Leonard Cohen obituary: Revered poet, novelist, musician

1934-2016: His influence on music industry likened to Bob Dylan, Joni Mitchell

File photo taken in 2012 shows Canadian singer and poet Leonard Cohen taking off his hat to salute in Paris.  Photograph: AFP/Getty Images

File photo taken in 2012 shows Canadian singer and poet Leonard Cohen taking off his hat to salute in Paris. Photograph: AFP/Getty Images


Leonard Cohen, the legendary singer-songwriter whose work inspired generations, has died at the age of 82.

A post to his official Facebook page announced the musician’s passing in Los Angeles on Thursday.

“It is with profound sorrow we report that legendary poet, songwriter and artist, Leonard Cohen has passed away. We have lost one of music’s most revered and prolific visionaries,” the post said.

“A memorial will take place in Los Angeles at a later date. The family requests privacy during their time of grief.”

In a recent interview with the New Yorker, Cohen spoke about the prospect of death with calmness and clarity:

“I am ready to die. I hope it’s not too uncomfortable. That’s about it for me.”

The prolific musician had just released his 14th album, You Want it Darker, in October, to great acclaim.

Cohen, who was born in Quebec in Canada, came to prominence in the 1960s as a poet, novelist and singer-songwriter.

Originally focusing on literary pursuits, he shifted his attention to music in the late 60s when he moved to New York.

His first album, Songs of Leonard Cohen, was released in 1967 and became a cult hit.

In 1969, Cohen released his second album, Songs for a Room, featuring what would become one of his most popular songs, Bird on the Wire.

The song has been covered by artists including Johnny Cash, Joe Cocker, Willie Nelson, kd lang and Paul Kelly.

Kris Kristofferson once said that he wanted the opening lyrics from Bird on the Wire engraved on his tombstone.

A year later, Cohen embarked upon an intense period of touring through Europe, Canada and the United States.

He released his third album, Songs of Love and Hate, in 1971, which included the song Famous Blue Raincoat.

The song, with its haunting depiction of the aftermath of a love triangle, was much-loved by fans, but Cohen reportedly told BBC in 1994 that he was never quite happy with the lyrics.

Cohen’s influence on the music industry has been likened to that of his contemporaries Bob Dylan and Joni Mitchell.

Despite his immense popularity, Cohen often appeared to be shy of the stage.

Judy Collins, who found success with his song Suzanne, once described how she had to coax him back on stage after he quit halfway through a performance.

‘See you down the road’

He came out of retirement in his late seventies to embark what would end up being a five-year, worldwide tour, after his former manager, Kelley Lynch, was found guilty of stealing millions of dollars from him.

Cohen recently wrote a letter to his longtime muse, Marianne Ihlen, who was the subject of his songs So Long, Marianne, and Bird on a Wire, saying:

“you know that I’ve always loved you for your beauty and your wisdom, but I don’t need to say anything more about that because you know all about that.

“But now, I just want to wish you a very good journey. Goodbye old friend. Endless love, see you down the road.”

For much of the 1960s, he lived with Ihlen on the Greek island of Hydra, during which time he wrote numerous books of poetry, including his experimental novel Beautiful Losers, and his first album.

In the 1970s, after his relationship with Ihlen dissolved, Cohen began a relationship with artist Suzanne Elrod.

The couple had two children, Adam and Lorca. You Want It Darker was co-produced by Adam.

Speaking recently with CBC radio host Tom Power, he talked about working with his father on the album that many believed would be his last.

“This old man, who was truly in pain and discomfort, would at some intervals get out of his medical chair and dance in front of his speakers,” he said.

“And sometimes, we would put on a song and listen to it on repeat just like teenagers, with the help of medical marijuana.

“I think in states of pain and discomfort, what do you seek with more energy and more clarity than joy and jubilance?”

Adam described his father as “the last of his kind”.

“Unlike so many from that golden era, from which he comes, he’s not a nostalgia act,” he said.

“This guy is speaking from his particular vantage point, he’s speaking about things that are meaningful to him at his particular rung in life; he will be leaving a giant void when he leaves us.”

Cohen was born into a Jewish family, but in the 1970s he began to devote significant attention to studying Buddhism.

He met and became a disciple of Joshu Sasaki Roshi, a Zen Buddhist monk.

Between 1994 and 1999, Cohen lived as the monk’s friend and student at the Mount Baldy Zen Center in Los Angeles.