Larry Henley, co-writer of the international Grammy-winning hit, “Wind Beneath My Wings,” died Thursday morning (Dec. 18) in Nashville at the age of 77. He had been suffering from Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s diseases.
Now a standard at weddings, funerals, piano bars and half-time ceremonies, “Wind Beneath My Wings,” which Henley co-wrote with Jeff Silbar, has been recorded by dozens — possibly hundreds — of acts.
Among these are Bette Midler (whose recording of “Wind” for the film Beaches won both record and song of the year Grammys in 1989), Gary Morris, Judy Collins, Perry Como, Floyd Cramer, Sheena Easton, Gladys Knight & the Pips, Patti LaBelle, Willie Nelson, Ray Price, B.J. Thomas, James Galway, Lee Greenwood and the New York City Gay Men’s Chorus.
Before turning to songwriting, Henley also enjoyed a brief rock ‘n’ roll ride as the falsetto singer with the Newbeats. The trio’s 1964 novelty hit, “Bread and Butter,” earned them co-billing in shows with Gerry & the Pacemakers, the Kinks, the Dave Clark Five, the Supremes, Smokey Robinson, Marvin Gaye and the Temptations.
The Newbeats even toured Australia and New Zealand as an opening act for Roy Orbison and the Rolling Stones. The trio released music and charted singles through 1969 but never matched the success of their breakthrough hit.
Lawrence Joel Henley was born June 30, 1937, in Odessa, Texas. An admirer of James Dean, he initially tried his hand at acting. But he found a more congenial field for his talents when he met and sang with Dean and Mark Mathis at a club in Shreveport, Louisiana. The three men would later form the Newbeats and record for Nashville-based Hickory Records.
Drawn to songwriting, Henley experienced his first triumph in 1972 when Tammy Wynette scored a No. 1 with “‘Til I Get It Right,” a tune Henley had composed with his early mentor, Red Lane. His second No. 1 arrived in 1975 with Tanya Tucker’s recording of “Lizzie and the Rainman.”
Other gems in Henley’s string of No. 1’s are Janie Fricke’s “He’s a Heartache (Looking for a Place to Happen)” in 1983 and Randy Travis’ “Is It Still Over” in 1989. The latter song topped the country chart at the same time Midler’s version of “Wind Beneath My Wings” crowned the pop rankings.
Henley was inducted into the Nashville Songwriters Hall of Fame in 2012.
Funeral arrangements have not yet been announced, but a spokesman for the family said Henley will be buried in his native Texas and that a celebration of his life will be held in Nashville early next year. The family asks that in lieu of flowers a donation be made to Nashville’s Alive Hospice.