Actor and comedian George “Goober” Lindsey, famous for his slow-witted character on The Andy Griffith Show, Mayberry R.F.D. and Hee Haw, died at 12:05 a.m. Sunday after a brief illness. He was 83.
Appearing often in Disney movies, Lindsey voiced Lafayette in The Aristocats (1970), Trigger in Robin Hood (1973), and the Rabbit in The Rescuers(1977). In addition, he was a comedy supporting actor in live-action Disney feature films.
He also voiced the Wolf in the half-hour Canadian TV-movie The New Misadventures Of Ichabod Crane (1979).
Last year, he portrayed the King and other characters in the anime films Starzinger, Starzinger II and Starzinger III.
“George Lindsey was my friend. I had great respect for his talent and his human spirit,” Andy Griffith said in a statement.
“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.’
“George often told me his fondest memories of his life in show business were the years he spent working on The Andy Griffith Show and Mayberry R.F.D. They were for me, too.”
He was born George Smith Lindsey in Fairfield, Alabama on December 17, 1928, and grew up poor in the small town of Jasper, Alabama. He spent most of his childhood at his grandparents’ home and frequented the local movie theater, where he was enthralled by movie cowboys such as Hopalong Cassidy and Bob Steele.
Lindsey displayed a penchant for entertaining at an early age and would do anything for laughs. He was voted “funniest boy” throughout his high school years. At age 14, he saw a production of Oklahoma! in Birmingham and knew then that he wanted to be an actor.
He also became interested in football, and the sport gave him an opportunity to advance his education. After brief stays at Walker Junior College in Jasper and Kemper Military School in Boonville, Missouri, he later won a football scholarship to Florence State Teachers College (now the University of North Alabama). Lindsey was popular in college, and in addition to quarterbacking the Lions football team, he also was active in theater (where he finally got the chance to perform in Oklahoma!), and various other clubs and organizations. His major was biological science and physical education, and he graduated in 1952.
Following his graduation, Lindsey joined the Air Force and was based in Orlando, Florida. There, he worked as a recreations director and spent his spare time producing entertainment shows, doing stand-up comedy, and acting in a local theater group.
Lindsey returned to Jasper and was hired as a coach/history teacher at Hazel Green High School near Huntsville, Alabama. After a year of teaching, he decided to move to New York, where he could study with Helen Hayes at the American Theater Wing.
Times were tough, but he was doing something that he really loved. He studied voice and diction, classics, and body movement and ballet. He completed the program and got the lead role in the class graduation play.
Following graduation, Lindsey hit the streets and began looking for work. He did bit parts in local productions and some work as a stand-up comedy in clubs and dinner theaters. His big break came a few months later when he was picked by director Joshua Logan for a major role in the play All American. The play ran for three months and after the close, he received another off-Broadway role in a play called Wonderful Town.
Lindsey dreamed of working in Hollywood. In 1962, when Wonderful Town ended its run in San Francisco, he headed for Los Angeles. He signed with the William Morris Agency and began to get roles on such TV shows as The Rifleman, Twilight Zone and The Alfred Hitchcock Hour. He also got a part in the feature film Ensign Pulver.
His most famous role, however, was that of Goober in the popular TV series The Andy Griffith Show. He had initially read for the role of Gomer Pyle, but fellow Alabamian Jim Nabors was eventually chosen for that part. When Nabors was given his own show, the producers approached Lindsey about playing Goober, Gomer’s cousin. Thus began a fruitful five years on one of the most popular running series ever on television. Following the cancellation of The Andy Griffith Show, most of the major actors reprised their roles in Mayberry R.F.D., a spin-off of the series.
Lindsey expanded his talents following Mayberry R.F.D. by recording a comedy album in Nashville called Goober Sings. It was in Nashville that he was approached to continue the character of Goober in the popular variety show Hee Haw. It would prove to be a successful venture for Lindsey, who would work with Hee Haw for the next 20 years. He also appeared in numerous guest roles and Disney movies.
Lindsey was always interested in helping others, and his humanitarian achievements over the years were notable. He raised over $1 million for the Special Olympics.
For 17 years, he conducted the George Lindsey Celebrity Golf Tournament in Montgomery, Alabama, which raised money for mentally retarded children. He also helped raise funds for an aquatic center for the Alabama State Hospital for the Mentally Retarded. He was inducted into the Alabama Sports Hall of Fame.
In 1992, UNA presented Lindsey with a honorary doctor of humane letters degree.
In 1998, he helped establish the George Lindsey/University of North Alabama Television and Film Festival. It is an annual event that provides young filmmakers the opportunity to show their work and learn more about the filmmaking industry. Through his contacts in the entertainment industry, he was able to bring in as featured artists such luminaries as Ernest Borgnine and Tom Cherones.
Lindsey shared the 2004 TV Land Legend Award with other cast and crew members of The Andy Griffith Show.
His marriage to Joyanne Herbert in 1955 ended in divorce in 1991.
He is survived by son George Lindsey, Jr. of Woodland Hills, California; daughter Camden Jo Lindsey Gardner and grandsons Carson Cole Gardner and Andrew Liam Gardner of Valencia, California; cousin Rebecca Weber of Gadsden, Alabama; and longtime companion of many years Anne Wilson of Nashville.
George Lindsey will be buried in Jasper, Alabama, sources told WSMV-TV 4 Nashville. Funeral arrangements are being handled by Marshall Donnelly Combs Funeral Home of Nashville.
In lieu of flowers, donations in Lindsey’s memory may be made to Special Olympics Alabama, 880 South Court Street, Montgomery, AL 36104; UNA Foundation, with a designation to the George Lindsey Film and Digital Media Scholarship, UNA Box 5113, Florence, AL 35632-0001; or another charity of the donor’s choice.