Leonard Cohen, the hugely influential Canadian singer and songwriter died on Thursday, November 10 at the age of 82.
The news broke via the singer’s official Facebook page. A message posted by Sony Records Canada reads “It is with profound sorrow we report that legendary poet, songwriter and artist, Leonard Cohen has passed away. 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.” No cause of death has been released at this time.
Cohen had a long and prolific career as a poet, songwriter and a singer in his own right. According to Rolling Stone, Cohen started out as a poet after being inspired by the work of Frederico Garcia Lorca. He published a poetry collections, Flowers for Hitler (1964) and two novels –The Favourite Game(1963) and Beautiful Losers (1966)– while living on the Greek island of Hydra.
In the early 1960s, Cohen moved to New York City to explore the burgeoning folk-rock scene and penned many a song for influential artists like Judy Collins, James Taylor and Willie Nelson. While in New York, he also spent time with Andy Warhol, the Velvet Underground and Nico.
In 1995, Cohen stopped performing and entered the Mt. Baldy Zen Center and became an ordained Buddhist monk. Rolling Stone notes that he “attributed Buddhism to curbing the depressive episodes that had always plagued him.”
Cohen’s career was prolific and long-ranging, but he is perhaps best known for “Hallelujah,” a song that was originally released on his 1984 album Various Positions. The song was made famous by Jeff Buckley’s 1994 cover, but Cohen’s version is less mournful and more triumphant than Buckley’s dirge. It has been covered by everyone from Regina Spektor to k.d. Lang to Rufus Wainwright to American Idol contestants and was also featured on the soundtrack to Shrek. A 2012 book The Holy or the Broken: Leonard Cohen, Jeff Buckley, and the Unlikely Ascent of “Hallelujah” traces the song’s ascendancy in popular culture, from its inception to its ubiquity and sounds like a fascinating read.
The covers of this song have their place, but Cohen’s version is far superior. Watch a 2009 performance of it below.