The world is mourning the death of Leonard Cohen, the iconic Canadian poet and singer-songwriter who brought us such timeless classics as “Hallelujah” and “Bird on a Wire” during a career that spanned six decades. He was 82.
Cohen’s label, Sony Music Canada, confirmed the sad news in a post on his Facebook page, stating: “We have lost one of music’s most revered and prolific visionaries.”
Born in Westmount, Quebec, Cohen was one of a handful of performers, along with the likes of Bob Dylan and Joni Mitchell, credited with infusing folk-rock of the late 1960s with vibrant poetic imagery, with his distinctive baritone voice proving to be the perfect vehicle for his increasingly apocalyptic songs.
After graduating from Montreal’s McGill University, Cohen spent some time in Greece, where he proved to be a prolific writer. During this period, he wrote a collection of poetry, Flowers for Hitler (1964) and two novels, The Favourite Game (1963) and his masterpiece, Beautiful Losers (1966).
Upon returning to Montreal, Cohen wound up working in the garment industry, since being a poet was far from lucrative, and went to New York in 1966 to check out the booming Greenwich Village folk music scene. It was there that he met singer Judy Collins, who recorded his song “Suzanne”.
It wasn’t long before Cohen’s songwriting skills placed him in hot demand, and his songs were recorded by such artists as James Taylor, Willie Nelson and others. Ultimately, he decided to start performing his own material. His first two albums, 1969’s “Songs From a Room” and 1971’s “Songs of Love and Hate” were critical and commercial hits, and he never looked back — save for a period in the mid-’90s when he put his career on hold and studied to become a Buddhist monk.
It was in 2005, at an age when most people were long since retired, that his daughter Lorca Cohen discovered her father’s longtime manager had been embezzling from him for years, and had swindled him out of more than $5 million. This led Cohen to hit the road with a vengeance, going on a seemingly endless tour that saw him play 387 shows during 2008 to 2013.
One of the rare artists to remain successful and relevant in his 80s, Cohen recently released what was to be his final album, “You Want It Darker”, which was certified gold shortly after its release. Meanwhile, his 1984 hit “Hallelujah” remains one of the most-covered songs in music history, a staple for singers on TV talent competitions such as “American Idol” and “The Voice”.
In recent magazine article, Cohen admitted that mortality was on his mind. “I am ready to die,” he said. “I hope it’s not too uncomfortable. That’s about it for me.”
A memorial service for Leonard Cohen is planned to be held in Los Angeles at an unspecified date in the future.
Following news of Cohen’s passing, Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau released the following statement: “It is with deep sorrow that I learned today of the death of the legendary Leonard Cohen,” reads the statement. “A most remarkable Montrealer, Leonard Cohen managed to reach the highest of artistic achievement, both as an acclaimed poet and a world-renowned singer-songwriter. He will be fondly remembered for his gruff vocals, his self-deprecating humour and the haunting lyrics that made his songs the perennial favourite of so many generations. Leonard Cohen is as relevant today as he was in the 1960s. His ability to conjure the vast array of human emotion made him one of the most influential and enduring musicians ever. His style transcended the vagaries of fashion.”