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Jimmy Buffett, legendary 'Margaritaville' singer, dies at 76

The singer, who dubbed his brand of music “drunken Caribbean rock ‘n’ roll,” was also an astute businessman with a sprawling restaurant, resort and radio empire.
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Jimmy Buffett, the singer-songwriter who drew millions of fans with his folksy tales of living and loving on tropical sandy beaches, frozen concoction in hand, died Friday. He was 76.

“Jimmy passed away peacefully on the night of September 1st surrounded by his family, friends, music and dogs,” a statement on his website said. “He lived his life like a song till the very last breath and will be missed beyond measure by so many.”

The statement didn't say where Buffett died or provide a cause of death. Two sources familiar told NBC News that Buffett was battling cancer when he died. One of those sources said, "The family is broken, it all happened very suddenly."

The singer had rescheduled concerts in May, and Buffett said on social media that he had been hospitalized.

Buffett, who dubbed his brand of music “drunken Caribbean rock ‘n’ roll,” is arguably best known for “Margaritaville,” which was released in 1977 and launched him into national fame and into the history of American music.

The song went on to inspire a brand, which included restaurants and resorts, a radio station, clothing and apparel, as well as food and drink items like beer, tequila, salad dressings and salsa. It also helped make him a billionaire, with Forbes this month placing his real-time net worth at $1 billion.

But in an apparent nod to his business pursuits in the song “A Pirate Looks at Forty,” Buffett sang that he “made enough money to buy Miami, but I pissed it away so fast. Never meant to last, never meant to last.”  

Buffett was nominated for two Grammy Awards, for “Hey Good Lookin’” — a cover of the Hank Williams classic — and “It’s Five O’Clock Somewhere,” a duet with country superstar Alan Jackson.

Jimmy Buffet
Jimmy Buffett circa 1970.Michael Ochs Archives via Getty Images file

Elton John was among several stars to pay tribute to Buffett, calling him a “unique and treasured entertainer,” in a post on Instagram Stories. “His fans adored him and he never let them down. This is the saddest of news, a lovely man gone way too soon,” John wrote. 

Actor Miles Teller also posted several photos of him with the singer on X, formerly known as Twitter. Brian Wilson of the Beach Boys also took to X, where he wrote, “Love and Mercy, Jimmy Buffett.”  

Fans, affectionately dubbed “Parrotheads,” were also quick to pay tribute to the singer, who was born in Pascagoula, Mississippi, on Christmas Day 1946. He was brought up mainly in Mobile, Alabama.

Many cited “One Particular Harbor” when remembering the singer: “But there’s one particular harbor/ So far yet so near/ Where I see the days as they fade away/ And finally disappear.”

After learning guitar at college — he attended Alabama's Auburn University before graduating from the University of Southern Mississippi — he began busking on the streets of New Orleans before going on to form his first band.

He later moved to Nashville, Tennessee, to work for Billboard Magazine and try his luck as a singer, the biography says. But it was in Key West, Florida, in the 1970s, that Buffett “found his true voice,” according to his website.

Fellow country singer Jerry Jeff Walker first let him stay at his Coconut Grove home, and then they drove in a 1947 Packard to Key West, he told graduating students at the University of Miami, where he received an honorary doctorate in music in May 2015.

“Needless to say, my life took a big and wonderful change towards South Florida, which has a lot to do with why I’m standing here today,” he said, while wearing flip-flops below the academic robes.

Touring and recording with the Coral Reefer Band, he would go on to make 27 studio albums — four went platinum and eight gold — in a career that spanned more than five decades.

Jimmy Buffett performs during the US Festival
Jimmy Buffett performs during the US Festival in Devore, Calif., in 1982.Bettmann Archive via Getty Images file

Buffett also appeared on TV and movies, wrote fiction and nonfiction books, including “Tales from Margaritaville,” “A Pirate Looks At Fifty,” as well as “Where Is Joe Merchant?,” and his work became a musical.

He popped up in the film “Jurassic World” as “running park visitor with margarita drinks,” as IMDB put it. He carried two, one in each hand.

And Buffett guest-starred in the Tom Selleck show “Blue Bloods,” playing both himself and a virtual double who posed as the singer and scammed people.

A Broadway show based on his music, “Jimmy Buffett’s Escape to Margaritaville,” debuted in 2017.  

In a recent interview, Buffett said his life-long love of reading came from his mother, Mary Lorraine Buffett, who also wanted him to be a writer.

“I think she knew that for us to read we would see the world as a bigger place than where we grew up, which was a great gift,” he said.

He also dedicated some of his time to charity, starting the “Save the Manatee Club,” a nonprofit group that seeks to protect the large, docile marine mammals from boating injuries and harm by the actions of people.

In a 2017 interview with Men’s Journal, Buffett was asked what remained on his bucket list. “I have four things: Learn to hang ten. Go to space. Go to Pitcairn Island, where my Buffett ancestors are from. And go to Antarctica,” he said.

The singer is survived by his wife, Jane Slagsvol, two daughters, Savannah and Sarah, and son, Cameron.