What Happened To Jimmy Buffett? Explained

Jimmy Buffett. (Credits: BRUCE GLIKAS/FILMMAGIC)

On September 1, 2023, the world bid farewell to a legendary American singer-songwriter, musician, author, and businessman, James William Buffett, fondly known as Jimmy Buffett. His music, often described as “drunken Caribbean rock ‘n’ roll,” left an incredible mark on the music industry. His unique blend of genres, coastal themes, and tropical vibes created a subculture of devoted fans known as Parrot Heads.

Buffett’s musical journey was a fusion of genres and themes that transported his audience to a world of sun, sand, and sea. His unique brand of music blended country, rock, folk, calypso, and pop into a genre often referred to as “gulf and western” or tropical rock. It was the embodiment of a carefree life by the coast, a lifestyle he aptly described as “island escapism.”

Jimmy Buffett’s music was not just a soundtrack; it was a way of life. His songs spoke of love, adventure, and the pursuit of happiness. Classics like “Margaritaville,” “Cheeseburger in Paradise,” and “Changes in Latitudes, Changes in Attitudes” became anthems of a generation, transcending time and generation gaps. His music had the remarkable power to transport listeners to a world where worries melted away, and the only thing that mattered was savoring the moment.

As we honor the memory of Jimmy Buffett, we not only commemorate his extraordinary musical gifts but also applaud his unwavering resilience in confronting life’s challenges. His journey through illness and his unwavering commitment to his art stand as a powerful reminder of the value of life and the pursuit of happiness. Buffett’s music will forever serve as a guiding star, leading us to our own paradise, where the worries are forgotten, and the sun perpetually graces our skies.

The Battle with Merkel Cell Carcinoma

In May 2019, the world received heartbreaking news. Jimmy Buffett had been diagnosed with Merkel cell carcinoma, an exceptionally rare and aggressive form of skin cancer. This devastating revelation could have spelled the end of a remarkable career, but Buffett’s indomitable spirit refused to give up.   

For four long years, he waged a relentless battle against Merkel cell carcinoma. Throughout his treatment, he continued to do what he loved the most—performing for his adoring fans. Even as he faced the grueling challenges of his illness, Buffett’s dedication to his craft remained unwavering. His resilience and determination were nothing short of inspirational.  

On September 1, 2023, the music world and the Parrot Head community mourned the loss of a beloved icon. Jimmy Buffett passed away at the age of 76, surrounded by family, friends, music, and his beloved dogs at his home in Sag Harbor, New York. Buffett’s battle against this rare disease was a testament to his strength and courage. He embodied the spirit of his own lyrics, facing life’s challenges with the same enthusiasm that had endeared him to millions. His music remained a source of solace and inspiration for those who admired his resilience.  

Jimmy Buffett (Credits: Erika goldring /Contributor/GETTY IMAGES)

Early Life and Career

Born on December 25, 1946, in Pascagoula, Mississippi, Buffett’s early life was deeply influenced by his love for the sea and a sense of adventure. Growing up in Mobile, Alabama, and later relocating to Fairhope, he developed a profound connection to the ocean, a theme that  became central to his music.

Buffett’s musical odyssey began in college, where he attended the University of Southern Mississippi and later graduated from the University of Alabama with a journalism degree. During this time, his passion for writing and storytelling began to flourish, setting the stage for his future endeavors in songwriting.

After graduating in 1969, Buffett moved to New Orleans, where he often performed on Decatur Street, captivating tourists with his music. He also played for lively crowds at the Bayou Room nightclub on Bourbon Street. The following year, he relocated to Nashville, Tennessee, with dreams of furthering his country music career. During this period, he also worked as a journalist for Billboard, where he made history by reporting on the disbandment of the bluegrass duo Flatt and Scruggs.

Buffett released his first album, “Down to Earth,” a country-tinged folk rock record in August 1970. While it initially sold a modest 324 copies, it marked the beginning of his musical journey. In the fall of 1971, discontent with Nashville’s business climate and facing a failing marriage, Buffett accepted an offer from country singer Jerry Jeff Walker to stay in Coconut Grove, Florida. It was here that Buffett’s musical identity began to take shape.

Buffett and Walker embarked on a busking expedition to Key West, Florida in the late 1971. The vibrant culture and laid-back atmosphere of Key West deeply resonated with Buffett, prompting him to make it his home in the spring of 1972. In Key West, he immersed himself in the local literary scene, connecting with writers like Thomas McGuane, Jim Harrison, Tom Corcoran, and Truman Capote.

Buffett’s music during this period was characterized by themes of coastal and tropical escapism. He performed at the Chart Room Bar in the Pier House Motel, where he met his second wife. This period laid the foundation for his distinctive “drunken Caribbean rock ‘n’ roll” sound, a seamless blend of musical genres and lyrical themes that transported listeners to a world of swaying palm trees and sandy beaches.

In 1973, Buffett signed a recording contract with ABC/Dunhill Records, and his second release, “A White Sport Coat and a Pink Crustacean,” introduced hit singles like “Grapefruit—Juicy Fruit” and “Why Don’t We Get Drunk.” His music was becoming synonymous with the carefree spirit of coastal living.

Buffett’s albums, including “Living & Dying in 3/4 Time,” “Havana Daydreamin’,” and “Changes in Latitudes, Changes in Attitudes,” solidified his status as a musical icon. His breakthrough hit, “Margaritaville,” released in January 1977, became an anthem for those seeking a tropical escape. Ironically, while the song portrayed tourists in Key West negatively, it led to an increase in tourism to the city.

Throughout his career, Buffett continued to evolve his sound, collaborated with artists like Frank Sinatra and Alan Jackson. His album “License to Chill” topped the U.S. pop albums chart in 2004, marking a significant milestone in his career.

In 2020, Buffett released “Songs You Don’t Know by Heart,” a collection of his lesser-known songs re-recorded on his notable guitars. He was also set to release his 30th studio album, “Equal Strain on All Parts,” in late 2023.

Jimmy Buffett’s legacy is not confined to the songs he sang or the albums he released. It’s about the way he made people feel – alive, carefree, and believers in the magic of music. He taught to embrace life with open arms. Rest in peace, Jimmy Buffet!