US singer-songwriter Jimmy Buffett, who popularised beach bum soft rock with the Caribbean-flavoured song Margaritaville and developed an empire of restaurants, resorts and frozen concoctions, has died at the age of 76.
“Jimmy passed away peacefully on the night of September 1 surrounded by his family, friends, music and dogs,” a statement posted to his official website and social media pages said late on Friday.
“He lived his life like a song till the very last breath and will be missed beyond measure by so many.”
The statement did not say where Buffett died or give a cause of death. Illness had forced him to reschedule concerts in May and Buffett acknowledged in social media posts that he had been admitted to hospital, but provided no specifics.
Margaritaville, released in 1977, quickly took on a life of its own, becoming an excuse for a life of low-key fun and escapism for those “growing older, but not up”.
The song is the unhurried portrait of a loafer on his front porch, watching tourists sunbathe while a pot of shrimp is beginning to boil. The singer has a new tattoo, a likely hangover and regrets over a lost love. Somewhere there is a misplaced salt shaker.
“What seems like a simple ditty about getting blotto and mending a broken heart turns out to be a profound meditation on the often painful inertia of beach dwelling,” Spin magazine wrote in 2021.
“The tourists come and go, one group indistinguishable from the other. Waves crest and break whether somebody is there to witness it or not. Everything that means anything has already happened and you’re not even sure when.”
The song — from the album Changes In Latitudes, Changes In Attitudes — spent 22 weeks on the Billboard Hot 100 chart.
It was inducted into the Grammy Hall of Fame in 2016 for its cultural and historic significance, became a karaoke standard and gave Key West, Florida, a distinct sound of music, becoming a destination known the world over.
“There was no such place as Margaritaville,” Buffett told the Arizona Republic in 2021. “It was a made-up place in my mind, basically made up about my experiences in Key West and having to leave Key West and go on the road to work and then come back and spend time by the beach.”
The song soon inspired restaurants and resorts, turning Buffett’s alleged desire for the simplicity of island life into a multimillion-dollar brand.
He was 13th in Forbes’s list of America’s richest celebrities in 2016 with a net worth of 550 million dollars (£437 million).
Music critics were never very kind to Buffett or his catalogue, including the sandy beachside snack bar songs like Fins, Come Monday and Cheeseburgers In Paradise, but his legions of fans, called Parrotheads, regularly turned up for his concerts wearing toy parrots, cheeseburgers, sharks and flamingos on their heads, leis around their necks and loud Hawaiian shirts.
“It’s pure escapism is all it is,” he told the Republic. “I’m not the first one to do it, nor shall I probably be the last. But I think it’s really a part of the human condition that you’ve got to have some fun.
“You’ve got to get away from whatever you do to make a living or other parts of life that stress you out. I try to make it at least 50/50 fun to work and so far it’s worked out.”
His Gulf Coast mix of country, pop, folk and rock added instruments and tonalities more commonly found in the Caribbean, like steel drums.
Buffett’s brand evolved in 1985 with the opening of a string of Margaritaville-themed stores and restaurants in Key West, followed in 1987 with the first Margaritaville Cafe nearby.
Over the course of the next two decades, several more of each opened throughout Florida, New Orleans and California.
The brand has since expanded to dozens of categories, including resorts, clothing and footwear for men and women, a radio station, a beer brand, ice tea, tequila and rum, home decor, food items like salad dressing, Margaritaville Crunchy Pimento Cheese & Shrimp Bites and Margaritaville Cantina Style Medium Chunky Salsa, the Margaritaville at Sea cruise line and restaurants, including Margaritaville Restaurant, JWB Prime Steak and Seafood, 5 O’Clock Somewhere Bar & Grill and LandShark Bar & Grill.
James William Buffett was born on Christmas Day 1946 in Pascagoula, Mississippi, and raised in the port town of Mobile, Alabama.
He graduated from the University of Southern Mississippi in Hattiesburg and went from busking on the streets of New Orleans to playing six nights a week at Bourbon Street clubs.
He released his first record, Down To Earth, in 1970 and went on to perform on more than 50 studio and live albums, often accompanied by his Coral Reefer Band, and was constantly on tour.
He earned two Grammy Award nominations, two Academy of Country Music Awards and a Country Music Association Award.
Buffett also wrote numerous books including Where Is Joe Merchant? and A Pirate Looks At Fifty, and added movies to his resume as co-producer and co-star of an adaptation of Carl Hiaasen’s novel Hoot.
Buffett is survived by his wife Jane, daughters Savannah and Sarah, and son Cameron.