B.J. Thomas, the Grammy-winning singer whose hits included "I Just Can't Help Believing," "Raindrops Keep Fallin' On My Head," and "Hooked on a Feeling," died at the age of 78.
Thomas, who announced in March that he had lung cancer
, died Saturday at his home in Arlington, Texas
, of complications from the disease, according to his publicist, Jeremy Westby.
We regret to inform you that BJ Thomas
passed away on May 29, 2021. pic.twitter.com/l2zrmtfmKw — BJ Thomas (@TheBJThomas)
Billy Joe Thomas, a Hugo, Oklahoma
native who grew up in Houston
, broke through in 1966 with a gospel-styled cover of Hank Williams' "I'm So Lonesome I Could Cry" and went on to sell millions of records and have dozens of hits across genres. In 1976, he reached No. 1 with pop, adult contemporary, and country listeners with "(Hey Won't You Play) Another Somebody Done Somebody Wrong Song."
Dionne Warwick, who dated Thomas, expressed her condolences in a tweet on Saturday.
“My heartfelt condolences to the family of one of my favorite duet partners, BJ Thomas. I will miss him, as I know many others will. Rest in peace, my friend,” she said.
Thomas' signature recording was "Raindrops Keep Fallin' On My Head," a No. 1 pop hit and an Oscar winner for best original song as part of the soundtrack to one of 1969's biggest movies
, the irreverent Western "Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid." Thomas wasn't the first choice to perform the whimsical ballad composed by Burt Bacharach and Hal David; Ray Stevens turned them down.
“Raindrops” has since been heard everywhere from “The Simpsons” to “Forrest Gump,” and it was inducted into the Grammy Hall of Fame
in 2013. However, not everyone was pleased at first. Thomas was recovering from laryngitis while recording the soundtrack version, and his vocals are raspier than for the track released on its own. Meanwhile, Redford questioned whether the song even belonged in “Butch Cassidy.”
“When the film came out, I was highly critical — how did the song fit with the film? There was no rain,” Redford told USA Today in 2019.
Thomas would later say that the phenomenon of "Raindrops" exacerbated an addiction
to pills and alcohol that dated back to his teens
, when a record producer in Houston suggested he take amphetamines to keep his energy
up. He was constantly touring and recording and taking dozens of pills a day by 1976, when "(Hey Won't You Play) Another Somebody Done Somebody Wrong Song" was hitting No. 1.
“I was at the bottom with my addictions and my problems,” he said on “The Debby Campbell Goodtime Show” in 2020, citing a “spiritual awakening” shared with his wife, Gloria Richardson, as aiding him in getting clean.
After the mid-1970s, Thomas had few pop hits, but he continued to chart on the country charts with No. 1 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 top gospel and inspirational singer, winning two Dove awards and five Grammys
, including one in 1979 for best gospel performance for "The Lord's Prayer."
of the 1980s sitcom "Growing Pains" may recognize him as the singer of the show's theme song. He has also acted in a few films, including "Jory" and "Jake's Corner," and toured frequently. Recent recordings include "Living Room Music
," which features cameos from Lyle Lovett, Vince Gill, and Richard Marx.
Thomas married Richardson in 1968, and they had three daughters: Paige, Nora, and Erin. He and his wife collaborated on the 1982 memoir
"In Tune: Finding How Good Life Can Be." His book
"Home Where I Belong" was published in 1978, and it was co-written by Jerry B. Jenkins, who was later famous for the million-selling "Left Behind" religious novels he wrote with Tim LaHaye.
As a child, Thomas enjoyed baseball
and began calling himself B.J. because so many of his Little League teammates were also named Billy Joe. By his teens, he was singing in church and had joined a local rock band, the Triumphs, with whom he would stay into his 20s. He enjoyed Ernest Tubb, Hank Williams, and other country performers his parents liked, but on his own he was inspired by the soul songwriters.
“I was raised in a fairly dysfunctional household, and I went through years of intense alcoholism
and drug addiction, so the song was always a touchstone for me,” he told the Huffington Post in 2014. “When you open yourself up to drugs and alcohol at such a young age, it becomes something you have to deal
with for the rest of your life.”
“What a roadblock and heartbreak and times of failure these addictions have caused me, but I had that little piece of lightning from that song. That’s the essence of it all. To love and be loved. And that takes a lifetime to accomplish. It’s always been an important part of my emotions.”
This story has been updated to reflect that Thomas sang the theme song for "Growing Pains," not "The Facts of Life," and to correct Ernest Tubb's name spelling.