The Strange Story of Neil Diamond's Song About E.T.

L-R: Neil Diamond, E.T.
Photo Credit
Roger Ressmeyer/CORBIS/VCG via Getty Images; Sunset Boulevard/Corbis via Getty Images

In 1982, there may have been no cultural force greater than E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial, Steven Spielberg's beloved film about an alien stranded on Earth who befriends a lonely 10-year-old boy. The emotional tale, made on a budget half as big as Spielberg's last film, the Indiana Jones adventure Raiders of the Lost Ark, would become the highest-grossing film of all time within a year of its release - a title it held for more than a decade.

The same cultural status could not, arguably, be said about Neil Diamond. Though the big-voiced singer/songwriter was no stranger to the pop charts in the late '70s and early '80s thanks to smashes like "You Don't Bring Me Flowers" and "America," he was also reeling from the recent bomb of his foray into motion pictures: the ill-received The Jazz Singer.

But Diamond wasn't thinking of his misfires when he went to a theater in New York to catch a showing of E.T. with some friends. Like millions around the world, he was touched by the love and wonder emanating off the film. Of course, Diamond and those friends - married songwriters Burt Bacharach and Carole Bayer Sager - did something few other folks did after they saw the picture: they wrote a song.

Though it never mentions the movie or its characters by name, it's not hard to guess what "Heartlight" was about. "He's lookin' for home!" Diamond boomed in one verse. "Because everyone needs a place!" The chorus also promised to "take a ride across the moon, you and me" - a detail that was obvious for anyone who saw an E.T. poster or any dozens of pieces of merchandise (real and bootleg) that year. (Diamond, Bacharach and Bayer Sager did reportedly have to pay Universal, the distributor of the film, a small fee to avoid any sort of legal entanglements - a similar situation that would nearly cancel a storybook album Michael Jackson recorded in support of the movie.)

READ MORE: November 1982: 'The E.T. Storybook,' Michael Jackson's "OTHER" Hit Album, is Released

In the end, though, the biggest glow came from Diamond's bank account: the song was a qualified smash, reaching No. 5 on the Billboard Hot 100 and topping the magazine's adult contemporary chart. He'd never have a song chart as high again, but the now semi-retired performer has enjoyed plenty of honors since, including a Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award, the Kennedy Center Honors and induction into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame.

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