For half a century, Burt Bacharach composed songs for Dionne Warwick, Dusty Springfield, Tom Jones and Aretha Franklin – and for the millions of fans who still sing along.
The prolific hit-maker behind “Raindrops Keep Falling on my Head,” “Wishin’ and Hopin’,” “A House is Not a Home” and “That’s What Friends Are For,” died Wednesday. He was 94.
Bacharach died at home in Los Angeles of natural causes, publicist Tina Brausam said Thursday.
Born May 12, 1928, in Kansas City, Missouri, Bacharach began playing piano at his mother’s insistence. His love for music grew, however, while he was a teen living in Queens, New York, where he had access to the nightclubs where jazz greats Dizzy Gillespie and Charlie Parker performed.
After completing his formal music education at McGill University in Montreal, the Mannes School of Music in New York City and the Music Academy of the West in Montecito, California, Bacharach served in the army between 1950 and 1952 as a pianist for an officer’s club.
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Soon after being discharged, Bacharach began playing with singers and musicians he met in nightclubs. The songs he was hearing from his contemporaries were surprisingly simple, and he figured he could write songs like them.
So, Bacharach returned to New York to begin honing his signature style: a mix of pop, rock and Latin influences that featured syncopated rhythms, frequent key changes and dramatic climaxes.
“I knew I was doing things different but at the same time, I was doing things that were very natural for me,” he told PopEntertainment.com in 2006. “I wasn’t trying to break any rules. But I wrote the way I heard things.”
In 1957, Bacharach began his legendary partnership with songwriter Hal David. The duo’s first songs, “The Story of My Life” (recorded by Marty Robbins) and “Magic Moments” (recorded by Perry Como), were hits.
Bacharach toured with Marlene Dietrich as her musical director in the late 1950s and early 1960s. He and David continued to churn out hits, such as the Gene Pitney-recorded tunes “The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance” and “Only Love Can Break a Heart,” and a string of hits with Warwick such as 1962’s “Don’t Make Me Over” and 1967’s “Say a Little Prayer.”
Bacharach’s influence touched movies as well. He composed theme songs for “What’s New Pussycat?” and “Alfie”, both of which were nominated for an Academy Award. He and David received another Oscar nod for “The Look of Love,” as sung by Dusty Springfield for “Casino Royale.” “Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid” (1969) earned Bacharach a Grammy and an Oscar.
The songwriter “found out much later” that “Butch Cassidy” star “Robert Redford didn’t like (“Raindrops”) too much,” Bacharach told USA TODAY in 2019. “But it felt right.”
Redford later came around. “When the film was released, I was highly critical – how did the song fit with the film? There was no rain,” the actor told USA TODAY. “At the time, it seemed like a dumb idea. How wrong I was, as it turned out to be a giant hit.”
In the decades that followed, Bacharach racked up more than 70 Top 40 singles in the U.S. and six Grammys, including a lifetime achievement award in 2008. He even expanded his legacy to a new generation with a cameo in the film “Austin Powers: International Man of Mystery,” an appearance on “American Idol” in 2006, and collaborations with artists like Dr. Dre, Elvis Costello and Rufus Wainwright.
Bacharach was married four times, including to actress Angie Dickinson and songwriter Carole Bayer Sager. He had four children: daughter Nikki (with Dickinson); son Cristopher (with Sager) and son Oliver and daughter Raleigh (with fourth wife, Jane Hansen).
In 2007, Nikki – who had gone undiagnosed with Asperger’s – died by suicide at the age of 40. Years later, Bacharach scored “A Boy Called Po”, a film about a young widower dad raising a son with autism, as a tribute to his late daughter. It marked his first original score in 17 years.
In 2020, Bacharach showed the world his creativity hadn’t stopped at 92 with a new collaboration with Nashville, Tenne singer-songwriter Daniel Tashian.
They released a five-song EP titled “Blue Umbrella” in July. Despite being separated by two time zones and a couple of generations, they continued to write music together, including a tune titled “Quiet Place.”
The EP was Bacharach’s first album in 15 years, and he was glad to keep busy during the coronavirus pandemic.
“In these times it’s like a lifesaver,” Bacharach said from his home in Pacific Palisades, California.
Contributing: Bryan Alexander and Jennifer McClellan, USA TODAY, and The Associated Press