BJ Thomas, the Grammy-winning singer who enjoyed success on the pop, country and gospel charts with hits such as “I Just Can’t Help Believing,” “Raindrops Keep Fallin’ On My Head,” and “Hooked on a Feeling.” has passed away. He was 78.
Thomas, who announced in March that he had been diagnosed with lung cancer, died Saturday of complications from the disease at his home in Arlington, Texas, his publicist Jeremy Westby said in a statement.
It is with deep sadness that we confirm the passing of BJ Thomas. pic.twitter.com/l2zrmtfmKw
— BJ Thomas (@TheBJThomas) May 29, 2021
Billy Joe Thomas, a Hugo, Oklahoma native who grew up in Houston, broke through in 1966 with a gospel-like cover of Hank Williams’ “I’m So Lonesome I Could Cry” and went on to sell millions of records and have dozens of them. of hits in different genres. He reached No. 1 with pop, adult contemporary and country listeners in 1976 with “(Hey Won’t You Play) Another Somebody Done Somebody Wrong Song.” In the same year, his “Home Where I Belong” became one of the first gospel albums to be certified platinum for selling over 1 million copies.
Dionne Warwick, who did a duet with Thomas, sent a tweet on Saturday with her condolences.
“My sincere condolences to the family of one of my favorite duet partners, BJ Thomas. I will miss him as I know so many others will. Rest in peace my friend,” she said.
Thomas’s signature recording was “Raindrops Keep Fallin’ On My Head,” a No. 1 pop hit and an Academy Award winner for Best Original Song as part of the soundtrack to one of the biggest films of 1969, the irreverent western “Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid.” Thomas was not the first choice to perform Burt Bacharach and Hal David’s whimsical ballad; Ray Stevens turned down the songwriters. But its warm, soulful tenor matched the easy-going mood of the song, immortalized on film during the scene where Butch (Paul Newman) shows off his new bike to Etta Place (Katharine Ross), the girlfriend of the Sundance Kid (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 initially not everyone was satisfied. Thomas recovered from laryngitis while recording the soundtrack version and his vocals are more raspy than for the song that was released alone. Redford, meanwhile, doubted the song even belonged in “Butch Cassidy.”
“When the movie came out, I was very critical — how did the song fit with the movie? There was no rain,” Redford told USA Today in 2019. “At the time it seemed like a stupid idea. How wrong I was.”
Thomas would later say that the “raindrops” phenomenon exacerbated an addiction to pills and alcohol dating back to his teenage years, when a record producer in Houston suggested he take amphetamines to keep his energy up. He was constantly touring and recording, taking dozens of pills a day. In 1976, while (Hey Will’t You Play) Another Somebody Done Somebody Wrong Song’ reached number 1, he felt like he was ‘number 1,000’.
“I was at the bottom with my addictions and my problems,” he said in 2020 on “The Debby Campbell Goodtime Show.” He mentioned a “spiritual awakening” shared with his wife, Gloria Richardson, to help him get clean.
Thomas had few pop hits after the mid-1970s, but he continued to score on the country charts with songs like “Whatever 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 singer and inspirational singer. He won 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 also starred in a handful of films, including “Jory” and “Jake’s Corner” and toured frequently. Recent recordings have included ‘Living Room Music’, with cameos from Lyle Lovett, Vince Gill and Richard Marx. He planned to record in Muscle Shoals, Alabama in 2020, but the sessions were postponed 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” came out in 1978 and was co-authored with Jerry B. Jenkins, later famous for the millions. sold religious novels “Left Behind” written with Tim LaHaye.
In addition to music, Thomas loved baseball as a child and started calling himself BJ because so many of the Little League teammates were also called Billy Joe. In his teens, he sang in church and joined a local rock band, the Triumphs, with whom he would remain into his twenties. He enjoyed Ernest Tubbs, Hank Williams and other country artists his parents liked, but on his own he was inspired by the soul and rhythm and blues singers he heard on the radio or saw on stage, especially Jackie Wilson, whose hit ballad “To Be Loved” Thomas later treated and adopted as a sort of guidebook to his life.
“I grew up in a rather dysfunctional situation and went through years of intense alcoholism and drug addiction, so the song was always a touchstone for me. If you open yourself up to drugs and alcohol at such a young age, it becomes something you will have to deal with for the rest of your life,” he told the Huffington Post in 2014.
“What a roadblock and heartbreak and times of failure have caused me through these addictions. But I had that little bit of lightning from that song. That’s the essence of the whole. To love and be loved. And that takes a lifetime to It has always been an important part of my emotions.”