NEW YORK (AP) — Singer-songwriter Jimmy Buffett, who popularized beach bum soft rock with the escapist Caribbean-flavored song “Margaritaville” and turned that celebration of loafing into a billion-dollar empire of restaurants, resorts and frozen concoctions, has died. He was 76.
“Jimmy passed away peacefully on the night of September 1st surrounded by his family, friends, music and dogs,” a statement posted to Buffett's official website and social media pages said late Friday. “He lived his life like a song till the very last breath and will be missed beyond measure by so many.”
The statement did not say where Buffett died or provide a cause of death. Illness had forced him to reschedule concerts in May and Buffett acknowledged in social media posts that he had been hospitalized, but provided no specifics.
Buffett previously told the Canadian Press of his Canadian lineage, saying he maintains a close connection to his family on the East Coast.
“Canada holds a special place in my heart,” he said in a 2004 interview. “I’ve got more family in Newfoundland and Nova Scotia than I do in the States.”
When he came to the East Coast, visiting family and fishing topped his list of preferred activities.
He also spoke of his fondness for Canadian songwriters, saying he kept “a keen ear to the north,” favouring the likes of Gordon Lightfoot and Lennie Gallant, among others. He performed several songs penned by Canadian legend Bruce Cockburn, with two of those tracks — "Anything Anytime Anywhere" and "Someone I Used to Love" — appearing on his 2004 album "License to Chill."
Canadian comedian Mark Critch said Buffett frequently visited Newfoundland to research his family's history. He recalled "a very long time ago" running into Buffett at a bar in St. John's called The Republic.
"A guy was sitting at the end of the bar who had flown in and was researching his family history," Critch recalled in an interview. "And he walks out and then somebody says, 'I think that was Jimmy Buffett.'"
Buffett would make a point to travel to the province's far-flung rural communities, stumbling upon his grandfather's home community of Rose Blanche.
"When he found out where his ancestry is from, it connected and made sense to him," Critch said. "I guess we're pretty laid back. We like to drink, we like the ocean. Those are very Jimmy Buffett things."
Buffett could fly under the radar in Newfoundland, enjoying a sort of quiet anonymity away from the keen eye of his most loyal fans known as Parrotheads. He would sometimes take the stage at local bars and perform lengthy songs like Gordon Lightfoot's Canadian Railroad Trilogy.
Critch said you'd never know Buffett was a famous musician unless you directly asked him.
"People respected that his family had come from here," he said. "They’d respectfully give him his space, but a warm Newfoundland welcome."
Buffett made multiple appearances on a local radio show hosted by Critch's brother Mike Campbell on 97.5 KROCK, and had performed at a local high school.
Buffett had been planning to come back to the East Coast to promote his upcoming album, Campbell said.
“Margaritaville,” released on Feb. 14, 1977, quickly took on a life of its own, becoming a state of mind for those "wastin’ away,” an excuse for a life of low-key fun and escapism.
The song is the unhurried portrait of a loafer on his front porch, watching tourists sunbathe while a pot of shrimp is beginning to boil. The singer has a new tattoo, a likely hangover and regrets over a lost love. Somewhere there is a misplaced salt shaker.
The song — from the album “Changes in Latitudes, Changes in Attitudes” — spent 22 weeks on the Billboard Hot 100 chart and peaked at No. 8. The song was inducted into the Grammy Hall of Fame in 2016 for its cultural and historic significance, became a karaoke standard and helped brand Key West, Florida, as a distinct sound of music and a destination known the world over.
The song soon inspired restaurants and resorts, turning Buffett’s alleged desire for the simplicity of island life into a multimillion brand. He landed at No. 18 in Forbes’ list of the Richest Celebrities of All Time with a net worth of $1 billion.
The evolving brand began in 1985 with the opening of a string of Margaritaville-themed stores and restaurants in Key West, and new locations soon began popping up beyond Florida. It has since expanded to dozens of categories including resorts, apparel and footwear, alcoholic and non-alcoholic beverages and home décor.
But those mourning his loss on Saturday focused primarily on his songs.
Buffett’s “music brought happiness to millions of people. I’ll always be grateful for his kindness, generosity, and great performances through the years,” wrote former President Bill Clinton on X, formerly Twitter.
James William Buffett was born on Christmas day 1946 in Pascagoula, Mississippi, and raised in the port town of Mobile, Alabama. He graduated from the University of Southern Mississippi in Hattiesburg and went from busking the streets of New Orleans to playing six nights a week at Bourbon Street clubs.
He released his first record, “Down To Earth,” in 1970 and issued seven more on a regular yearly clip, with his 1974 song “Come Monday” from his fourth studio album “Living and Dying in ¾ Time,” peaking at No. 30. Then came “Margaritaville.”
He performed on more than 50 studio and live albums, often accompanied by his Coral Reefer Band, and was constantly on tour. He earned two Grammy Award nominations, two Academy of Country Music Awards and a Country Music Association Award.
Buffett was also the author of numerous books including “Where Is Joe Merchant?” and “A Pirate Looks At Fifty.” He added movies to his resume as co-producer and co-star of an adaptation of Carl Hiaasen’s novel “Hoot.”
Buffett is survived by his wife, Jane; daughters, Savannah and Sarah; and son, Cameron.
With files from Marlo Glass in Halifax. AP Entertainment Writer Andrew Dalton contributed from Los Angeles.
Mark Kennedy is at http://twitter.com/KennedyTwits
Mark Kennedy, The Associated Press