Jim Weatherly first gained notice as a University of Mississippi football player, and then as a hit songwriter.
And his love for the game led to his greatest success in music, involving first a young Farrah Fawcett and ultimately a legendary recording of his tune “Midnight Train to Georgia” by Gladys Knight and the Pips.
Weatherly, who also wrote songs for Ray Price, Glen Campbell, Kenny Rogers and others, died Wednesday at his home in Brentwood, Tennessee, near Nashville, family friend Charlie Monk told the Tennessean newspaper.
He was 77, and his family told Monk that Weatherly died of natural causes.
Born in Mississippi, Weatherly played on the University of Mississippi football team in an undefeated 1962 season, an SEC championship and a national championship. The next year, he was the starting quarterback when the Rebels repeated as SEC champs.
After college, he decided to pursue music instead of football. And a few years later in Los Angeles, Weatherly played flag football with a group of friends including TV actor Lee Majors of “The Six Million Dollar Man,” he recalled during an interview with the Nashville Songwriters Association International.
Weatherly called Majors’ home one day, and the actor’s girlfriend, who would become “Charlie’s Angel” star Farrah Fawcett-Majors, answered. She said she was about to take “the midnight plane to Houston” and visit her family.
“A little bell went off,” Weatherly told the NSAI. “Sounded like a song title to me.”
He wrote “Midnight Plane to Houston” as a country song, never imagining it would become an R&B hit. By the time it reached Gladys Knight & the Pips, the title and style had changed, and it became a No. 1 Grammy-winning classic.
“I’m amazed it has lasted like it’s lasted,” Weatherly told the NSAI. “It’s a timeless record.”
Knight and the Pips also had hits with Weatherly tunes “Neither One of Us” and “Best Thing That Every Happened to Me.”
On Friday, Knight tweeted, “I’m missing Jim Weatherly already. He was about life and love … We were just made for each other. We grew our lives together. I’m gonna miss him terribly and love him always.”
As a performer, Weatherly had a pop and adult-contemporary hit with “The Need to Be” and a country hit with “I’ll Still Love You,” according to the Songwriters Hall of Fame. He was inducted in 2014. “Midnight Train” is among Rolling Stone’s 500 Greatest Songs of All Time.