boston.com News your connection to The Boston Globe

Ron Miller, 74; wrote Motown hit songs

Songwriter Ron Miller (left), with Motown Records founder Barry Gordy. Songwriter Ron Miller (left), with Motown Records founder Barry Gordy. (file/miller family via ap)

SANTA MONICA, Calif. -- Songwriter Ron Miller, whose tunes included the pop classics "Touch Me in the Morning" and "For Once in My Life," died Monday of cardiac arrest at Santa Monica UCLA Medical Center after a long battle with emphysema and cancer, said his daughter, Lisa Dawn Miller. He was 74.

Mr. Miller got his start in the music business in the 1960s, when Motown founder Berry Gordy saw him perform at a piano bar and invited him to Detroit as one of the label's first songwriters and record producers.

Mr. Miller's songs have been recorded by many leading artists, including Judy Garland, Stevie Wonder, Diana Ross, and Ray Charles.

"For Once in My Life," written with Orlando Murden, is one of the most recorded songs in history, with more than 270 versions, according to All Music Guide. A rendition by Tony Bennett and Wonder won a Grammy Award 2006.

In 2004, Charles's and Gladys Knight's version of Mr. Miller's "Heaven Help Us All" picked up the best gospel performance Grammy.

Born in Chicago, Mr. Miller was an avid fan of Cubs baseball and as a child wrote his first sad song about his beloved but hapless team, his daughter said.

Before meeting Gordy at the piano bar, Mr. Miller made ends meet by selling washing machines and taking odd jobs. He served in the Marines and was stationed overseas.

Throughout the 1970s, Mr. Miller wrote the book and lyrics to many musicals, including "Daddy Goodness" and "Cheery," based on William Inge's "Bus Stop." Barbra Streisand recorded "I've Never Been A Woman Before" from the musical for her "The Way We Were" album.

"My father will be reborn every time someone sings one of his songs," Lisa Dawn Miller said. "When they feel joy or sadness or any emotion, that will be my dad and his words."

Mr. Miller leaves his wife, Aurora, and six children.

A memorial service was scheduled for Aug. 4.

SEARCH THE ARCHIVES