Jimmy Buffett, the tropical troubadour whose folksy tunes celebrated his laid-back lifestyle, inspired legions of devoted fans and spawned a lucrative business empire, has died, according to his official website and multiple media outlets.
He was 76.
“Jimmy passed away peacefully on the night of September 1st surrounded by his family, friends, music and dogs,” a statement released on his social page reads.
“He lived his life like a song till the very last breath and will be missed beyond measure by so many,” the statement continued.
No cause of death was released.
The singer-songwriter was briefly hospitalized in May following a trip to the Bahamas. “I had to stop in Boston for a checkup but wound up back in the hospital to address some issues that needed immediate attention,” he told his followers in a social media post.
Buffett posted a day later that he was soon headed home from the hospital, and thanked his followers for the “outpouring of support and well wishes.” He did not share what was ailing him, but said that he’d be going on a “fishing trip with old friends, along with paddling and sailing and get myself back in good shape” upon his return home from the hospital.
The music world pays tribute
Mourners paid tribute on social media Saturday, including country superstar Kenny Chesney, whose own sun-kissed approach owes a lot to Buffett.
Chesney tweeted, “So goodbye Jimmy. Thanks for your friendship and the songs I will carry in my heart forever. Sail On Sailor.” And he shared a video of himself singing Buffett’s song “Son of a Son of a Sailor” on a beach.
“The pirate has passed. RIP Jimmy Buffett. Tremendous influence on so many of us,” wrote Toby Keith.
Brian Wilson of the Beach Boys wrote, “Love and Mercy, Jimmy Buffett.”
Elton John wrote on Instagram: “Jimmy Buffett was a unique and treasured entertainer. His fans adored him and he never let them down. This is the saddest of news. A lovely man gone way too soon.”
Paul McCartney shared his fond memories of Buffett as “one of the kindest and most generous people” on X, the social media platform formerly known as Twitter.
“Right up to the last minute, his eyes still twinkled with a humour that said, ‘I love this world and I’m going to enjoy every minute of it,’” McCartney wrote.
“So many of us will miss Jimmy and his tremendous personality, his love for us all and for mankind as a whole,” he said.
Amiable grooves and clever wordplay
Buffett was born on Christmas Day 1946 in Pascagoula, Mississippi, and raised in the port town of Mobile, Alabama. He moved to Key West, Florida, where he found his voice, his website says.
One of his first songs to draw attention was “Come Monday,” from his 1974 album “Living & Dying in ¾ Time.”
Years later he told David Letterman, “This is a song that kept me from killing myself in a Howard Johnson’s in Marin County. It hit, I paid the rent, got my dog out of the pound. … and the rest is history.”
It notably included the line, “I got my hush puppies on, I guess I never was meant for glitter rock ‘n’ roll,” staking his claim to going his own laid-back way.
An amiable singer-songwriter with a penchant for clever wordplay, Buffett largely ignored pop music trends and was never a hitmaker or an MTV darling. His “Gulf & Western” style married country and Caribbean music.
He famously put “Margaritaville” on the map in 1977. It was his only Top 10 song and became his signature.
Its opening lines became instantly identifiable: “Nibbling on spongecake, watching the sun bake, all of the tourists covered with oil …”
And the chorus has been part of countless singalongs: “Wasted away again in Margaritaville, searching for my lost shaker of salt… Some people claim that there’s a woman to blame, but I know, it’s my own damn fault.”
Adored by his ‘parrotheads’
Buffett built an enormous cult of fans, affectionately known as “Parrotheads,” after the legendary Deadhead fans of the Grateful Dead.
“The audience are so much fun for me to look at,” he said. “I mean, they’re as entertaining to me as I hope I am to them.”
Other must-play concert tunes included “Cheeseburger in Paradise,” “Fins,” “Volcano” and “Why Don’t We Get Drunk.”
His followers lovingly embraced his vision of life spent in flip-flops, full of beaches, boats, booze and weed.
“From New Orleans to the Gulf Coast down into St. Barts and other places, I still can find magic in most of those places where people think there isn’t any left,” he said.
A savvy marketer, Buffett later parlayed the “Margaritaville” mythos to power his career through decades of lucrative concert tours – and branding of restaurants, casinos, retirement communities, bestselling books and even a musical.
His worth was estimated at $1 billion, according to Forbes.
Buffett, who was inducted into the Nashville Songwriters Hall of Fame in 2006, won two Country Music Association awards during his career and was twice nominated for Grammy Awards.
A rare misstep came with a 2018 Broadway show, “Escape to Margaritaville,” shaped out of his best-known tunes.
Even the brutal New York Times review noted the irony of Buffett’s slacker image against his staggering success: “Mr. Buffett, Margaritaville’s prototype and mastermind, has a wife and family and 5,000 employees; he works nonstop.”
Before his death, Buffett was preparing to release a new record, with songs previewed weekly on Radio Margaritaville, according to his website.
Loyal to his party credo until the end, he left a forthcoming song titled, “My Gummy Just Kicked In.”
Buffett leaves behind his wife, Jane Slagsvol, and three children.