The Drifters Star Charlie Thomas Dead: The Rock & Roll Hall of Famer Was 85

Charlie Thomas featured on The Drifters' hits including "This Magic Moment," "Up on the Roof," "On Broadway" and chart-topper "Save the Last Dance for Me"

Charlie Thomas of The Drifters
Charlie Thomas . Photo: The Photo Access/Alamy Live News

Charlie Thomas, a member of The Drifters for more than 60 years, has died. He was 85.

The musician's friend and fellow singer Peter Lemongello Jr. confirmed Thomas' death on Instagram on Jan. 31. Speaking to The New York Times on Monday, he added that 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 on Instagram.

"Charlie was with the group longer and on more hit records than any other member in history," he added. "His accomplishments were recognized when he was 1 of just 7 members of The Drifters to be inducted into The Rock & Roll Hall of Fame in 1988. 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! Love you always, Peter"

Charlie Thomas of The Drifters
Bobby Bank/WireImage

Thomas, who sang with The Drifters on hits such as "Under the Boardwalk" and "There Goes My Baby" became part of the singing group at the legendary Apollo Theater in Harlem, when he and other bandmates were set to perform in their R&B group The Crowns.

That night, however, the Drifters' manager, George Treadwell, became upset when his band members got drunk and inserted Thomas and his fellow bandmates, including Ben Nelson — who would go on to be known as Ben E. King — into the Drifters' lineup, according to music historian Marv Goldberg.

The "new" Drifters took on their predecessor's concert dates too, but it wasn't a seamless transition. "We got booed off the stage for a year almost before getting into the studio to record," King told Goldberg.

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The Drifters ultimately found success with hits like "This Magic Moment," "Up on the Roof" and "On Broadway", with "Save the Last Dance for Me" topping the Billboard Hot 100 in October 1960.

The Drifters (clockwise from top) Rick Sheppard, Bill Davis aka Abdul Samad, Johnny Moore, Charlie Thomas and Bill Fredricks pose for a portrait in 1967 in New York City
Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images

Thomas toured for decades with the group, even as members left and founded other Drifters-named iterations. When King went on to launch a solo career, two of the original Drifters came back into the fray — Rudy Lewis and Johnny Moore — in 1964.

While Thomas was not the lead singer on most of the group's hits, he did sing lead vocals on "Sweets for My Sweet" and "When My Little Girl is Smiling."

The singer toured until the pandemic hit, which charted a different course for the star.

"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."

Thomas is survived by his wife, Rita Thomas, his daughters Crystal Thomas Wilson and Victoria Green, and his sons, Charlie Jr., Michael Sidbury and Brian Godfrey, as well as multiple grandchildren and great-grandchildren.

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