Croce scored a handful of hit songs in the first half of the '70s, but died in an airplane crash just as he was beginning to capitalize on his success. He is probably best remembered for the songs "Time in a Bottle" and "Bad, Bad Leroy Brown," both #1 hits in 1973.
Croce was born in South Philadelphia. He graduated from Upper Darby High School in Drexel Hill, Pennsylvania in 1960. In 1976, he was the first former student to be added to the Upper Darby High School Wall of Fame. After graduating from Upper Darby, Croce attended Malvern Preparatory School, in Malvern, Pennsylvania, for one year. He then went on to Villanova University. While attending Villanova University, from which he graduated in 1965, Croce was a member of the Villanova Singers and Villanova Spires and was a student disc jockey at WXVU. He also met his future wife, Ingrid Jacobson, at a hootenanny at Convention Hall in Philadelphia, where he was a judge for a contest. When they married, he converted to Judaism. Their son Adrian James is a singer-songwriter in his own right, performing under the name A. J. Croce.
 Early career
During the early 1960s, Croce formed a number of college bands, performed at coffee houses and universities, and later performed with his wife as a duo in the mid-1960s to early 1970s. At first, their performances included songs by Ian and Sylvia, Gordon Lightfoot, Joan Baez, and Woody Guthrie, but in time they began writing their own music, such as "Age, "Hey Tomorrow", and "Spin Spin Spin", which later led to Croce's hit songs in the early 1970s.
At the same time, Croce got his first long-term gig at a rural bar and steak house in Lima, Pennsylvania, called the Riddle Paddock. There, over the next few years, Croce developed a very engaging rapport with tough audiences and built his musical repertoire to more than 3,000 songs. His set list included every genre from blues to country to rock 'n roll to folk, with tender love songs and traditional bawdy ballads, always introduced with a story and an impish grin.
In 1968, Jim and Ingrid Croce were encouraged to move to New York City to record their first album with Capitol Records. For the next two years, they drove more than 300,000 miles  playing small clubs and concerts on the college concert circuit promoting their album Jim & Ingrid Croce.
Then, disillusioned by the music business and New York City, Croce sold all but one guitar to pay the rent, and they returned to the Pennsylvania countryside where Croce got a job driving trucks and doing construction to pay the bills. He called this his "character development period" and spent a lot of his time sitting in the cab of a truck, composing songs about his buddies and the folks he enjoyed meeting at the local bars and truck stops.
n 1970, Croce met the classically trained pianist/guitarist, singer-songwriter Maury Muehleisen from Trenton, New Jersey through Joe Salviuolo (aka Sal Joseph). Salviuolo was best friends with Jim when they attended Villanova University together, and Salviuolo later discovered Maury when he was teaching at Glassboro State College in New Jersey. Sal, along with Tommy West and Terry Cashman, brought this duo together in the Cashman and West production office in New York City. Initially, Croce backed Muehleisen on guitar at his gigs. But in time, their musical strengths led them each to new heights. Muehleisen's ethereal and inspired guitar leads became the perfect accompaniment to Croce's down-to-earth music.
In 1972, Croce signed to a three-record deal with ABC Records releasing You Don't Mess Around with Jim and Life & Times in the same year. The singles "You Don't Mess Around with Jim", "Operator (That's Not The Way It Feels)", and "Time in a Bottle" (written for his unborn son, A. J. Croce) helped the former album reach #1 on the charts in 1974. Croce's biggest single, "Bad, Bad Leroy Brown", hit #1 on the American charts in the summer of 1973, selling two million copies.
Croce, 30, and Muehleisen, 24, died in a small commercial plane crash on September 20, 1973, shortly before his ABC single, I Got a Name was to be released. The album of the same title was released on December 1, 1973. With his then busy touring schedule, (largely due to the recent success of "Bad, Bad Leroy Brown") Croce had only finished recording the album eight days before his death. The posthumous release included three hits, "I Got a Name", "Workin' at the Car Wash Blues", and "I'll Have to Say I Love You in a Song". Three months after his death, the song "Time in a Bottle", originally released on Croce's first album the year before, became a #1 hit single (the third posthumous chart-topping song of the Rock Era following Otis Redding's "(Sittin' On) The Dock of the Bay" and "Me and Bobby McGee" by Janis Joplin). Both the song "Time in a Bottle" and the You Don't Mess Around with Jim album cover were featured in the ABC-TV movie "She Lives!", which aired on September 12, 1973. The movie was responsible for thousands of telephone calls to radio stations across the country the next day, with everyone wanting to know 'who sang that song?' eventually propelling the obscure album track to #1. Jim lived long enough to hear of the public's curiosity about the song, although it was not released as a single until a few weeks later.
Croce had just completed a concert in Natchitoches, Louisiana, and was flying to Sherman, Texas. The pilot and all passengers (Croce; Muehleisen; Croce's booking agent Kenneth D. Cortose; George Stevens, the comic who was the show's warm up act; and another passenger named Dennis Rast) were killed instantly at 10:45 PM EDT on September 20, 1973, less than an hour after the end of Croce's last concert. Upon takeoff, the Beechcraft E18 plane did not gain enough altitude to clear a pecan tree at the end of the runway, which investigators said was the only tree for hundreds of yards. The official report from the NTSB hints that the charter pilot, Robert Newton Elliott, who had severe coronary artery disease and had run a portion of the three miles to the airport from a motel, may have suffered a heart attack, causing him to crash into the trees on a clear runway with excellent visibility. A later investigation placed sole blame for the accident on pilot error.
Croce was laid to rest in Haym Salomon Memorial Park, East Whiteland Township, Chester County, Pennsylvania even though he had recently relocated to San Diego.
News of the premature deaths of the duo sparked a massive interest in Jim’s first two albums – You Don’t Mess Around with Jim and Life and Times - as well as the “I Got a Name” single, which was released later that same week. This was followed in December 1973 by the release of the album of the same title. Sales soared and resulted in three gold records. A “Greatest Hits” package released in 1974 also proved to be extraordinarily popular. The catalogue became a staple of radio play, turntables, cassettes, and CDs for years, and is still receiving significant airplay in the first decade of the 21st century.
In 1985, Ingrid Croce opened "Croce's Restaurant & Jazz Bar", located in the historic Gaslamp Quarter in San Diego, California, as a tribute to her late husband. In 1990, Croce was inducted into the Songwriters Hall of Fame. Since then, releases have included Jim Croce Home Recordings, Facets, Jim Croce: Classic Hits, and the first DVD of Jim's television performances, Have You Heard – Jim Croce Live. The most recent release was in January 2006 -- Have You Heard - Jim Croce Live, the album.
The Righteous Brothers pay tribute to Croce in their song "Rock And Roll Heaven". He is also mentioned in Stephen King's You Know They Got a Hell of a Band, a short story about a town populated by late music legends. The title of King's short story comes from a line in the Righteous Brothers song.
Gino Vanelli wrote the song "Poor Happy Jimmy" as a tribute to Croce.
In 2008, Jim Croce appeared as a character in "Have You Seen Your Mother, Baby, Standing in the Shadows?", the 4th episode of the American remake of Life on Mars, set in May, 1973. Detective Sam Tyler warns him to avoid small airplanes, a reference to his death four months later.