and would-be actor enrolled in classes at the American Theater Wing. After graduation, Lindsey found work with small parts in local theaters before launching his professional career with significant roles in Broadway plays All-American and Wonderful Town, which led him to Los Angeles with the dream of being a television actor.
He signed with William Morris Agency and after appearing in small roles on multiple television shows, he landed the part of Goober Pyle on The Andy Griffith Show in 1964 — about two years after he first tried out for the role of Gomer Pyle, which was awarded to Jim Nabors. Lindsey acted on the show until it was canceled in 1968, and from there, he took the Goober character to the spinoff Mayberry R.F.D. The show was canceled in 1971. The comedy album won the attention of executives at country variety show Hee Haw, the actor's professional home for the next 20 years.
"Hee-Haw was a great place for George to continue doing what he loved to do, and nobody can crawl inside his head, but he seemed to be pretty happy doing what he was doing when I was there," Stevens says. "I know I enjoyed doing the Hee-Haw shows. It was a big happy family. I think he had a pretty full life."
Lindsey also toured heavily as a comedian, often opening shows in the late '70s for The Oak Ridge Boys. Joe Bonsall remembers the joke Lindsey opened his set with every night:
"He would say, 'I was backstage splashing toilet water on my face and the lid fell on my head,' " Bonsall says. "And of course he wrote it, he was very proud that he wrote all of his own jokes. The first words you heard out of his mouth when you saw him off stage was a joke. It never stopped with George, and I guess that's what you got to be to be a great comic."
In addition to his work on screen, Lindsey was also heavily involved in charity work. He's a recipient of the Minnie Pearl Humanitarian Award, and he raised more than $1.7 million for the Alabama Special Olympics through his George Lindsey Celebrity Golf Tournament.
Lindsey "was a very caring man," Bonsall says. "He just cared about stuff and he cared about people. He cared about what people were going through, and he was so good with people. People would come up to him and he would put his arm around them and they would just light up because that was Goober. I always enjoyed our times with him."
Lindsey is survived by son George Lindsey Jr. of Woodland Hills, Calif.; daughter Camden Jo Lindsey Gardner, her husband, Russell, and their sons, Carson Cole Gardner and Andrew Liam Gardner, all of Valencia, Calif.; a cousin, Rebecca Weber of Gadsden, Ala.; and his companion of many years, Anne Wilson of Nashville.