Legendary Canadian singer-songwriter Leonard Cohen has died, as announced on Cohen’s Facebook page. “It is with profound sorrow we report that legendary poet, songwriter and artist, Leonard Cohen has passed away,” the announcement reads. “We have lost one of music’s most revered and prolific visionaries. A memorial will take place in Los Angeles at a later date. The family requests privacy during their time of grief.” Cohen’s cause of death is unknown as of this writing. He was 82.
Cohen was born on Sept. 21, 1934 in Westmount, Quebec, to a middle-class Jewish family. As a teenager, he studied music and poetry, learned the guitar, and read his poetry at Montreal clubs; as an undergraduate at McGill University, he published his first poems, and after graduating in 1955, his first book of poems, Let Us Compare Mythologies. He continued to write poetry and fiction throughout the 1960s—later in life, he would describe his writing process as “like a bear stumbling into a beehive or a honey cache: I’m stumbling right into it and getting stuck, and it’s delicious and it’s horrible and I’m in it and it’s not very graceful and it’s very awkward and it’s very painful and yet there’s something inevitable about it.”
It was in 1967 that, dissatisfied with the financial gains of a writer’s life, Cohen moved to the United States to become a folk singer-songwriter, releasing his first album, Songs of Leonard Cohen, via Columbia that same year, and beginning what would become a nearly 50-year music career. The album was an underground hit, earning Cohen listeners both at home and abroad, and inspiring the likes of James Taylor and Judy Collins to cover his songs. Cohen toured for the first time in 1970, kicking off a sustained period of touring, recording and experimentation. He changed his musical style time and time again, working closely with John Lissauer, Phil Spector and Jennifer Warnes, among others, and his fame spread also into film and television.
Cohen first released what is perhaps his most well-loved song, “Hallelujah,” on his seventh studio album, 1984’s Various Positions. The song has since been performed by nearly 200 different artists in numerous languages, a testament to the incredibly long shadow Cohen has cast over the world of music. Cohen’s star only continued to rise throughout the 1990s, his music reaching a larger and younger audience even as it gravitated towards darkness and social conflict. He was ordained as a Zen Buddhist monk in 1996, taking the Dharma name Jikan, or “Silence.” After five years of seclusion, he returned to writing, recording and touring, releasing two albums in the 2000s and embarking on a 2008-2010 world tour. Cohen’s masterful songwriting continued even into his 14th album, the recently released and unsurprisingly excellent You Want It Darker.
“If I knew where the good songs came from, I’d go there more often,” Cohen once said. We have no doubt he is there now.
Just over a month ago, we ranked the top 20 Leonard Cohen songs. Find that list here, and enjoy a sublime 2009 Cohen performance below.