SOCAN mourns the loss of iconic singer-songwriter Leonard Cohen

Leonard Cohen, pictured onstage at the 2006 Canadian Songwriters Hall of Fame gala awards show. (Photo: Grant W. Martin Photography)
November 10, 2016

Iconic singer-songwriter, novelist, poet, and SOCAN member Leonard Cohen has died at the age of 82. The legendary artist’s work spanned five decades.

Cohen's label, Sony Music Canada, confirmed his death on the Cohen’s Facebook page, in a statement that read, in part: "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 or exact date of death was given.  

“Leonard Cohen was a legend among legends,” said SOCAN CEO Eric Baptiste. “With iconic songs that defined an entire era, he inspired many generations all over the world. SOCAN was honored to count him among our most prominent members. He will be sorely missed, and his songs will live on.”

"I am simply devastated by the passing of Leonard Cohen," said SOCAN Board President and Canadian Songwriters Hall of Fame Board Chair, Stan Meissner. "Leonard remarked at his Canadian Songwriters Hall of Fame induction, 'If I knew where the good songs came from, I would go there more often.' That humility was part of what made him so wonderful, as we know he went there so much more often than most. His work represents a tower of song that serves as an inspiration to us all, brilliantly illustrating the beauty and artistry of songwriting."

Native Montrealer and lifelong spiritual seeker Cohen emerged in the 1960s as one of a hugely influential cohort of folk-based songwriters – including Bob Dylan, Paul Simon and Joni Mitchell – that left their mark on an entire generation. His simple, unencumbered voice and deep, often dark subject matter marked him as a true original.

Leonard Cohen's connection with and love for his hometown of Montréal remained strong throughout his life. "One could run into Leonard Cohen at Bagel etc. on St-Laurent Blvd, in the heart of the Mile-End, having breakfast at the counter, a stone's throw away from his apartment," said Geneviève Côté, SOCAN Chief Québec Affairs Officer. "Montréal was where he was born and, even though he belongs to the global music community, he was Québécois and should be remembered that way."

Cohen first achieved success as a poet and novelist, publishing the poetry collection Flowers for Hitler (1964) and the novels The Favourite Game (1963) and Beautiful Losers (1966). Frustrated by poor sales of his printed work, Cohen became a songwriter of choice for artists like Judy Collins, James Taylor, Willie Nelson and many others, but his own singing-songwriting career quickly took off as well.

“Suzanne” and “Bird on the Wire” established Cohen as one of the brightest songwriting lights of the ‘60s, but it was Jeff Buckley's stunning 1994 cover version of his song "Hallelujah" that would re-establish him in another generation of listeners, and would eventually become Cohen's best-known and mist-covered composition.

After a conflict with his manager Kelly Lynch left Cohen bankrupt in 2005, at the age of 71, he began touring and recording more frequently again. This artistic re-birth allowed Cohen the rare distinction of reaching the critical and commercial peak of his career in his old age. He performed 387 shows from 2008 to 2013, and continued to record as well, releasing Old Ideas (2012) and Popular Problems, which was released a day after his 80th birthday.

Just last month, he released You Want It Darker, produced by his son Adam. Severe back issues made it difficult for Cohen to leave his home, so Adam placed a microphone on his dining room table and recorded him on a laptop.

Among countless honours, Cohen was inducted into the Canadian Songwriters Hall of Fame and the U.S.-based Songwriters Hall of Fame; was made a Grand Officer of the National Order of Quebec and inducted into the Order of Canada; and won five SOCAN Awards and seven JUNO Awards.