Singer-songwriter Leonard Cohen dies at age 82

Influential singer and songwriter Leonard Cohen has died at the age of 82, according to his official Facebook page.
The late Leonard Cohen speaking after receiving the Glenn Gould Prize in Toronto, Ontario, Canada on May 14, 2012. The Glenn Gould Prize is awarded biennially to a living individual for a lifetime contribution to the arts.
The late Leonard Cohen speaking after receiving the Glenn Gould Prize in Toronto, Ontario, Canada on May 14, 2012. The Glenn Gould Prize is awarded biennially to a living individual for a lifetime contribution to the arts. PHOTO: REUTERS
Leonard Cohen performing at Madison Square Garden in New York City, on Dec 17, 2012.
Leonard Cohen performing at Madison Square Garden in New York City, on Dec 17, 2012. PHOTO: AFP
Leonard Cohen performing during the international Festival of Beincassim, on July 20, 2008.
Leonard Cohen performing during the international Festival of Beincassim, on July 20, 2008. PHOTO: AFP
Leonard Cohen performing during the first night of the 47th Montreux Jazz Festival in Montreux, Switzerland on July 4, 2013.
Leonard Cohen performing during the first night of the 47th Montreux Jazz Festival in Montreux, Switzerland on July 4, 2013.PHOTO: REUTERS
Leonard Cohen crying during a tribute in Gijon, northern Spain on Oct 19, 2011.
Leonard Cohen crying during a tribute in Gijon, northern Spain on Oct 19, 2011.PHOTO: REUTERS
Leonard Cohen  taking off his hat to salute in Paris, on Jan 16, 2012.
Leonard Cohen taking off his hat to salute in Paris, on Jan 16, 2012.PHOTO: AFP

LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - Leonard Cohen, rock music's man of letters whose songs fused religious imagery with themes of redemption and sexual desire, earning him critical and popular acclaim, has died at age 82, said a statement on his Facebook page.

"It is with profound sorrow we report that legendary poet, songwriter and artist, Leonard Cohen has passed away," a statement on the Facebook page said. "We have lost one of music's most revered and prolific visionaries."

The statement did not provide further details on Cohen's death, and representatives for the singer could not immediately be reached for comment. It said a memorial was planned in Los Angeles, where Cohen had lived for many years.

He was known for hits such as Suzanne and I'm Your Man, and he released his 14th album, You Want It Darker, just last month, which saw him reflecting on his own mortality.

  • REMEMBERING LEONARD COHEN

  • Saturday Nov 12, 7pm -- 8pm, Gallery II, The Arts House, Admission: FREE

    Leonard Cohen, one of the world's pre-eminent singer-songwriters, had left behind an estimable body of works which has influenced generations of creative writers. In this special memorial reading, seven Singaporean writers - Marc Nair, Desmond Kon, Yong Shu Hoong, Joshua Ip, O Thiam Chin, Deborah Emmanuel and Pooja Nansi - will pay tribute to the legend by reading some of his works as well as their own responses.

 
 
 

A native of Quebec, he was a poet and novelist before he broke into the music business after a move to New York in 1966 at age 31. Before long, critics were comparing him to Bob Dylan for the lyrical force of his songwriting.

Although he influenced many musicians and won many honours throughout his musical career which spanned more than 45 years, including an induction into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame and the Order of Canada, he rarely made the pop music charts with his sometimes moody folk-rock.

Still, his most famous song, Hallelujah, in which he invoked the biblical King David and drew parallels between physical love and a desire for spiritual connection, has been covered hundreds of times since he released it in 1984.

Many of his songs also became hits for other acts, including Judy Collins, who helped Cohen gain fame by recording some of his early compositions in the 1960s.

His most ardent admirers compared his works to spiritual prophecy. The son of Russian Jews, he sang about religion, which included references to Jesus Christ and Jewish traditions, as well as love and sex, political upheaval, regret and what he once called the search for "a kind of balance in the chaos of existence."

His work is also suffused with irony and self-deprecating humour, often touching on his relationship with fame and his reputation for romantic entanglements.

"I got this rap as a kind of ladies' man," he told Canada's Globe and Mail in 2007. "And as I say in one of the poems, it has caused me to laugh, when I think of all the lonely nights."

His lyrics were deeply personal and at times took on an element of prayer, as in 1969's Bird On The Wire in which he sang: "I swear by this song/And by all that I have done wrong/I will make it all up to thee."

His other well-known songs include So Long, Marianne and The Future, an apocalyptic 1992 recording in which he darkly intoned: "I've seen the future, brother/It is murder."

The inspiration for So Long, Marianne was his longtime romantic partner and muse Marianne Ihlen, a Norwegian woman he met while living on the Greek island of Hydra in the 1960s.

A New Yorker profile of him last month recounted how after being told in July she had only a few days left to live, he e-mailed her: "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." Two days later, he learned in an e-mail she had died after reading his note.

The New Yorker profile also described him as ailing and quoted him as saying he was more or less "confined to barracks" in his Los Angeles residence.

His nasal voice and deep-bass, conversational vocals, however, was criticised by some as being monotone. British musician Paul Weller once called his melancholy style "music to slit your wrists to."

He was raised in an affluent English-speaking neighbourhood of Montreal and read Spanish poet Federico Garcia Lorca as a teenager. He learned to play guitar from a flamenco musician and formed a country band called the Buckskin Boys.

A precocious teenager, he entered McGill University in Montreal at the age of 15 and published his first book of poetry shortly after graduation.

Living on grant money from the Canadian government and an inheritance from his family, he published in the 1960s the poetry collections The Spice-Box Of Earth (1961) and Flowers For Hitler (1964), as well as novels The Favourite Game (1963) and Beautiful Losers (1966).

But disillusioned with his meagre income, he turned to songwriting and landed an audition in 1967 with John Hammond, the producer who had discovered Dylan. Hammond signed him to Columbia Records, which would remain Cohen's label for five decades.

For part of the 1990s, he put the brakes on his career and lived in a Zen Buddhist monastery in the San Gabriel Mountains just outside Los Angeles. He became an ordained Buddhist monk, took on the Dharma name Jikan ("silence") and handled tasks as menial as cleaning toilets.

But he broke his musical silence in 2001 with his 10th album, Ten New Songs, a collaboration with Sharon Robinson.

From 2008 to 2013, he also toured extensively after being unable to collect most of a US$9 million judgment against his former manager and lover, Kelley Lynch, whom he accused of draining his savings.

Cohen, who never married, is survived by his daughter, Lorca, a photographer, and by his son, musician and singer-songwriter Adam.