Tom Whitlock, Songwriter of ‘Top Gun’ Classics “Danger Zone” and “Take My Breath Away,” Dies at 68

Tom Whitlock, the Oscar-winning songwriter who co-wrote the lyrics for “Danger Zone” and “Take My Breath Away” for the 1986 film Top Gun, died on Feb. 19. He was 68. No cause of death was revealed, but the songwriter was reportedly battling Alzheimer’s disease.

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Whitlock died at the memory care center in Gallatin, Tennessee, according to a spokesperson at the Gorman-Scharpf Funeral Home in Springfield, Missouri.

Along with the famed Italian composer and electronic dance pioneer, Giorgio Moroder, Whitlock wrote both of the Top Gun songs.

Born Thomas Ross Whitlock on Feb. 20, 1954, in Springfield, Missouri, Whitlock started playing drums in bands by 15 and worked as a session musician, working with composer Wayne Carson, before studying music at Drury University. After moving to Los Angeles in 1983, Whitlock met Moroder when he fixed the brakes on the composer’s Ferrari. Soon after, Moroder hired Whitlock as an assistant at his studio.

Moroder was brought in on the Top Gun project after producers Jerry Bruckheimer and Don Simpson —who he also worked with on the hit 1983 film Flashdance—rejected hundreds of songs for the opening sequence of the film. When Moroder’s songwriting partners Pete Bellotte and Keith Forsey were unavailable to work on Top Gun, he asked Whitlock to join him on the project.

Performed by Kenny Loggins, the rock anthem “Danger Zone” was used in the opening scene of Top Gun, directed by Tony Scott and starring Tom Cruise, Val Kilmer, and Kelly McGillis, and peaked at No. 2 on the Billboard Hot 100 chart.

‘Take My Breath Away,” performed by Terri Nunn and Berlin, inspired more scenes to be shot for the film between Cruise’s character, Pete “Maverick” Mitchell, and McGillis’ Charlie. The song hit No. 1 and earned Moroder and Whitlock an Oscar for Best Original Song, while the Top Gun soundtrack sold nine million copies.

Whitlock continued to work with Moroder on music for several more films, including co-writing “All Revved Up,” performed by Jermaine Jackson, for Beverly Hills Cop II, and “Meet Me Half Way,” which was also performed by Loggins for the 1987 film Over the Top, along with collaborations on the movies American Anthem (1986) and Rambo III (1988).

Both also wrote the theme song, “Hand in Hand,” for the 1988 Seoul Olympics and “To Be Number One” for the 1990 FIFA World Cup in Italy.

Also the drummer for the Missouri band The Dog People, Whitlock was honored by the Library of Congress in 2012 for his contribution to songwriting.

Whitlock is survived by his sister Mary Whitlock Schweitzer, his former wife, Hollie Whitlock, and her daughter, Yohanna Sherman.

Photo by Ron Galella/Ron Galella Collection via Getty Images

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