Burt Bacharach, the legendary pop composer and songwriter behind such classic hits as “Raindrops Keep Fallin’ on My Head” and “What the World Needs Now,” died of natural causes on February 8 at age 94. He leaves behind a legacy that includes timeless collaborations with musicians such as Aretha Franklin, Dionne Warwick, Elvis Costello, and Tom Jones.
A six-time Grammy Award winner and three-time Oscar winner, Bacharach wrote more than 70 Top 40 hits over his seven-decade career, and he treasured his collaborations with fellow artists, singers, and songwriters. Here are what some of his most famous collaborators have had to say about him.
Costello, who had long admired Bacharach, first collaborated with him on the ballad “God Give Me Strength” for the film Grace of My Heart (1996). The two went on to work together on several projects including the Grammy-winning 1998 album Painted From Memory.
“I first heard the songs of Burt Bacharach when my family was still living in a basement flat near Olympia in the late 1950s,” Costello wrote last month on Twitter. “Never would I have imagined that my admiration for him would grow into a 25-year collaboration and friendship.”
On Bacharach’s passion for working with others, Costello told Billboard: “He doesn’t need to collaborate on music. It speaks of his generosity and curiosity to see what happens.”
One of Bacharach’s most storied partnerships was with celebrated singer Dionne Warwick. With his writing partner Hal David, Bacharach wrote several hits for Warwick, including “Walk On By,” “I Say a Little Prayer,” “I’ll Never Fall in Love Again,” and “Do You Know the Way to San Jose?”
Bacharach and Warwick had their falling outs, particularly after Warwick felt abandoned when Bacharach and David dissolved their partnership in the 1970s. But the two reconciled with the release of the 1985 cover of Bacharach’s “That’s What Friends Are For.”
“We realized we were more than just friends. We were family,” Warwick said at the time. “Time has a way of giving people the opportunity to grow and understand. … Working with Burt is not different from how it used to be. He expects me to deliver, and I can. He knows what I’m going to do before I do it, and the same with me. That’s how intertwined we’ve been.”
Bacharach got a big late career boost when he made a memorable cameo appearance in Austin Powers: International Man of Mystery (1997), the hit comedy film starring and written by Mike Myers. Bacharach also later appeared in both of its sequels.
What many Austin Powers fans didn’t know was Bacharach helped inspire the film in the first place. Myers began reminiscing about the 1960s while listening to Bacharach’s “The Look of Love” on the radio one day, which led to his idea for the movie.
“It was amazing working with Burt,” Myers told the Gannett News Service in 1997. “His song ‘The Look of Love’ was the inspiration for this film. It was like having Gershwin appear in your movie.”
The Oscar-nominated “What’s New Pussycat?” is one of Jones’ biggest hits. But his initial reaction to it was lukewarm at best.
After Bacharach and David wrote the song for the 1965 Woody Allen film of the same name, Jones first thought, “It’s sort of a backhanded compliment: ‘I’ve got to have you, but this is the song.’” It took some convincing from Bacharach before he agreed to perform it.
“When I first heard it I thought, ‘Christ! What the bloody hell do they want me to sing this for?’” Jones said in a 1991 article from Q magazine. “But Burt Bacharach explained, ‘I want the big voice to sing this bloody crazy song.’ And you put it on, it’s a classic.”
Bacharach won an Academy Award for Best Original Song for “Raindrops Keep Fallin’ on My Head,” which memorably plays during a scene in Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid (1969) when Paul Newman’s Butch Cassidy takes a bicycle ride with Katharine Ross’ character.
Some felt the breezy tune and peppy lyrics was the wrong film for a western film, but director George Roy Hill insisted. Long after the film’s release, it would be revealed that star Robert Redford was among the song’s detractors, though he later offered a mea culpa.
“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. “At the time, it seemed like a dumb idea. How wrong I was, as it turned out to be a giant hit.”
Colin McEvoy joined the Biography.com staff in 2023, and before that had spent 16 years as a journalist, writer, and communications professional. He is the author of two true crime books: Love Me or Else and Fatal Jealousy. He is also an avid film buff, reader, and lover of great stories.