Jimmy Buffett, the legendary singer/songwriter whose wide appeal included everyone from Deadheads to mainstream country music fans, has died at age 76. Buffett’s official social media accounts posted the sad news earlier this morning. “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.” No cause of death has been revealed.
Buffett got his start in music relatively late. According to ABC News, he didn’t start playing music until his freshman year of college. He worked as a writer for Billboard. In fact, he was working there when he released his debut album, Down To Earth, in 1970. Jimmy Buffett started out as a country singer, but as The Washington Post noted, his first two albums “sold in the hundreds, and [he] realized that he felt off-kilter in the country genre.”
He then went to Coconut Grove, Florida, at the invitation of a friend, singer/songwriter Jerry Jeff Walker. As The Post reports, when Buffett went to Key West with Walker, they arrived in time for sunset. That’s where he witnessed “a daily ritual in which hippies free-danced on the beach to conga drums.” Buffett found his muse, and with that, his artistic identity.
Buffett’s big breakthrough came with his seventh album, 1977’s Changes In Latitudes, Changes In Attitudes. That album included the hit the he’s most famous for: the funny but also melancholy “Margaritaville.” It’s a song about a guy who is down on his luck. But at least he’s down on his luck in a beach town. It’s become a beloved anthem. The lyrics include, “Wastin’ away again in Margaritaville/Searchin’ for my lost shaker of salt/Some people claim that there’s a woman to blame/But I know it’s nobody’s fault.”
“Margaritaville” was more than just a massive hit for Buffett: it became his brand. According to Florida Today, Buffett’s multi-billion dollar business empire includes Margaritaville-themed stores, hotels, bars, restaurants, daiquiri makers, pickleball paddles, beer, luxury resorts, retirement villages and Buffett’s Coral Reefer THC (his backing band was called “the Coral Reefer Band”).
He was also an accomplished author; according to the New York Times, Buffett was one of only six writers to top both The Times’s fiction and nonfiction best-seller lists. That elite group also includes Ernest Hemingway and John Steinbeck.
About three decades after leaving country music, he topped the country music charts with a duet with Alan Jackson, “It’s Five O’Clock Somewhere,” in 2003, according to American Songwriter. Buffett’s influence can be heard all over country music today, in every song celebrating good times at beaches.
According to ABC News, Jimmy Buffett is survived by his wife, Jane, two daughters and a son.