Tom Whitlock, who co-wrote two songs that helped elevate the 1986 movie “Top Gun” into a pop culture giant, died on Saturday in Gallatin, Tenn. He was 68.
His death was confirmed by Gorman-Scharpf Funeral Home, which did not cite a cause.
The songs, “Danger Zone” and “Take My Breath Away,” were just two of the more than 100 songwriting credits he accrued over the course of his career, including songs performed by Bonnie Tyler, Ray Charles and Graham Nash. But his work writing lyrics for songs in “Top Gun,” the Tom Cruise-led movie about fighter jets and male machismo, has especially endured.
Mr. Whitlock and the composer Giorgio Moroder, who co-wrote and produced many of the works, created five songs for the movie, but two in particular achieved widespread acclaim.
“Danger Zone,” performed by Kenny Loggins, served as the guitar-heavy, energetic scene setter for the movie’s opening moments, as fighter jets roared off into the sky. The lyrics spoke for an unapologetic thrill seeker, culminating in the oft-repeated titular line — “highway to the danger zone.” It topped out at No. 2 on the Billboard Hot 100 chart.
Even more renowned was “Take My Breath Away,” the soulful ballad performed by Berlin that was used in a romantic scene. It topped the Billboard charts on Sept. 13, 1986, and won the Academy Award and Golden Globe for best original song.
Thomas Ross Whitlock was born on Feb. 20, 1954, in Springfield, Mo. He started playing the drums when he was 11 years old, and began playing with major artists at a young age, he said in a 2018 interview with rediscoverthe80s.com.
After going to college and playing in a short-lived band, he was helping a friend at a sound studio when Mr. Moroder, an already accomplished musician who had just bought the studio, said he was having issues with the brakes on his Ferrari, Mr. Whitlock said in the interview. Mr. Whitlock bought some brake fluid, used his own tools and fixed the issue — a few weeks later, he was hired to do odd jobs in the studio.
After others left for the day, he could work on his own songs. And when other songwriters weren’t around, Mr. Moroder turned to Mr. Whitlock for help on the “Top Gun” lyrics, he said.
He also wrote lyrics for the theme songs for the 1988 Summer Olympics and the 1990 FIFA World Cup.
He is survived by his sister, Mary Whitlock Schweitzer, his former wife, Hollie Whitlock, and her daughter, Yohanna Sherman.
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