Leonard Cohen, the incredibly talented and influential singer-songwriter, has passed away at the age of 82. A statement from Sony Music, Cohen's label, released a statement on his Facebook page, confirming his death to mourning fans:
Calling Cohen "one of music's most revered and prolific visionaries", the statement confirmed his passing and asked fans to respect the privacy of Cohen's family during this obviously difficult time. The statement did not discuss the cause of death, nor has it been disclosed at this time.
Hailing from Westmount, Quebec, Canada, Cohen boasted a career that lasted decades. He rose to popularity in the late sixties, famed for his poetic lyrics, haunting vocals, and stunning melodies. You Want It Darker, his 14th studio album, was released less than a month ago, on October 21. The album was written after a lengthy tour in 2007 resulted in a series of health complications for the singer-songwriter. He performed his last live show on the road in 2013.
Leonard Norman Cohen was born in 1934 and learned how to play the guitar in his early teens. His father passed away when Cohen was just nine years old, leaving him a small trust fund. After graduating from McGill University, Cohen moved to Hydra and began writing. He lived on the modest funds in his trust and a small grant from the Canada Council for the Arts. In the span of just two years, he published a poetry collection (Flowers For Hitler), and two novels (The Favourite Game and Beautiful Losers).
While poetry was a clear strength, it failed to pay the bills. Boredom with his day job led Cohen to New York City in 1966, where he met Judy Collins, a popular folk singer. Two of his songs wound up on one of her albums, and, thanks to the connections he made while in New York, he rose to prominence among other singer-songwriters such as James Taylor and Willie Nelson. Bob Dylan once said that Cohen's "gift or genius is in his connection to the music of the spheres", describing how he was able to write in a way that is both complex and beautiful.
Cohen's first few albums benefited from a near bare bones approach; rather than being overproduced, they rely on his lyrics and melodies to make a connection with the listener. He released a series of influential and modestly successful albums throughout the seventies, closing the decade with Recent Songs, a collection of songs influenced by his international travels. "Hallelujah" is arguably his most well-known song, in part thanks to the many fantastic covers released over the years (including 1994's beautiful version by Jeff Buckley). Interestingly enough, Columbia Records declined to release the record containing that song, telling Cohen that "we know you're great, but we don't know if you're any good".
In 1995, Cohen stunned many fans by temporarily walking away from his musical career. He became an ordained Buddhist monk, while still maintaining his roots in Judaism. The singer-songwriter had been affected by depressive episodes throughout his life and found that Buddhism was the only way to keep them at bay. He spoke of his depression, saying that it had plagued him since adolescence. He experienced "some periods, which were debilitating, when I found it hard to get off the couch", and others "when I was fully operative but the background noise of anguish still prevailed". He found that living a modest lifestyle with few distractions was the best way to move forward without depressive episodes following him.
While death has been a theme throughout Cohen's work, including his poetry and his lyrics, it shot to the forefront this year after the death of his longtime muse and former flame, Marianne Ihlen, who, together with her son, was a huge influence on Cohen's music. Even after the breakdown of their relationship, the two remained close and always spoke fondly of one another. She passed away in July of this year at the age of 81. He penned a letter after learning of her battle with cancer, which she was able to read shortly before her death. The letter, in part, read:
Well, Marianne, it's come to this time when we are really so old and our bodies are falling apart and I think I will follow you very soon. Know that I am so close behind you that if you stretch out your hand, I think you can reach mine.
Leonard Cohen touched the lives of many people through his lyrics, his melodies, and his poetry. He will be missed by so many, and the loss to the industry is immense. Our thoughts are with his family, friends, and fans during this difficult time.