Folk legend, poet wrote classic song ‘Hallelujah’
LOS ANGELES — Leonard Cohen, the baritonevoiced Canadian singersongwriter who seamlessly blended spirituality and sexuality in hits like “Hallelujah,” “Suzanne” and “Bird on a Wire,” died. He was 82.
Cohen’s label confirmed on his Facebook page Thursday that he had died, and a memorial will take place at a later date in Los Angeles.
No further details were given.
Cohen, also renowned as a poet, novelist and aspiring Zen monk, blended folk music with a darker, sexual edge that won him fans around the world and among fellow musicians like Bob Dylan and R.E.M.
He remained wildly popular into his 80s, when his deep voice plunged to gravelly depths. He toured as recently as this year and released a new album last month.
His “Hallelujah” became a cult hit when it was covered by musician Jeff Buckley in 1994, singing an arrangement by John Cale, and has become a modern standard since, an unending staple on YouTube videos, reality shows and high school choir concerts.
Cohen, who once said he got into music because he couldn’t make a living as a poet, rose to prominence during the folk music revival of the 1960s.
During those years, he traveled the folk circuit with the likes of Bob Dylan, Joni Mitchell, Joan Baez and others as they were moving popular music away from a reliance on lightweight pop lyrics to songs that contained personal meanings.
Kris Kristofferson, a contemporary, once said Singer Leonard Cohen, who was born in Montreal, was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2008. that he wanted the opening lines to Cohen’s “Bird on a Wire,” on his tombstone.
They would be a perfect epitaph for Cohen himself: “Like a bird on a wire, like a drunk in a midnight choir, I have tried in my way to be free.”
The Montreal-born Cohen never seemed quite as comfortable on stage, however, and he chalked it up in part to being the old man among the group.
“I was at least 10 years older than the rest of them,” he told Magazine, a supplement to the Spanish newspaper El Mundo, in 2001.
Like Dylan, his voice lacked polish but rang with emotion, and as he aged its gravelly bass tone took on more power.
In 1992, he won the Juno Award for vocalist of the year — the Canadian equivalent of a Grammy. While he never won a Grammy, Cohen received numerous other honors, including being named a companion of the Order of Canada in 1991, his native country’s highest civilian honor.
In 2016, Dylan told The New Yorker that Cohen’s best work was “deep and truthful, “multidimensional” and “surprisingly melodic.”
“He was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2008, telling the audience: “This is a very unlikely occasion for me. It is not a distinction that I coveted or even dared dream about.”
Born Sept. 21, 1934, in Montreal, he formed a country music group called the Buckskin Boys while still in his teens.
He was attending McGill University when his poetry book, “Let Us Compare Mythologies,” was published in 1956 to critical acclaim. His first novel, “The Favourite Game,” came out in 1963.
In all, he published over a dozen novels and books of poetry and recorded nearly two dozen albums.
Born to a Jewish family, Cohen considered himself a Jew and a Buddhist.
Biblical imagery appears in many of his songs.
“Suzanne,” for instance, contains the lyric: “And Jesus was a sailor when he walked upon the waters.” The love song “Hallelujah,” which was used in the animated Disney movie “Shrek,” makes references to the biblical stories of Samson and King David and Bathsheba.
Cohen never married but he had two children, Adam and Lorca, with artist Suzanne Elrod.