Jimmy Buffett, the 76-year-old American singer-songwriter who rose from Key West beach bum to millionaire behind the always-on-vacation “Margaritaville” commercial empire, has died.
“Jimmy died peacefully on September 1st, surrounded by his family, friends, music, and dogs.” He lived his life like a song until his last breath and will be sorely missed by so many,” a statement on his website stated on Saturday. It did not specify the reason of death. Buffett had cancelled events in previous months owing to health difficulties.
Buffett made his name performing his folk-country tunes around the United States in the 1970s, earning two Grammy nominations and numerous Country Music Awards.
“Margaritaville,” a melodious composition with a tropical lilt that quickly became a standard of resort musicians and a vacation favourite of still vaguely hedonistic baby boomers, became his breakthrough smash, with lyrics about “wastin’ away” and “nothing to show but this brand new tattoo.”
Other popular songs with a sun-and-cocktail-soaked theme were “It’s 5 O’Clock Somewhere,” “Cheeseburger in Paradise,” and “Changes in Latitudes, Changes in Attitudes.”
On Saturday, US President Joe Biden published a statement about Buffett’s death, calling him a “poet of paradise.” “Jimmy reminded us how much the simple things in life matter – the people we love, the places we come from, the dreams we have for the future,” it stated.
Over the course of six decades, Buffett published over two dozen albums and performed numerous performances, while the “Margaritaville” concept grew into a lifestyle brand that covered everything from hotels and restaurants to pool floats and frozen shrimp dishes.
For ageing “Parrotheads” who couldn’t get enough, the first “Latitude Margaritaville” retirement home debuted in Florida in 2018, and others quickly followed, promising “food, fun, music, and escapism” for the over-55s.
Buffett got the idea for the “Margaritaville” brand in the mid-1980s when he spotted people wandering around Key West wearing t-shirts with his (misspelt) name on them; he responded by creating a t-shirt store, which he later expanded with a cafe.
In 1994, Jimmy Buffett told Forbes, “If you’re an artist, if you want to have control of your life… then you gotta be a businessman, like it or not.”
Buffett, who owned 28% of Margaritaville Holdings, joined the Forbes list of billionaires in 2023. He knew billionaire investor Warren Buffett (no relation), and he owned and flew multiple private jets.
But he always stated that he was happiest while touring, playing barefoot in front of large or small crowds and picking at his guitar. He would frequently appear on stage with other musicians to perform surprise performances while wearing his distinctive Hawaiian shirt.
Jimmy Buffett, born James William Buffett on December 25, 1946, in Pascagoula, Mississippi, grew up in Mobile, Alabama, the son of a well-traveled army engineer and the grandson of a maritime man who he would later say gave him a lifelong love of the ocean and a longing for adventure. He attended university and then moved to Nashville, Tennessee, to work for Billboard Magazine.
As a student, he began playing guitar and busking, and in 1970, he issued his first record in Nashville, the birthplace of country music.
But it wasn’t until he discovered Key West in 1971 that he realised he had found his calling. Key West, an island off the coast of Florida that is closer to Cuba than the United States mainland, has long been known as a haven for artists, misfits, and heavy drinkers. In the 1930s, Ernest Hemingway lived there.
“Key West will always be a part of me,” Buffett declared in a Miami Herald interview in 2022. “I think I found myself as a writer down there… I’m simply glad I was able to use it and that it helped me as much as I helped them.”
Buffett rose to prominence because to his folksy calypso music, which mirrored the Key West way of life.
His first success was “Come Monday” in 1974, but it was 1977’s “Margaritaville” that truly took off. Beyond Florida, his lyrics struck a chord with folks who didn’t care about their employment, used marijuana, drank tequila, and lived for their beach holidays.
Buffett recorded 27 studio albums, a Broadway jukebox musical (“Escape to Margaritaville”), and a number of books, the most notable of which was 1989’s “Tales from Margaritaville.” In 1999, he founded the record label Mailboat Records.
Jimmy Buffett had two marriages. With his second wife, Jane Slagsvol, whom he met in Key West in the 1970s, he had three children.
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