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 aged 66.
His music publisher said in a statement 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 northern England seaside town of Cleethorpes.
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 hit 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 visualise 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.