Larry Henley, whose career spanned from being lead singer of the Newbeats to writing the international hit Wind Beneath My Wings, died on Thursday after battling both Parkinson’s disease and Alzheimer’s disease. He was 77.
Henley auditioned for brother Dean and Mark Mathis, who had previously played with Dale Hawkins, in 1962 and was hired for their band but they parted ways when Larry tried to break out as a solo artist. In 1964, they reunited as the Newbeats and were signed to Hickory Records where they released the single Bread and Butter. The song went to number 2 in the U.S. and 15 in the U.K. and made them stars.
The Newbeats returned to the charts later in 1964, going to 16 with John D. Loudermilk’s Everything’s Alright and in 1965 with Run, Baby, Run (Back Into My Arms) which went to 12 in the U.S. and 10 in the U.K., although not until 1971.
In 1972, the group left Hickory Records and signed with Buddah and, later, Playboy but they weren’t able to equal their earlier success. In 1974, the Newbeats broke up.
Henley once again tried to get a solo career started but he eventually returned to his hometown of Nashville and started what would become a very successful career as a songwriter. Among his major hits were ‘Til I Get it Right (Tammy Wynette), Lizzie and the Rainman (Tanya Tucker), He’s a Heartache (Janie Fricke) and Why Don’t We Go Somewhere and Love?
But it was his song Wind Beneath My Wings that ended up being his most enduring success. The song, written by Henley and Jeff Silbar, saw a number of recordings by various artists.
Colleen Hewitt had the first commercial hit with the song in 1983 in Australia.
It was also covered by Roger Whitaker, Lou Rawls, Gladys Knight and the Pips and Gary Morris who took it to number 4 on the Country Singles chart.
Midler recorded the song for the soundtrack of the movie Beaches and released it as a single in 1989 when it went to number. The song won the Grammy for Record of the Year and Song of the Year for Henley and Silbar.
Henley was inducted into the Nashville Songwriters Hall of Fame in 2012.
A celebration of his life is planned for early 2015 in Nashville.
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