Jimmy Buffett, Singer Who Spun Margaritas Into Gold, Dies at 76

Jimmy Buffett, the all-American musician turned mogul who spun his beach bum folk-rock hits into a prolific business empire, has died at 76.

(Bloomberg) — Jimmy Buffett, the all-American musician turned mogul who spun his beach bum folk-rock hits into a prolific business empire, has died at 76. 

“Jimmy passed away peacefully on the night of September 1st surrounded by his family, friends, music and dogs,” according to a statement posted to Buffett’s website and social media pages on Saturday. 

No cause of death was given. Buffett canceled concerts earlier in 2023 after being hospitalized for an unspecified illness. 

Buffett’s music, which he dubbed “drunken Caribbean rock ‘n’ roll,” endeared him to millions and pioneered a genre-bending mix of country, soft rock and folk.  

Odes to frozen margaritas, Hawaiian shirts and sandy beaches populate his lyrics, which came to embody the easy-going swing of 1970s America. 

With songs like “It’s Five O’Clock Somewhere,” and “Cheeseburger in Paradise,” Buffett created a light-hearted and chilled-out brand characterized by cocktails and good times.

Buffett’s laid-back vibe masked a keen business mind. From his classic 1977 song “Margaritaville,” Buffett spun out the multi-million-dollar Margaritaville Holdings empire, with Forbes estimating his 28% stake to be worth an estimated $180 million. Forbes estimated his net worth at $1 billion. 

Founded in 1985, Margaritaville grew from selling knick-knacks and t-shirts to developing resorts, restaurants and retirement villages pitched as “communities inspired by the legendary music and lifestyle of Jimmy Buffett, built on food, fun, music and escapism.”

In 2019, Where to Retire magazine named Buffett’s Latitude Margaritaville Daytona Beach in Florida as one of the 50 best master-planned communities in the US. 

Buffett’s avid fans, dubbed Parrot Heads, followed the musician’s tours across the US and beyond. Their exploits were chronicled in a 2017 documentary. 

Upon news of his death tributes flowed in from musicians, politicians and celebrities, including Beach Boys founder Brian Wilson. President Joe Biden issued a statement calling Buffett a “poet of paradise” who was “full of goodwill and joy.”

Buffett leaves behind an empire of assets, which include an estimated $570 million from touring and recording, his $50 million music catalog, and $140 million in planes, homes, and shares in Berkshire Hathaway, Forbes estimates. He was no relation to Berkshire’s Warren Buffett.

The music that encapsulated easygoing Caribbean-inspired swing also give voice to the private struggles of individuals living an increasingly corporate life in a capitalist country as it lurched toward the 21st century. 

The lyrics of Margaritaville itself reflect on the “booze in the blender,” while hinting at lives ransacked of purpose, with old men on “three day vacations,” dreaming of weight loss and leering at “cuties from Nantucket.”

Born on the US Gulf Coast in Pascagoula, Mississippi, on Christmas Day 1946, James William Buffett spent much of his childhood in Alabama. He attended Auburn University in that state as well as the University of Southern Mississippi, where he earned a journalism degree. 

Buffett began his music career in Nashville, the capital of country music. He released his first album, “Down to Earth,” in 1970, but gained momentum after moving to Key West, Florida, and starting to chronicle the town’s distinct vibe. 

More a fan favorite than a critical darling, Buffett won a single Grammy Award, for his 2003 duet “It’s Five O’Clock Somewhere,” with Alan Jackson. Buffett continued to tour and perform throughout his life. He performed at the White House for President Bill Clinton’s 54th birthday party.   

Buffett is survived by his second wife, Jane Slagsvol, whom he married in 1977; daughters, Savannah and Sarah; and son, Cameron.

(Updates with Biden statement in 11th paragraph.)

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