Singer-songwriter nonpareil Gordon Lightfoot has died at the age of 84. According to his publicist, he died of natural causes on Monday night.
Lightfoot was born in the small town of Orillia, in the province of Ontario, Canada, on November 17, 1938. He established himself in Toronto’s coffeehouse scene where he caught the interest of folk duo Ian and Sylvia, who brought him to wider attention by covering some of his songs. Peter, Paul & Mary held a slot in the US Top 40 charts with Lightfoot’s “For Lovin’ Me” and would help popularize “Early Morning Rain” later in the year. Johnny Cash, Bob Dylan, Barbara Streisand, and Elvis Presley were also among the artists who recorded the song.
Marty Robbins earned a chart-topping hit with his version of “Ribbon of Darkness” in 1965, with the tremendous success of the single shining an even brighter spotlight on Lightfoot as one of Canada’s greatest songwriters. Lightfoot gained more attention in 1967 with his “Canadian Railroad Trilogy,” a song commissioned by the CBC to celebrate Canada’s centennial, as it told the story of the construction of the first trans-Canadian railway in the 1880s.
He would remain a fixture on the charts with songs such as “Rainy Day People,” “Sundown,” and 1976’s “The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald,” a tragic tale immortalizing one of the worst maritime disasters in US history.
After Lightfoot discovered a treasure trove of unreleased material in his Toronto home office two decades after he recorded them, he created Solo, an album released in March of 2020. The songs were written in late 2001 and early 2002, before he suffered a near-fatal abdominal aortic aneurysm later that year.
In the 2019 If You Could Read My Mind documentary, his over 50-year career is recounted as an artist who “speaks with a voice for anyone,” according to Bad Religion’s Greg Graffin.
Lightfoot has been awarded the Governor General’s Performing Arts Award, Canada’s highest honor in the performing arts, as well as being named a Companion of the Order of Canada. He’s also been inducted into the Songwriters Hall of Fame, the Canadian Music Industry Hall of Fame, the Canadian Songwriters Hall of Fame, as well as Canada’s Walk of Fame. His songs have made an ineffaceable impression on both the Canadian and American musical landscape.
Lightfoot is survived by his wife Kim Hasse; two children from his first marriage to Brita Olaisson; two children by second wife Elizabeth Moon; and two children from relationships between his first two marriages.