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B.J. Thomas, the vocalist of “Hooked on a Feeling,” has died at the age of 78

B.J. Thomas, the Grammy-winning singer who had singles including "I Just Can't Help Believing," "Raindrops Keep Fallin' On My Head," and "Hooked on a Feeling" on the mainstream, country, and gospel charts, has died

Posted at 7:50 a.m. on May 30, 2021
B.J. Thomas, the Grammy-winning singer who had singles including “I Just Can’t Help Believing,” “Raindrops Keep Fallin’ On My Head,” and “Hooked on a Feeling” on the mainstream, country, and gospel charts, has died. He was 78 years old at the time.

Thomas, who disclosed in March that he had been diagnosed with lung cancer, died Saturday at his home in Arlington, Texas, following complications of the condition, according to his publicist, Jeremy Westby.

Billy Joe Thomas, a native of Hugo, Oklahoma, 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 more singles in other genres. With ′′(Hey Won’t You Play) Another Somebody Done Somebody Wrong Song,′′ he reached No. 1 with pop, adult contemporary, and country listeners in 1976. In the same year, his album “Home Where I Belong” was certified platinum for sales of over one million copies, making it one of the first gospel albums to do so.

Dionne Warwick, who dated Thomas, expressed her sympathy in a tweet on Saturday.

“My heartfelt sympathies to the family of BJ Thomas, one of my favourite duet partners. I will miss him, as will I am sure many others. “My friend, rest in peace,” she murmured.

Thomas’ trademark recording was “Raindrops Keep Fallin’ On My Head,” a No. 1 pop smash and an Oscar winner for best original song as part of the soundtrack to “Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid,” one of the year’s most popular films. Thomas wasn’t the first option to sing the whimsical ballad written by Burt Bacharach and Hal David; the songwriters were turned down by Ray Stevens. Butch (Paul Newman) shows off his new bicycle to Etta Place (Katharine Ross), the Sundance Kid’s lover, and his warm, soulful tenor complemented the song’s carefree attitude, immortalised on film during the scene when Butch (Paul Newman) shows off his new bicycle to Etta Place (Katharine Ross) (Robert Redford).

Raindrops has since been heard on everything from “The Simpsons” to “Forrest Gump,” and in 2013 it was inducted into the Grammy Hall of Fame. However, not everyone was pleased at first. Thomas was recovering from laryngitis when he recorded the soundtrack version, thus his vocals are a little raspier than on the single. Meanwhile, Redford questioned whether the song belonged in “Butch Cassidy.”

“When the movie came out, I was quite critical – how did the song fit into the movie? In 2019, Redford informed USA Today that there was no rain. “It seemed like a stupid notion at the time. What a fool I was.”

Thomas would subsequently claim that the “Raindrops” incident aggravated a pill and alcohol addiction that he had developed in his teens, when a record producer in Houston advised he take amphetamines to keep his energy up. He was continuously touring and recording, and he was taking dozens of medications every day. He felt like he was “number 1,000” by 1976, when “(Hey Won’t You Play) Another Somebody Done Somebody Wrong Song” was at No. 1.

On “The Debby Campbell Goodtime Show” in 2020, he remarked, “I was at the bottom with my addictions and my difficulties.” He credited his sobriety to a “spiritual awakening” he had with his wife, Gloria Richardson.

After the mid-1970s, Thomas had few pop success, but he continued to have No. 1 country singles with songs like “Whatever Happened to Old-Fashioned Love” and “New Looks from an Old Lover.” He was also a top gospel and inspirational vocalist in the late 1970s and early 1980s, receiving two Dove awards and five Grammys, including a Grammy in 1979 for best gospel performance for “The Lord’s Prayer.”

He was the vocalist of the show’s theme song on the 1980s comedy “Growing Pains.” He also travelled extensively and appeared in a number of films, including “Jory” and “Jake’s Corner.” Lyle Lovett, Vince Gill, and Richard Marx made cameo appearances on his most recent album, “Living Room Music.” He planned to record in Muscle Shoals, Alabama, in 2020, but the sessions were postponed because to the pandemic.

Paige, Nora, and Erin are the three daughters of Thomas and Richardson, who married in 1968. He and his wife collaborated on the memoir “In Tune: Finding How Good Life Can Be,” which was published in 1982. Jerry B. Jenkins, subsequently famed for the million-selling “Left Behind” theological novels written with Tim LaHaye, co-authored his book “Home Where I Belong” in 1978.

Aside from music, Thomas grew up loving baseball and began referring to himself as B.J. because so many of his Little League buddies were also named Billy Joe. By his teens, he was singing in church and had joined the Triumphs, a local rock band with whom he would remain until his early twenties. On his own, he was influenced by the soul and rhythm & blues singers he heard on the radio or saw on stage, particularly Jackie Wilson, whose classic ballad “To Be Loved” Thomas later covered and adopted as a type of life guide.

“I was reared in a fairly dysfunctional household and struggled with alcoholism and drug addiction for many years, so the song was always a comfort to me. When you expose yourself to drugs and alcohol at an early age, it becomes a lifelong problem,” he told the Huffington Post in 2014.

“What a stumbling block, heartbreak, and failure these addictions have been for me. But I still had that sliver of lightning from the song. That is the crux of the situation. To be able to love and be loved. And it takes a lifetime to accomplish anything like that. It’s always been a big part of my feelings.”

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