The brightness of Burt Bacharach’s music was as dynamic as the constant twinkle in his eye.
Mr. Bacharach — the legendary composer known for mellow but compelling hits varying from “What the Word Needs Now” (that would be “love, sweet love”) to “Raindrops Keep Fallin’ on My Head” — has died.
Mr. Bacharach, who teamed up with lyricist Hal David for his timeless songs in the 1960s, was 94. Mr. Bacharach died Wednesday at his Los Angeles home.
The Grammy and Oscar winner seemed always at ease at the piano. In fact, it’s impossible to think of Mr. Bacharach without imagining him sitting at a grand piano, and his playing was as smooth and effortless as the music that wrote.
He composed the music for songs performed by Dusty Springfield (“The Look of Love” in the 1967 James Bond spoof “Casino Royale”), Tom Jones (“What’s New, Pussycat?” from the movie of the same name), Neil Diamond and the Carpenters (“(They Long to Be) Close to You”). Jackie O’Shannon sang “What the World Needs Now.”
Yes, Mr. Bacharach was the king of mellow. But he could also jazz things up with “Say A Little Prayer,” “Do You Know the Way to San Jose?” and “Walk on By.” All three were hits recorded by popular 1960s singer Dionne Warwick. And all three songs had power because Mr. Bacharach knew how to drive a song gently and when to step on the gas — but not too much. It was always a smooth ride when you heard a Burt Bacharach song.
Mr. Bacharach became famous not only for hits recorded by pop singers, but his music that defined movie soundtracks in the late 20th century.
Mr. Bacharach earned his first Oscars in 1970 for “Raindrops Keep Fallin’ on My Head,” which he wrote for the movie “Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid,” and for the score for the same movie, starring Paul Newman and Robert Redford.
In 1982, Mr. Bacharach and his then-wife Carole Bayer Sager won an Oscar for “The Best That You Can Do,” the theme from “Arthur,” starring Dudley Moore and Liza Minnelli. Christopher Cross was Mr. Bacharach and Ms. Sager’s choice to sing the song.
And Mr. Bacharach and Ms. Sager, a lyricist, co-wrote “That’s What Friends Are For.”
The mid-1980s recording of the song, which raised millions of dollars for AIDS research, featured Ms. Warwick, Elton John, Gladys Knight and Stevie Wonder.
Known for a persona as easygoing as his songs, Mr. Bacharach started his career in the 1950s as a pianist for movie star and vocalist Marlene Dietrich as she sang around the world.
Mr. Bacharach is best known for his collaborations with Mr. David, who died in 2012. But Mr. Bacharach collaborated with others as well, including Elvis Costello. The two received Grammys in 1999 for best pop collaboration with vocals for “I Still Have That Other Girl.”
In the 1960s, Mr. Bacharach was married to movie and TV star Angie Dickinson.
Mr. Bacharach is survived by his fourth wife, Jane Hansen, whom he married in 1993, and sons Oliver and Cristopher and daughter Raleigh.
Mr. Bacharach’s and Ms. Dickinson’s daughter, Nikki, took her own life in 2007 at age 40.
Mr. Bacharach and Ms. Sager adopted Cristopher. Mr. Bacharach shared Oliver and Raleigh with Ms. Hansen.
Right up to the end, Mr. Bacharach loved talking about his music. This writer saw him a few years ago at the Turner Classic Movies festival in Hollywood, where he smiled and cheerfully answered questions after a screening of “Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid.” He seemed very relaxed as he appeared on stage before an audience of almost a thousand people at TCL Chinese Theatre (originally Grauman’s Chinese Theatre).
The only thing that was missing was a grand piano.