BJ Thomas, the Grammy-winning singer who has found success on the pop, country and gospel charts with hits such as “I Just Can’t Help Believing,” “The raindrops keep falling on my head“And” Hanging on to a feeling, “passed away. He was 78 years old.
Thomas, who announced in March that he had been diagnosed with lung cancer, died of complications from the disease on Saturday at his home in Arlington, Texas, his publicist Jeremy Westby said in a statement.
A native of Hugo, Oklahoma who grew up in Houston, Billy Joe Thomas broke in 1966 with a gospel-style cover of “I’m So Lonesome I Could Cry” by Hank Williams and has gone on to sell millions of dollars. disks and have dozens of them. hits across genres. He reached No. 1 among pop, contemporary adult and country listeners in 1976 with “(Hey Won’t You Play) Another Somebody Done Somebody Wrong Song”. That same year, his “Home Where I Belong” became one of the first gospel albums to be certified platinum, selling over a million copies.
His signature record was “The raindrops keep falling on my headA No. 1 pop hit and Oscar winner for Best Original Song as part of the soundtrack to one of 1969’s greatest films, the irreverent western “Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid.” Thomas was not the first choice to interpret the fanciful ballad composed by Burt Bacharach and Hal David; Ray Stevens turned down songwriters. But his warm, moving tenor matched the song’s laid-back mood, immortalized on film during the scene when Butch (Paul Newman) shows off his new bike to Sundance Kid’s girlfriend Etta Place (Katharine Ross) (Robert Redford) ).
“Raindrops” has since been heard everywhere from “The Simpsons” to “Forrest Gump” and was voted into the Grammy Hall of Fame in 2013. But, at first, not everyone was satisfied. Thomas was recovering from laryngitis while recording the soundtrack version and his voice is hoarse than the song released on its own. Redford, meanwhile, doubted the song even belonged to “Butch Cassidy.”
“When the movie came out I was very critical – how did the song fit into the movie? There was no rain, ”Redford told USA Today in 2019.“ At the time, that seemed like a stupid idea. I was wrong.
Thomas would later say that the “raindrop” phenomenon exacerbated a pill and alcohol addiction that dated back to his teenage years, when a record producer in Houston suggested he take amphetamines to keep his energy up. He was constantly spinning and recording and taking dozens of pills a day. In 1976, when “(Hey Won’t You Play) Another Somebody Done Somebody Wrong Song” reached number 1, it felt like “number 1000”.
“I was at the bottom of my addictions and my problems,” he said in 2020 on “The Debby Campbell Goodtime Show”. He cited a “spiritual awakening” shared with his wife, Gloria Richardson, helping him to cleanse himself.
Thomas had little pop success after the mid-1970s, but he continued to score in the country charts with No. 1 songs such as “Wwhat Happened to Old-Fashioned Love” and “New Looks from an Old Lover” . In the late 1970s and early 1980s he was also a leading gospel and inspirational singer, winning two Dove Awards and five Grammys, including a 1979 Grammy for Best Gospel Performance for “The Lord’s.” Prayer ”.
Fans of the 1980s sitcom “Growing Pains” heard him as the lead singer of the show’s theme song. He has also appeared in a handful of films, including “Jory” and “Jake’s Corner” and has toured often. Recent recordings have included “Living Room Music,” featuring cameos by Lyle Lovett, Vince Gill and Richard Marx. He had planned to record in 2020 in Muscle Shoals, Alabama, but sessions were delayed due to the pandemic.
Thomas married Richardson in 1968 and had three daughters: Paige, Nora and Erin. He and his wife worked on the 1982 memoir “In Tune: Finding How Good Life Can Be”. His book “Home Where I Belong” was released in 1978 and was co-authored by Jerry B. Jenkins, later famous for the million dollar “Left Behind” religious novels written with Tim LaHaye.
In addition to music, Thomas loved baseball as a child and started calling himself BJ because many Little League teammates also called themselves Billy Joe. As a teenager he sang in church and joined a local rock band, the Triumphs, with whom he would remain in his twenties. He loved Ernest Tubbs, Hank Williams and other country artists his parents loved, but on his own he was inspired by the soul and rhythm and blues singers he heard on the radio or saw on stage, most notably Jackie Wilson, whose hit ballad “To Be I loved it” Thomas then covered and adopted as a sort of guide to his life.
“I grew up in a pretty dysfunctional situation and went through years of heavy alcoholism and drug addiction, so the song has always been a touchstone for me. When you open up to drugs and alcohol at such a young age, it becomes something that you have to deal with for the rest of your life, ”he told The Huffington Post in 2014.
“What a roadblock, what heartache and what a period of failure have caused me these addictions. But I got this little flash of this song. This is the essence of it all. To love and be loved. And it takes a lifetime to accomplish. It has always been an important part of my emotions.
This story has been corrected to show that Thomas sang the theme song “Growing Pains”, not “The Facts of Life”.
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