Gordon Lightfoot dies at the age of 84

Gordon Lightfoot dies at the age of 84: Beloved Canadian folk singer-songwriter passes away after decades-long career

  • Gordon Lightfoot died at a Toronto hospital on Monday at the age of 84
  • A cause of death has not yet been released
  • The Canadian musician became famous in the 1960s and 1970s with hits like Early Morning Rain’ and ‘The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald’

Folk singer-songwriter Gordon Lightfoot died at a Toronto hospital on Monday at the age of 84, his representative has said. His cause of death has not been released.

The Canadian musician became famous in the 1960s and 1970s with hits like ‘Early Morning Rain’ and ‘The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald,’ which told a tale of Canadian identity that was exported worldwide.

Considered one of the most renowned voices to emerge from Toronto’s Yorkville folk club scene in the 1960s, Lightfoot went on to record 20 studio albums and pen hundreds of songs, including ‘Carefree Highway’ and ‘Sundown.’

Once called a ‘rare talent’ by Bob Dylan, dozens of artists have covered his work, including Elvis Presley, Barbra Streisand, Harry Belafonte, Johnny Cash, Anne Murray, Jane’s Addiction and Sarah McLachlan.

Folk singer-songwriter Gordon Lightfoot has died at the age of 84. He is pictured here being inducted into the Songwriters Hall of Fame in 2012

The Canadian musician became famous in the 1960s and 1970s with hits like ‘Early Morning Rain’ and ‘The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald’

Lightfoot first broke into the international music scene when two of his friends recorded his songs ‘Early Morning Rain’ and ‘For Lovin’ Me.’

But his first big hit came in 1970 with the release of ‘If You Could Read My Mind,’ which he wrote about the breakup of his first marriage.

Much of the song dealt with his feelings that he was responsible for the collapse of the marriage with the lyrics ‘I never thought I could act this way/ And I’ve got to say that I just don’t get it/ I don’t know where we went wrong/ But the feeling’s gone and I just can’t get it back.’ 

In fact, most of Lightfoot’s songs are deeply autobiographical with lyrics that probe his own experiences and explore issues surrounding the Canadian national identity.

His 1975 song ‘The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald’ chronicled the demise of a Great Lakes ore freighter, and 1966’s ‘Canadian Railroad Trilogy’ depicted the construction of the railway.

‘I simply write the songs about where I am and where I’m from,’ he once said. ‘I take situations and write poems about them.’

Often described as a poetic storyteller, Lightfoot remained keenly aware of his cultural influence. It was a role he took very seriously.

‘I just like to stay there and be a part of the totem pole and look after the responsibilities I’ve acquired over the years,’ he said in a 2001 interview.

But Lightfoot shied away from praise, telling The Globe and Mail in 2008: ‘Sometimes I wonder why I’m being called an icon, because I really don’t think of myself that way.

‘I’m a professional musician, and I work with very professional people. It’s how we get through life.’ 

Most of Lightfoot’s work was autobiographical in nature and dealt with his identity as a Canadian. He is pictured here in 1987

Lightfoot is pictured in 2015 with his wife Kim following a performance at Rout 66 Casinos Legends Theater in Albuquerque, New Mexico


Gordon Meredith Lightfoot Jr. was born on November 17, 1938 in Orillia, Ontario. 

While Lightfoot’s parents recognized his musical talents early on, he did not set out to become a renowned balladeer.

He began singing in his church choir and dreamed of becoming a jazz musician. At age 13, the soprano won a talent contest at the Kiwanis Music Festival, held at Toronto’s Massey Hall.

‘I remember the thrill of being in front of the crowd,’ Lightfoot said in a 2018 interview. ‘It was a stepping stone for me.’

By the time he was in high school, Lightfoot had already written his first song — a tropical number about the Hula Hoop craze at the time.

After studying composition and orchestration at the Westlake College of Music in Los Angeles, Lightfoot returned to Canada and became a member of the Singing Swinging Eight, a singing and dancing troupe on the television show Country Hoedown.

