B.J. Thomas, the Grammy-winning singer who enjoyed success on the pop, country and gospel charts with hits like ‘Raindrops Keep Fallin’ on My Head’ and ‘Hooked on a Feeling’, has died at the age of 78.
A statement released by his reps Jeremy Westby and Scott Sexton confirmed that the famed crooner passed away following lung cancer complications at his home in Arlington, Texas on May 29. His official twitter account also confirmed the news.
Thomas was diagnosed with Stage 4 lung cancer in March and was receiving treatment in Texas at the time of his passing.
Tragic passing: Raindrops Keep Fallin’ on My Head singer B.J. Thomas has passed away at the age of 78 following lung cancer complications; pictured 2014
Thomas’ official Twitter account also confirmed the news of his passing. ‘It is with profound sadness we confirm the passing of BJ Thomas,’ the post read.
Dionne Warwick, who famously duetted with Thomas in the past, took to Twitter to send ‘sincere condolences to the family of one of my favorite duet partners, BJ Thomas.’
Her tweet continued: ‘I will miss him as I know so many others will as well. Rest In Peace my friend.’
Before any news of his cancer diagnosis had been revealed, Thomas was asked in a radio interview with Washington DC’s WTOP Radio last September how he’d like to be remembered.
‘I hope they think of me as somebody who really believed what he was singing. It’s all about soul and emotion to me, so I’ve tried to put that in. I’ve only tried to record things that I really believe in and that I really feel. I just hope that I’m remembered as a good father, a good husband and the music will take care of [itself].’
B.J. — born Billy Joe — was a Hugo, Oklahoma native who grew up in Houston, Texas. As a kid he loved baseball, and started calling himself ‘B.J.’ because so many Little League teammates also were named Billy Joe.
His love of music started at a young age. By his teens he was singing in church and had joined a local rock band called The Triumphs whom he played with into his twenties.
His official Twitter account put out a statement on May 29 that read: ‘It is with profound sadness we confirm the passing of BJ Thomas’
Condolences: Dionne Warwick, who famously duetted with Thomas in the past, took to Twitter to send ‘sincere condolences to the family of one of my favorite duet partners, BJ Thomas’
‘My dad loved country music,’ Thomas told WTOP. ‘I grew up with the Grand Ole Opry on the radio, but when I was about 12 or 13, I fell in love with Jackie Wilson and Bobby Bland. I was a huge R&B enthusiast. … I’ve just always loved music. They tell me that I sang even when I was an infant. I’ve always loved music, I sung around, I sung in church.’
He rose to fame with his 1966 gospel-style cover of ‘I’m So Lonesome I Could Cry’ by Hank Williams and went on to sell millions of records and have dozens of hits across genres.
In the interview he said that though he never set out to span across genres he was a product of his environment. ‘I never tried to do any one kind of music in each genre. I just naturally was a product of Top 40 radio, where they played everything on the same station. That’s the way I approached music.’
Thomas reached No. 1 in 1976 with ‘(Hey Won’t You Play) Another Somebody Done Somebody Wrong Song,’ and that same year his song ‘Home Where I Belong’ became one of the first gospel albums to be certified platinum after selling more than 1 million copies.
His most famous track, ‘Raindrops Keep Fallin’ on My Head’ reached No. 1 on the pop hit charts and earned him an Oscar for Best Original Song, after it appeared on the soundtrack for beloved classic, Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid.
Accolades: After breaking through with a 1966 cover of a Hank Williams song he went on to sell millions of records and have dozens of hits across genres including ‘Hooked On A Feeling’
Despite being synonymous with the ballad, Thomas wasn’t the first choice to perform the Burt Bacharach and Hal David composed song. After Ray Stevens turned the songwriters down, B.J. found himself in a very fortunate position.
The beloved track celebrated its 50th anniversary in September 2020, and in speaking about the song he said: ‘It’s a distinct high point for me,’ later adding that it was about freedom.
‘He [Hal] wrote something that seemingly on the surface was not saying much, but in the long run … it was saying a very meaningful thing that rain falls on you, but if you’re free, nothing’s worrying you,’ Thomas shared in the interview.
Thomas was recovering from laryngitis while recording the soundtrack version and his vocals are raspier than for the track released on its own, but movie star Robert Redford doubted the song even belonged in Butch Cassidy.
Oscar win: His most famous track ‘Raindrops Keep Fallin’ on My Head’ reached No. 1 on the pop hit charts and earned him an Oscar for Best Original Song, after it appeared on the soundtrack for beloved classic, Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid; pictured 1970
‘When the film was released, I was highly critical – how did the song fit with the film? There was no rain,’ Redford told USA Today in 2019. ‘At the time, it seemed like a dumb idea. How wrong I was.’
Though the track earned him a 2014 induction into the Grammy Hall Of Fame, later Thomas said that the song’s phenomenon exacerbated an addiction to pills (amphetamines) and alcohol which dated back to his teens.
‘I was at the bottom with 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, with helping him to get clean.The pair married in 1968, and share three daughters: Paige, Nora and Erin.
In the late 1970s and early ´80s, he was also a top gospel and inspirational singer, winning two Dove awards and five Grammys, including a Grammy in 1979 for best gospel performance for ‘The Lord´s Prayer.’
Career highlight: ‘It’s a distinct high point for me,’ Thomas told WTOP on the 50th anniversary of Raindrops Keep Fallin on My Head
Lasting love: Thomas married Richardson in 1968, and the pair share three daughters: Paige, Nora and Erin
Thomas’ recent recordings include ‘Living Room Music,’ which featured cameos from Lyle Lovett, Vince Gill and Richard Marx. He had planned to record in 2020 in Muscle Shoals, Alabama, but the sessions were delayed because of the pandemic.
His most personal song was perhaps the cover he did of Jackie Wilson’s ‘To Be Loved,’ which Thomas said he adopted as a kind of guide to his life early on.
‘I was raised in a fairly dysfunctional situation and I went through years of intense alcoholism and drug addiction so the song was always a touchstone for me,’ he said of the song in a 2014 Huffington Post interview.
‘….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 the whole thing. To love and be loved. And that takes a lifetime to accomplish,’ he said.
In memoriam: When asked how he’d like to be remembered, Thomas said: ‘I hope they think of me as somebody who really believed what he was singing….I just hope that I’m remembered as a good father, a good husband and the music will take care of [itself]’; pictured 2015