Legendary singer-songwriter Leonard Cohen dies at 82

Leonard Cohen in concert in New York in 2012.
Musician Leonard Cohen performs at Madison Square Garden on December 18, 2012 in New York City. (Mike Lawrie | Getty Images)

Leonard Cohen, a Canada-born singer-songwriter acclaimed for his poetic lyrics and poignant melodies, has died of undisclosed causes at the age of 82.

"It is with profound sorrow we report that legendary poet, songwriter and artist, Leonard Cohen has passed away," an announcement on the musician's Facebook page 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. The family requests privacy during their time of grief."

Cohen was one of the most distinctive voices in popular song, emerging in the 1960s and flourishing in the '70s, when he became one of the definitive artists of the singer-songwriter movement. Cohen remained active until the end of his life: his latest album, You Want It Darker, was released just last month. Revered particularly for his stirring, elliptical odes to lovers, Cohen was aptly labeled "the master of erotic despair."

The Quebec native began his career in music in his 30s, after a writing career failed to meet with the success he'd hoped for. (He would, however, continue to compose poetry and prose even as his music career flourished.) Moving to New York, Cohen became involved in the flowering of artistic life that included Andy Warhol's Factory as well as musicians like the Velvet Underground.

Signed to Columbia by the legendary John Hammond, Cohen released his self-titled debut album in 1967. Like Bob Dylan, Cohen has achieved much of his fame through covers of his songs by artists such as Judy Collins and James Taylor. Songs like "Suzanne" and "Bird on the Wire" resonated perfectly with the moody, turbulent spirit of the times — and Cohen was a compelling live performer as well, with a riveting gravity.

Touring extensively and collaborating with the likes of pianist-arranger John Lissauer and producer Phil Spector, Cohen became an iconic cult figure of music. His life and career intersected with those of many other notables, including Janis Joplin — who famously inspired his song "Chelsea Hotel No. 1."

Marianne Ihlen, with whom Cohen was involved for several years, inspired songs including "So Long, Marianne" and "Hey, That's No Way to Say Goodbye." Ihlen died earlier this year, and a last letter to her from Cohen broke many fans' hearts.

It was in the 1980s that Cohen wrote the song that became his most famous composition: "Hallelujah," which was appreciated upon its 1984 release but didn't become a widely-covered standby until years later, after versions by John Cale and Jeff Buckley introduced it to a wide audience. Cohen's work generally was rediscovered by a younger audience in his later years, and fans of all ages filled venues for his shows into the 21st century.

Cohen's influence is vast. His songs have inspired countless lyrically-minded successors, and his heavily atmospheric vibe — his singing style evolved from an intimate croon to, in his later years, a low rumble — finds its inheritors in virtually every bin of every section of every record store on the planet. Spirituality was always present in his work, which blended the personal and the political in a manner that was at once biting and seductive.

In one of Cohen's final profiles, a long feature by New Yorker editor David Remnick, the singer-songwriter said he had found peace — even as he kept at work at his home in Los Angeles.

After singing a piece of a new song, he said to Remnick, "I don't think I'll be able to finish those songs. Maybe, who knows? And maybe I'll get a second wind, I don't know. But I don't dare attach myself to a spiritual strategy. I don't dare do that. I've got some work to do. Take care of business. I am ready to die. I hope it's not too uncomfortable. That's about it for me."


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