Back home again with Jim Nabors

Jim takes Eyewitness Sports on a tour.
Dave Calabro/Eyewitness Sports

Maui - The scenery seems to get better at every turn. It's a two-hour drive through a tropical rainforest to find Jim Nabors' paradise home.

Nabors went to look at the property with Carol Burnett.

"We were just hanging out. She was climbing trees and doing her Tarzan yell. She did not think we were serious," he said.

But Nabors was serious. He bought the 500-acre retreat the next day. Thirty years later, it's now a working macadamia nut farm with 10,000 trees. Much of the property has been left to the wild tropical flowers and fruit trees.

Nabors gave Eyewitness Sports a jungle tour. He admits to walking around with a big smile on his face when he drives around the lush greenery.

"It's unbelievable," he said.

He took us to his favorite spot in the world - amid the towering palm fronds and spectacular cliffs, it was a stunning view of the Pacific surf pounding the rocks below.

"Not too bad," Nabors said, referring to the mile or so of untouched shoreline he owns. "There's a certain magic here that I've never found anywhere else in the world. Besides the Indy 500."

Jim Nabors' traditional pre-race performance of "Back Home Again in Indiana" began in 1972.

Track owner Tony Hulman asked a favor from the Hollywood star who happened to be there just to watch the race.

"'Hey,' he said, 'Would you like to sing the song?'" Nabors recalled. "And I thought he meant the Star-Spangled Banner. So I said, 'Well, sure, okay.' So I got up out of my seat and followed him over. He introduced me to the band conductor and I asked what key they did this in and he said, 'We've only got one key.' And I said, 'No, no, the Star-Spangled Banner's got two.' [He said] 'you're not singing that.' 'What? What am I singing?' He says, 'Back Home Again in Indiana. Do you know that tune?' 'Well, kind of. I kind of know it.' So I wrote the lyrics on my hand, to be sure. I had no rehearsal, no intro, nothing. Just walked out there and sang it and thirty-something years later I still do it."

Since then, Nabors has missed just one race. In 2007, the fans had to sing the song as Nabors battled a heart ailment in Hawaii.

"I was lying in the hospital, and I was all by myself and it was like six in the morning, our time here, right before six, and I was listening to you. So I was lying there and they started singing the song and I started to cry. I got very emotional, not being there for thirty-something years," he said.

But that setback was minor compared to Nabors' health problems in 1994. Doctors gave him just two months to live. Nabors needed a liver transplant.

"I just said, my life's in your hands and that's it. I finally got one about - probably had less than a week left. Plus I had lost about 70 pounds of body mass, so I was going really fast. I wasn't really sure I'd ever sing again," he said.

But Nabors retreated to his special place in Maui and made a full recovery. Then it was time for his yearly appearance in Indy. He was given a second chance.

"It just made me more real in my life. This is what life's about. You can be knocked off fast and you should appreciate every day of your life no matter what's happening to you. That's all you have is today."

Now at 78 years old, Jim Nabors is still going strong. After all, Gomer Pyle can't slow down. He even did a "golLEE" for us.

Watch Eyewitness News at 11:00 pm Monday for the second part of this two-part series.
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