Jimmy Buffett by Bruce Glikas.

Jimmy Buffett Dies Aged 76

September 2, 2023 8:01 am GMT
Last Edited December 19, 2023 7:55 pm GMT

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Jimmy Buffett, the legendary singer of 'Margaritaville', has died at the age of 76.

The country-folk singer-songwriter, whose unique brand of laid-back tropical rock spawned a global business empire, died on Friday, September 1. He was 76 years old.

Buffett’s death was confirmed through a statement on his official website: “Jimmy passed away peacefully on the night of September 1st surrounded by his family, friends, music and dogs. He lived his life like a song till the very last breath and will be missed beyond measure by so many.”

The singer had been fighting Merkel Cell Skin Cancer for four years. In lieu of flowers, the family has requested that donations be made to Jimmy Buffett’s Foundation Singing for Change, Brigham and Women’s Hospital, Dana Farber Cancer Institute or MD Anderson Cancer Center.

In a career that stretched over 50 years, Jimmy Buffett was a rare kind of singer songwriter. His faithful army of followers, nicknamed “Parrotheads”, kept him at the top for over five decades.

James William Buffett was born on Dec. 25th 1946, in Pascagoula, Mississippi. and grew up in Mobile, Alabama. His grandfather was a sailing enthusiast and when his grandson took up the sport, he would unknowingly become linked to it for the rest of his life

After college, Buffett began playing professionally in Nashville, and released Down to Earthfor Barnaby Records in 1970. He toured with singer-songwriter Jerry Jeff Walker on a 1971 trek to Key West, and soon relocated down there, where he truly found his flip-flopped feet and a home that he hadn’t been able to find out on the road or in Music City. It was a place where “the days drift by” and the “smilin' eyes match the smilin' faces” as he’d sing later.

Over the next four albums, Buffett soaked up the laid-back low-rent lifestyle of the derelict navy town and immortalised the characters that passed through it. He observed as the overspill from the hippy counterculture of the sixties mixed with the renegade locals in bars like The Chart Room, The Old Anchor Inn, Sloppy Joes and Captain Tony’s Saloon.

He was one of a rambling gaggle of misfit artists and troubadours that were drawn across the 154-mile-long bridge from Miami in the early 70s. “Many generations of misfits have claimed Key West as their town”, Buffett said years later. “But I would have to argue that, in the early 70s, it truly was our town.”

It was in Key West that Buffett cultivated his easy-going Gulf Coast slacker persona; a beach-bum barstool philosopher who combined country, folk, calypso and rock to create his own unique "Gulf and Western" tropical rock sound.

"What Jimmy Buffett knows is that our personal musical history lies at the curious hinterland where Hank Williams and Xavier Cugat meet", wrote Thomas McGuane eloquently in the liner notes to A White Sport Coat and A Pink Crustacean. "Drunken Caribbean rock 'n' roll" was what Jimmy Buffett would come to call it.

His next two albums, A White Sport Coat and a Pink Crustacean in 1973 and Havana Daydreaming in 1976 faired slightly better on the country album charts than his debut, but his breakthrough came with Changes in Latitudes, Changes in Attitudes in 1977. The million selling album included ‘Margaritaville’, the song that would change the course of his career and his life.

His 70’s was rounded off with Son of a Son of a Sailor in 1978 and Volcano in 1979. With the legendary live album You Had to Be There in between the two.

During the 80’s he set off on his way to being a global restaurateur, opening the first Margaritaville retail store in Key West in 1987 and the first Margaritaville Café in 1987.

In the 90s he started his Margaritaville imprint, distributed successively by MCA and Island Records. Four of his five studio albums during that decade reached the top 10 and went either gold or platinum.

He continued to have hit records well into the noughties with License to Chill and Take the Weather With You both claiming to top spot, while his most recent studio albums Life On The Flipside from 2020 and Songs From St Somewhere from 2013 had included some of his finest work in years.

In later years, Buffett found success more often on the country singles charts with a series of duets. He teamed up with Alan Jackson for the No. 1 single ‘It’s Five O’Clock Somewhere', and picked up a CMA Award for Vocal Event of the Year. He was back on the top spot again when he joined the Zac Brown Band on ‘Knee Deep.’

Jimmy Buffett wasn’t just a songwriter, he was a way of life. He had the biggest hit of his career with the song ‘Margaritaville’ in 1977; the title of the song would go on to make him one of the wealthiest performing artists in the world. He took his easy-going Gulf Coast slacker persona and built an entire empire out of it with his Margaritaville chain of restaurants and themed products. In 2016, his personal worth was estimated at $500 million.

Writing about ‘Margaritaville’ on the 40th anniversary of the song’s release in 2017, Forbes magazine said the song had “morphed into a global lifestyle brand that currently has more than $4.8 billion in the development pipeline and sees $1.5 billion in annual system-wide sales.

The business magazine noted that the performer’s licensed brands included apparel and footwear, gaming rooms, retail stores, restaurants, resorts and even a Margaritaville-branded beer, LandShark Lager.

Buffett’s memoir A Pirate Looks at Fifty went to No. 1 on the New York Times bestseller list, along with his two novels Tales from Margaritaville and Where is Joe Merchant?

Buffett is survived by his second wife Jane, their two daughters, Sarah and Savannah, and son, Cameron.

This is a breaking news story, more to follow.

For more on Jimmy Buffett, see below:

Written by Jof Owen
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