LONDON – Rod Temperton, a British-born musician and songwriter with a singular knack for pop-funk who wrote the Michael Jackson classics “Thriller,” ”Rock With You” and many other hits, has died of cancer in London at 66.
His music publisher said in a statement Wednesday that Temperton had died last week of an “aggressive” cancer. No other details were provided.
Jon Platt of Warner/Chappell said Temperton was the sole writer of “Thriller,” ”Off the Wall,” ”Rock with You” and other major songs.
Temperton started his career in the disco band Heatwave and collaborated with Aretha Franklin, Herbie Hancock, Anita Baker and many others.
He was best known as a songwriter and worked closely with producer Quincy Jones on groundbreaking tracks for Jackson’s mega-selling “Off the Wall” and “Thriller” albums.
Platt said Temperton was sometimes known as “the invisible man” for his behind-the-scenes role.
Temperton was a native of the seaside town of Cleethorpes, 180 miles (290 kilometres) north of London. He had been working in a frozen fish factory in the mid-1970s when he responded to an ad and joined Heatwave, an international group for whom he played keyboards and wrote two major hits, the disco favourite “Boogie Nights” and the ballad “Always and Forever.”
“Always and Forever” attracted wide attention and was later covered by Luther Vandross, among others.
His work with Heatwave attracted the attention of Jones, who was then working with Jackson.
Temperton revealed a gift for both fast and slow numbers, whether the easygoing “Rock with You” or the sci-fi funk of the title track from “Thriller.”
In a 2009 interview with The Telegraph, Temperton said “Thriller” was originally called “Starlight” until Jones asked him to find a new title.
“I went back to the hotel, wrote two or three hundred titles and came up with ‘Midnight Man,'” he recalled. “The next morning I woke up and I just said this word (thriller). Something in my head just said, ‘This is the title’. “You could visualize it at the top of the Billboard charts. You could see the merchandising for this one word, how it jumped off the page as ‘Thriller”’.
His success went beyond the worldwide smash that “Thriller” became. Numerous other artists would have hits with his work, including George Benson with “Give Me the Night” and Donna Summer with “Love Is in Control (finger on the Trigger).”
Temperton also received an Oscar nomination as a co-writer of “Miss Celie’s Blues (Sister),” from the soundtrack of “The Color Purple,” and contributed several songs to the Billy Crystal-Gregory Hines comedy “Running Scared.”
In 2009, The Guardian newspaper described Temperton as a “reclusive, Grammy-winning genius who has always shunned the spotlight.” The newspaper said he was rarely seen in public and rarely photographed.
Templeton once told BBC radio he had been lulled to sleep as a baby by the sound of music on a transistor radio placed in his crib.
Platt said Temperton’s family is “devastated” and has held a private funeral. He said they are requesting privacy at “the saddest of sad times.”
This story has been corrected to reflect that Platt said the funeral has already been held, not is being planned.
Associated Press writer Hillel Italie in New York contributed to this report.