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B.J. Thomas, Grammy-winning singer who topped charts across genres, dies at 78

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

B. J. Thomas performs during an event in Los Angeles in May 2015. The singer died on Saturday at age 78, a statement released by his representatives said.(Mike Windle/Getty Images for SeriousFun Children's Network)

B.J. Thomas, the Grammy-winning singer who enjoyed success on the pop, country and gospel charts with such hits as , and , has died. He was 78.

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

A Hugo, Okla., native who grew up in Houston, Billy Joe Thomas broke through in 1966 with a gospel-styled cover of Hank Williams's 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 Song. The same year, his became one of the first gospel albums to be certified platinum for selling more than 1 million copies.

His signature recording was , a No. 1 pop hit and an Oscar winner for best original song as part of the soundtrack to one of the biggest movies of 1969, the irreverent Western .

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, immortalized 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).

has since been heard everywhere from to 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 for the track released on its own. Redford, meanwhile, doubted the song even belonged in .

Raindrops Keep Fallin' On My Head

"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 exacerbated an addiction to pills and alcohol which 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 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 . 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 and . 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 .

Fans of the 1980s sitcom heard him as the singer of the show's theme song. He also acted in a handful of movies, including and and toured often. Recent recordings included , 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.

It is with profound sadness we confirm the passing of BJ Thomas. <a href="https://t.co/l2zrmtfmKw">pic.twitter.com/l2zrmtfmKw</a>

&mdash;@TheBJThomas

Thomas married Richardson in 1968, and had three daughters: Paige, Nora and Erin. He and his wife worked on the 1982 memoir . His book came out in 1978 and was co-authored by Jerry B. Jenkins, later famous for the million-selling religious novels written with Tim LaHaye.

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