The Drifters’ Charlie Thomas—best known for hits such as “Under the Boardwalk,” “There Goes My Baby,” “This Magic Moment,” “Up on the Roof,” “On Broadway,” and “Save the Last Dance for Me”—has died at age 85. The tragic news was confirmed by his friend and fellow singer, Peter Lemongello Jr., via Instagram on Jan. 31. According to the New York Times, Thomas died following complications from liver cancer.
“I am completely devastated and shattered after losing my best friend of so many years, Charlie Thomas, the last original recording member of The Legendary Drifters,” Lemongello wrote.
“…I have so many fond memories that we have spent together through much of my life growing up, that I will cherish forever. I can still hear Charlie proclaim ‘Peter Is A Star!’ which he would often tell me and whoever was around. I’ll miss you forever Charlie!”
Thomas, who was part of the doo-wop group for over 60 years, was born on April 7, 1937 in Lynchburg, Va. to Willis and Lucinda Thomas, a minister and homemaker respectively. He joined the band by happenstance in 1958 after catching the attention of Drifters’ manager George Treadwell during a performance with the Crowns at The Apollo in New York City.
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That night, one band member cursed out the owner of the Apollo and the promoter, leading Treadwell to fire all its members and replaced them with the Crowns including Thomas and Ben Nelson—who became known as Ben E. King, music historian Marv Goldberg reported.
“As a kid, I used to play hooky to see the Drifters at the Apollo. It felt good,” said Thomas of his sudden induction into the group. After a year of transitioning as the new Drifters, the group found success in 1960, topping the Billboard Hot 100 with “Save the Last Dance for Me.”
Thomas toured until the pandemic hit. “He was aging, but he was active almost every weekend,” Lemongello told The New York Times. “Unfortunately, he went from being active to being at home and he started going downhill.”
He is survived by his wife Rita, his daughters Crystal Thomas Wilson and Victoria Green, and sons Charlie Jr., Michael Sidbury and Brian Godfrey, as well as grandchildren and great granchildren.
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Lovablevibes sends our deepest condolences to the Thomas family during this time.