Singer BJ Thomas dies aged 78: NPR

BJ Thomas, right, seen in 2007 after Governor Brad Henry, left, presented Thomas with a proclamation at the State Capitol in Oklahoma City. Paul B. Southerland / The Oklahoman via AP hide caption

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Paul B. Southerland / The Oklahoman via AP

BJ Thomas, right, seen in 2007 after Governor Brad Henry, left, presented Thomas with a proclamation at the State Capitol in Oklahoma City.

Paul B. Southerland / The Oklahoman via AP

BJ Thomas, the Grammy winner who hit the pop, country and gospel charts with hits like “I Just Can’t Help Believe”, “Raindrops Always Fall On My Head” and “Hooked on a Feeling” was successful. died. He was 78 years old.

Thomas, who announced in March that he had been diagnosed with lung cancer, died of complications from the disease at his home in Arlington, Texas on Saturday, a statement from his officials said.

Houston-born Oklahoma-born Hugo Billy Joe Thomas broke through in 1966 with a gospel-style cover of Hank Williams’ “I’m So Lonely I Cry”, selling millions of records and having dozens of hits across genres . In 1976 he hit number 1 with pop, adult contemporaries, and country listeners with “(Hey, don’t you want to play)?” That same year, his “Home Where I Belong” became one of the first Gospel albums to be certified platinum, selling over 1 million copies.

His signature recording was “Raindrops Keep Fallin ‘On My Head,” a # 1 pop hit and Oscar winner for Best Original Song as part of the soundtrack to one of 1969’s greatest films, the Disrespectful Western ” Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid. “Thomas wasn’t the first choice to play the quirky ballad by Burt Bacharach and Hal David. Ray Stevens turned down the songwriters. But its warm, soulful tenor matched the laid-back mood of the song in the film during the scene in which Butch (Paul Newman) shows off his new bike to Etta Place (Katharine Ross), girlfriend of the Sundance Kid (Robert Redford) was immortalized.

“Raindrops” has since been heard everywhere from “The Simpsons” to “Forrest Gump” and was elected to the Grammy Hall of Fame in 2013. At first, however, not everyone was satisfied. Thomas recovered from laryngitis while recording the soundtrack version, and his vocals are scratchier than the track that was released on its own. Redford, meanwhile, doubted that the song even belonged to “Butch Cassidy”.

“When the film was released, I was very critical – how did the song fit the film? There was no rain,” Redford told USA Today in 2019. “

Thomas would later say that the “raindrop” phenomenon exacerbated an addiction to pills and alcohol that dates back to his teens when a Houston record producer suggested using amphetamines to maintain energy levels. He toured and recorded all the time, taking dozens of pills every day. Until 1976, when “(Hey, don’t you wanna play) another someone who made a wrong song hit number 1, they felt like” number 1,000 “.

“I was at the bottom of my addictions and problems,” he said on The Debby Campbell Goodtime Show in 2020. He cited a “spiritual awakening” he 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 in the country charts with No. 1 songs like “Whatever Happened To Old Fashioned Love” and “New Looks From an Old Lover” . He was also a top gospel and inspiration singer in the late 1970s and early 80s, 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 “The Facts of Life” heard him sing the show’s theme song. He also starred in a handful of films, including “Jory” and “Jake’s Corner,” and toured frequently. Recent recordings include Living Room Music, with cameos by Lyle Lovett, Vince Gill and Richard Marx. He had planned to record in Muscle Shoals, Alabama in 2020, but the sessions have been postponed because of the pandemic.

Thomas married Richardson in 1968 and had three daughters: Paige, Nora and Erin. He and his wife were working on the essay In Tune: Finding How Good Life Can Be in 1982. His book “Home Where I Belong” was published in 1978 and was co-authored by Jerry B. Jenkins, later best known for the multi-million dollar religious novels “Left Behind” written with Tim LaHaye.

Besides music, Thomas loved baseball as a kid and started calling himself BJ because so many of the Little League teammates were also called Billy Joe. As a teenager, he sang in church and had joined a local rock band, the Triumphs, which he would stay with until his 20s. He enjoyed Ernest Tubbs, Hank Williams, and other country artists his parents liked, but took his own inspiration from the soul, rhythm, and blues singers he heard on the radio or saw on stage, especially Jackie Wilson whose hit ballad “To Be” Loved “Thomas later covered and adopted as a kind of guide for his life.

“I grew up in a pretty dysfunctional situation and experienced intense alcoholism and drug addiction for years. So the song has always been a touchstone for me. If you open up to drugs and alcohol at such a young age, you have to take care of the rest of your life, “he told the Huffington Post in 2014.

“What a roadblock and a heartache and failure has caused me these addictions. But I had this little piece of lightning from this song. That’s the essence of it all. To love and be loved. And that takes a life to.” to achieve it It has always been an important part of my feelings. “

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