(Reuters) – Canadian musician Gordon Lightfoot, the singer-songwriter known for such ballads as “If You Could Read My Mind” and “The Wreck of Edmund Fitzgerald,” died Monday in a Toronto hospital. He was 84 years old.
And his family said in a statement issued by the media, Victoria Lord, that he died of natural causes.
Known for his evocative lyrics and melodic compositions, Lightfoot has received five Grammy nominations over the years and won 17 Juno Awards, Canada’s equivalent of music honors.
Lightfoot achieved his peak of popularity in the 1970s, with songs from albums like “Sundown,” “Summertime Dream,” and “Dream Street Rose” building on his guitar-driven folk roots to produce more rock and pop hits.
He retained a loyal following in Canada and the United States with an extensive concert tour.
Lightfoot’s catalog of compositions tops 200 songs, a number of which have been covered by artists such as Bob Dylan, Elvis Presley, Judy Collins, Barbra Streisand, Glen Campbell, and Richie Havens. His “For Lovin’ Me” and “Early Morning Rain” became hits for the folk trio Peter, Paul & Mary.
Lightfoot emerged from the folk music movement of the mid-1960s with signature tunes like “Canadian Railroad Trilogy” and “Pussywillows, Cat-Tails”.
In the 1970s, he picked up the electric guitar to belt out pop hits like “Beautiful” and “I’m Not Supposed to Care.”
Lightfoot’s 1976 epic, “The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald,” about 29 drowning sailors when a freighter sank in a storm on Lake Superior, remains one of fans’ favorites.
In it, Lightfoot paired the soaring melody with poignant lyrics about the sailors’ final hours.
He also topped the singles charts with titles such as the wistful 1974 hit “Carefree Highway” and the ballad “If You Could Read My Mind,” his first major international success since 1971, about the dissolution of a marriage.
She released “If You Could Read My Mind” a hit trial on Warner Bros Records, after Lightfoot split from his previous label, United Artists.
He was unhappy there in part because of the lack of support he felt when several American radio stations banned his 1968 single “Black Day in July”, about the Detroit riots the previous year, as too sensationalist.
Two other songs from the ’70s, “Sundown” and “Rainy Day People”, were reported to have been inspired by his volatile romance with backup singer and rock band Kathy Smith.
Smith died in 2020 after serving time in prison for injecting comedian John Belushi with a lethal dose of heroin and cocaine in 1982.
Aside from writing the lyrics and music, Lightfoot performed his songs in a warm, ballady style, though his voice had grown thinner over the years, and he was known for his articulate vocals.
He survived a major health crisis at the age of 63 in 2002, when he collapsed from severe stomach pain before a concert in his hometown of Orilla, Ontario, and underwent emergency surgery for abdominal bleeding caused by a ruptured aorta.
He endured weeks of hospitalization and multiple operations before returning to the recording studio and live performances.
At the time of his illness, Canadian singer and fan Ian Tyson saluted Lightfoot as a national treasure.
“I don’t think anyone before or since has or will have had an impact on Canadian culture through folk music or folk music that Gordon Lightfoot has,” Tyson told Reuters at the time.
(Reporting by Dan Whitcomb and Eric Beach)
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