B.J. Thomas, whose smooth voice made him a country and pop crossover success, died Saturday of complications from lung cancer, his publicist said. He was 78.
Thomas first came to prominence with a cover of the Hank Williams standard “I’m So Lonesome I Could Cry,” spending 13 weeks on the Billboard Hot 100 in 1966. Two years later, he broke into the Top 5 with “Hooked on a Feeling,” a song written by his childhood friend, Mark James.
A movie soundtrack propelled Thomas to superstardom in 1970. He was chosen to perform the Burt Bacharach and Hal David number “Raindrops Keep Fallin’ on My Head” for the film “Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid,” punctuating a memorable scene in which Paul Newman and Katharine Ross ride a bicycle together. It was Thomas’ first No. 1 hit.
Despite continued chart success, Thomas fell into a spiral of substance abuse, which he ended after becoming a born-again Christian in 1976. That life change also prompted a transition into gospel music, and he won a Dove Award for his album “Home Where I Belong.” All five of his Grammy wins were for religious-themed songs.
Thomas had multiple hits on the country charts in the 1980s and is also remembered for singing the theme from the sitcom “Growing Pains” (with Jennifer Warnes), which debuted in 1985.
“This is devastating news,” tweeted Joe Bonsall of the country and gospel group The Oak Ridge Boys. “I so loved and respected this man.”
Thomas announced in March that he had been diagnosed with stage 4 lung cancer. The Oklahoma native died at his home in Arlington, Texas, his publicist said in a statement.
He is survived by his wife of 53 years, Gloria, and three daughters.