NASHVILLE, Tenn. - George Lindsey, who spent nearly 30 years as the grinning Goober on "The Andy Griffith Show" and "Hee Haw," has died. He was 83.
A press release from Marshall-Donnelly-Combs Funeral Home in Nashville said Lindsay died early Sunday morning after a brief illness. Funeral arrangements were still being made.
Lindsey was the beanie-wearing Goober on "The Andy Griffith Show" from 1964 to 1968 and its successor, "Mayberry RFD," from 1968 to 1971. He played the same jovial character - a service station attendant - on "Hee Haw" from 1971 until it went out of production in 1993.
"America has grown up with me," Lindsey said in an Associated Press interview in 1985. "Goober is every man; everyone finds something to like about ol' Goober."
He joined "The Andy Griffith Show" in 1964 when Jim Nabors, portraying Gomer Pyle, left the program. Goober Pyle, who had been mentioned on the show as Gomer's cousin, thus replaced him.
"At that time, we were the best acting ensemble on TV. The scripts were terrific. Andy is the best script constructionist I've ever been involved with. And you have to lift your acting level up to his; he's awfully good."
In a statement released through the funeral home, Griffith said, "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 ... 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.'"
Although he was best known as Goober, Lindsey had other roles during a long TV career. Earlier, he often was a "heavy" and once shot Matt Dillon on "Gunsmoke."
His other TV credits included roles on "M(asterisk)A(asterisk)S(asterisk)H," ''The Wonderful World of Disney," ''CHIPs," ''The Glen Campbell Goodtime Hour," ''The Real McCoys," ''Rifleman," ''The Alfred Hitchcock Hour," ''Twilight Zone" and "Love American Style."
Reflecting on his career, he said in 1985: "There's a residual effect of knowing I've made America laugh. I'm not the only one, but I've contributed something."
He had movie roles, too, appearing in "Cannonball Run II" and "Take This Job and Shove It." His voice was used in animated Walt Disney features including "The Aristocats," ''The Rescuers" and "Robin Hood."
Lindsey was born in Jasper, Ala., the son of a butcher. He received a bachelor of science degree from Florence State Teachers College (now the University of North Alabama) in 1952 after majoring in physical education and biology and playing quarterback on the football team.
After spending three years in the Air Force, he worked one year as a high school baseball and basketball coach and history teacher near Huntsville, Ala.
In 1956, he attended the American Theatre Wing in New York City and began his professional career on Broadway, appearing in the musicals "All American" and "Wonderful Town."
He moved to Hollywood in the early 1960s and then to Nashville in the early 1990s.
"There's no place in the United States I can go that they don't know me. They may not know me, but they know the character," he told The Tennessean in 1980.
At that time, he said the Griffith show "was the first soft rural comedy with a moral."
"We physically and mentally became those people when we got to the set."
He did some standup comedy - ending the show by tap and break dancing.
One of his jokes:
"A football coach, holding a football, asks his quarterback, 'Son, can you pass this?' The player says, 'Coach, I don't even think I can swallow it.'"
Lindsey devoted much of his spare time to raising funds for the Alabama Special Olympics. For 17 years, he sponsored a celebrity golf tournament in Montgomery, Ala., that raised money for the mentally disabled.
The University of North Alabama awarded him an honorary doctorate in 1992, and he was affectionately called "Doctor Goober" by acquaintances after that.