Grammy-winning singer BJ Thomas of 'Raindrops Keep Fallin' on My Head' fame dies at 78

He died of complications from lung cancer on Saturday

BJ Thomas a five-time Grammy recipient performs some of his legendary songs including "Raindrops Keep Falling On My Head" and "Somebody Done Somebody Wrong" on stage at the historic Granada Theater. Emporia, Kansas, April 20, 2019 (Photo by Mark Reinstein/Corbis via Getty Images)
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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 BelievingRaindrops Keep Fallin' on My Head and Hooked on a Feeling, has died aged 78.

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

A native of Hugo, Oklahoma who grew up in Houston, Billy Joe Thomas broke through in 1966 with a gospel-styled cover of Hank Williams's I'm So Lonesome I Could Cry and went on to sell millions of records and have dozens of hits across 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. The same year, his Home Where I Belong became one of the first gospel albums to be certified platinum for selling more than one million copies.

Dionne Warwick, who duetted with Thomas, sent out a tweet on Saturday with her condolences.

“My sincere condolences to the family of one of my favourite duet partners, BJ Thomas. I will miss him as I know so many others will as well. 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 Oscar 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 wasn't the first choice to perform the whimsical ballad composed by Burt Bacharach and Hal David; Ray Stevens turned the songwriters down. But Thomas's warm, soulful tenor fit the song's easygoing mood, immortalised on film during the scene when Butch (Paul Newman) shows off his new bicycle 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, at first, not everyone was satisfied. Thomas was recovering from laryngitis while recording the soundtrack version and his vocals are raspier than in the track released on its own. Redford, meanwhile, doubted the song even belonged in Butch Cassidy.

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"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."

Thomas would later say 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 touring and recording constantly and taking dozens of pills a day. By 1976, while (Hey Won't You Play) Another Somebody Done Somebody Wrong Song was hitting No 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 cited a "spiritual awakening", shared with his wife, Gloria Richardson, with helping him to get clean.

Thomas had few pop hits after the mid-1970s, but he continued to score on the country charts with such No 1 songs as 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 a Grammy in 1979 for best gospel performance for The Lord's Prayer.

Fans of the 1980s sitcom Growing Pains heard him as the singer of the show's theme song. He also acted in a handful of films, including Jory and Jake's Corner and toured often. Recent recordings included Living Room Music, featuring 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.