Jimmy Buffett died last night at the age of 76.
According to reports, he died peacefully surrounded by his family, friends, and dogs. No cause of death was reported, but he had been hospitalized in May for a long-term illness. (9/4/23 Update – cause of Jimmy’s death was Merkel Cell Cancer, a very rare and aggressive form of skin cancer)
Jimmy Buffett had often criticized as being a one-hit wonder (for the song “Margaritaville”) who took that one song and somehow built a fortune around it (a billionaire at the time of his death according to Forbes) through restaurants, resorts, housing and merchandising.
However during his career, he released 29 studio albums, 9 compilation albums, 14 live albums, 8 specialty albums, and 67 singles.
And in addition to being a songwriter with many hits loved by his fans, he was a published author (approximately 24 books to his credit).
The result of all the books and music was that he created mythic world for the rest of us, based on rock and roll and calypso – that he called Gulf and Western, where people could go as an escape from the stress and strife of modern life. It was a fun place where life was about the simple pleasures of sun, sand, margaritas, and just watching life pass by. Listening to his songs, I’ve been there and go back as often as possible.
Jimmy used to say people wondered how he could turn out trashy songs (e.g., “Why Don’t We Get Drunk and Screw”) and then write a beautiful reflection on one person’s life (“He Went to Paris”). He said sometimes he felt trashy and sometimes reflective, and he wrote what he was feeling.
It wasn’t that everyone loved him. I had friend from Florida who knew him in Key West in the 1970s and said he was a jerk (and my friend claimed many felt that way). Maybe so, but most of us would like to take back many things we did and said in our 20s.
I assume the same would be true for Jimmy. As he said in a 60 Minutes interview in 2005, he didn’t live in Margaritaville, but was just a person who had his up and downs like everyone else. And in a later interview with 60 Minutes in 1997 said his job was to sell escapism – escape from the high pressures of daily life.
I think some of the best lyrics he wrote were in “He Went to Paris”. The final lyrics of that song could be his epitaph – and I’d be happy to have the same:
Some of it’s magic.
Some of it’s tragic.
But I had a good life all the way.
Fair winds and following seas, Jimmy. Bubbles up!