Leonard Cohen – the singer, songwriter, author, poet and artist best known for his song “Hallelujah” – died Monday at age 82. Sony Music Canada, for whom Cohen recorded for many years, confirmed the news.
“It is with profound sorrow we report that legendary poet, songwriter and artist, Leonard Cohen has passed away,” the post 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”.
Cohen, while never enjoying the popularity of fellow poet – and now Nobel Laureate, Bob Dylan – was almost as influential not only on other singers but poets as well.
The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, which inducted him in 2008, says that Cohen “was already an established poet and novelist before he turned his attention to songwriting. Along with other folk-steeped musical literati, Cohen raised songwriting bar.”
Cohen was always aware of his reputation as an intellectual. “I get tagged as an art-song intellectual,” he once told Billboard magazine. “But I’ve always tried to have hits.”
His best known song – Hallelujah – was included on his 1984 album Various Positions but it was not until Jeff Buckley covered it in 1994 that it really took off. Other hits made famous by others included ‘Bird on a Wire’ and ‘Suzanne’ – both recorded by Judy Collins.
Born in Quebec, Canada on September 21, 1934 to a middle-class Jewish family (one grandfather was a Talmudic scholar, the other was a co-founder of the Canadian Jewish Congress), Cohen first focused on poetry, heavily influenced by the poetry of Federico Garcia Lorca (he would name his daughter, Lorca).
He published his first collection of poetry, Let Us Compare Mythologies in 1956 when he was 22. That was followed by The Spice-Box of Earth five years later.
Using money from a trust fund, Cohen moved to the Greek Island of Hydra where he continued to write and publish poetry and fiction. Around the time of his first novel – “Beautiful Losers” – he also wrote Suzanne, which became a hit song for Judy Collins.
That, combined with his poetry, led to Columbia Records giving him a contract to record The Songs of Leonard Cohen, which came out in 1967. While none of his songs made the charts in the United States, he built a following in Canada and Europe and went on to record 13 more albums.
Cohen, who had a reputation for a certain mysticism in his work, was a practicing Buddhist in the mid-1970s. He also spent six years in seclusion at a monastery in California in the late-1990s.
When he emerged from seclusion, his family discovered that his manager at the time had allegedly stole millions from him. He went to court and was awarded nearly $10 million but reportedly never received it.
His most recent album, You Want it Darker, was just released last month. “What is truly extraordinary about Cohen is not that he is still making albums but that they are as rich, deep and potent as ever,” said The Telegraph in its five-star review.
Cohen was recently profiled in The New Yorker, In the piece, Cohen acknowledged that he was nearing the end of his life.
“I know there’s a spiritual aspect to everybody’s life, whether they want to cop to it or not,” Cohen told reporter and New Yorker editor David Remnick. “It’s there, you can feel it in people—there’s some recognition that there is a reality that they cannot penetrate but which influences their mood and activity.”
He said that sometimes people told him, “You are losing too much weight… You’re dying, but you don’t have to cooperate enthusiastically with the process. Force yourself to have a sandwich.”
Cohen, who never married, is survived by the two children he had with artist Suzanne Elrod. In addition to daughter Lorca, he had a son, Adam.