Leonard Cohen, the hugely influential singer and songwriter whose work spanned nearly 50 years, died at the age of 82 as first confirmed by his music label, Sony Music Canada. A memorial will take place in Los Angeles at a later date. “My father passed away peacefully at his home in Los Angeles with the knowledge that he had completed what he felt was one of his greatest records,” Cohen’s son Adam wrote in a statement to Rolling Stone. “He was writing up until his last moments with his unique brand of humor.” Cohen was the dark eminence among a small pantheon of extremely influential singer-songwriters to emerge in the Sixties and early Seventies. Only Bob Dylan exerted a more profound influence upon his generation, and perhaps only Paul Simon and fellow Canadian Joni Mitchell equaled him as a song poet.
Cohen’s haunting bass voice, nylon-stringed guitar patterns and Greek-chorus backing vocals shaped evocative songs that dealt with love and hate, sex and spirituality, war and peace, ecstasy and depression. He was also the rare artist of his generation to enjoy artistic success into his Eighties, releasing his final album, You Want It Darker, earlier this year. Leonard Norman Cohen was born on September 21st, 1934, in Westmount, Quebec. He learned guitar as a teenager and formed a folk group called the Buckskin Boys. Early exposure to Spanish writer Federico Garcia Lorca turned him toward poetry – while a flamenco guitar teacher convinced him to trade steel strings for nylon. After graduating from McGill University, Cohen moved to the Greek island of Hydra, where he purchased a house for $1,500 with the help of a modest trust fund established by his father, who died when Leonard was nine. While living on Hydra, Cohen published the poetry collection Flowers for Hitler (1964) and the novels The Favourite Game (1963) and Beautiful Losers (1966).
Frustrated by poor book sales, and tired of working in Montreal’s garment industry, Cohen visited New York in 1966 to investigate the city’s robust folk-rock scene. He met folk singer Judy Collins, who later that year included two of his songs, including the early hit “Suzanne,” on her album In My Life. His New York milieu included Andy Warhol, the Velvet Underground, and, most importantly, the haunting German singer Nico, whose despondent delivery he may have emulated on his exquisite 1967 album Songs of Leonard Cohen. His next two albums, Songs From a Room (1969) and Songs of Love and Hate (1971), benefited from the spare production of Bob Johnston, along with a group of seasoned session musicians that included Charlie Daniels. During the Seventies, Cohen set out on the first of the many long, intense tours he would reprise toward the end of his career.
Cohen’s relationship with Suzanne Elrod during most of the Seventies resulted in two children, the photographer Lorca Cohen and Adam Cohen, who leads the group Low Millions. Cohen was well known for his wandering ways, and his most stable relationships were with backing singers Laura Branigan, Sharon Robinson, Anjani Thomas, and, most notably, Jennifer Warnes, who he wrote with and produced (Warnes frequently performed Cohen’s music). After indulging in a variety of international styles on Recent Songs (1979), Cohen accorded Warnes full co-vocal credit on 1984’s Various Positions. Various Positions included “Hallelujah,” a meditation on love, sex and music that would become Cohen’s best-known composition. Cohen returned to the label in 1988 with I’m Your Man, an album of sly humor and social commentary that launched the synths-and-gravitas style he continued on The Future (1992).
In 1995, Cohen halted his career, entered the Mt. Baldy Zen Center outside of Los Angeles, became an ordained Buddhist monk and took on the Dharma name Jikan (“silence”. Cohen broke his musical silence in 2001 with Ten New Songs. To replenish the funds that his longtime manager, Kelley Lynch embellished from his account, Cohen undertook an epic world tour during which he would perform 387 shows from 2008 to 2013. He continued to record as well, releasing Old Ideas (2012) and Popular Problems, which hit U.S. shops a day after his eightieth birthday. In October 2016, he released You Want It Darker, produced by his son Adam. Severe back issues made it difficult for Cohen to leave his home, so Adam placed a microphone on his dining room table and recorded him on a laptop. Cohen was survived by his two children and two grandchildren.