But it was in the Toronto folk music scene that Lightfoot really made his mark, performing in the same coffeehouses and clubs as Joni Mitchell, Neil Young and Leonard Cohen, according to the New York Times. 

He then formed a folk duo, the Two Tones, with fellow Hoedown star Terry Whelan, recording their first live album in 1962.

The following year, Lightfoot traveled to Europe, where he served as the host of “The Country and Western Show” on BBC television

Lightfoot also made his popular radio debut with the single ‘(Remember Me) I’m the One’ in 1962, which led to a number of hit songs and partnerships with other local musicians.

When he started playing the Mariposa Folk Festival in his hometown of Orillia, Ontario that same year, Lightfoot forged a relationship that made him the festival’s most loyal returning performer.

By 1965, Lightfoot’s song I’m Not Sayin’ was a hit in Canada, which helped spread his name in the United States.

He soon signed a contract with famed manager Albert Grossman, which helped him land an appearance on The Tonight Show and at the Newport Folk Festival. 

Lightfoot never thought of himself as an icon, he said in a 2008 interview. He is pictured here in his Toronto home in 2019

Lightfoot made his popular radio debut with the single ‘(Remember Me) I’m the One’ in 1962. He is pictured performing in 2017

Lightfoot is pictured in 2011 with his daughter Meredith at an Occupy Toronto protest

In 1966, he released his debut album, Lightfoot!, which he followed up with the next year with the release of The Way I Feel. 

But as the folk music boom came to an end in the late 1960s, Lightfoot was already making his transition to pop music with ease.

In 1971, he made his first appearance on the Billboard chart with If You Could Read My Mind. It reached no 5 and has since spawned scores of covers.

Lightfoot’s popularity peaked in the mid-1970s when both his single and album, Sundown, topped the Billboard charts, his first and only time doing so.

Many of Lightfoot’s early songs, though, may be better known by their cover versions.

Bob Dylan included his own version of ‘Early Morning Rain’ in his 1970 LP Self Portrait, and Elvis Presley covered it two years later.

‘I was really impressed with the recording,’ Lightfoot said in a 2015 interview. ‘It was probably the most important recording that I have by another artist.’ 

Many of Lightfoot’s early songs may be better known by their cover versions. The Canadian singer-songwriter is pictured in 2012

Lightfoot’s career came tumbling down in the late 1970s, though, when he developed a severe drinking problem.

He later made headlines again in 1986, when he sued Whitney Houston’s producer and songwriter — accusing them of stealing 24 bars from ‘If You Could Read My Mind’ for her song ‘The Greatest Love of All.’

But he quickly dismissed the lawsuit when he realized it was affecting Houston personally.

‘I let it go because I understood that it was affecting Whitney Houston, who had an appearance coming up at the Grammy Awards, and the suit wasn’t anything to do with her,’ he explained to Alabama.com in 2015.

‘I said, “Forget it, we’re withdrawing this.”‘ 

Singer Gordon Lightfoot appears at center ice during the pregame between the Toronto Maple Leafs and the Detroit Red Wings in 1991

During his career, Lightfoot collected 12 Juno Awards, including one in 1970 when it was called the Gold Leaf. The star is pictured in 2014

In 2002, Lightfoot suffered an aortic aneurysm and spent six weeks in a coma, only recovering after he underwent four surgeries.

While he was in the hospital, doctors performed a tracheotomy on him, causing vocal cord damage that greatly weakened his singing voice.

But two years later, he was back to performing.

‘I wanted to recover, I wanted to sing again,’ Lightfoot told the State Journal-Register, noting he ‘gradually worked back and started practicing.’

His life was chronicled in the 2019 documentary Gordon Lightfoot: If You Could Read My Mind, and that same year he began his final tour — only wrapping it up in October 2022.

Lightfoot was set to once again tour in April, but canceled citing unspecified health issues. 

Lightfoot set off on his final tour in 2019, only completing it in October 2022. He is pictured performing onstage during the 2018 Stagecoach California’s Country Music Festival at the Empire Polo Field

During his career, Lightfoot collected 12 Juno Awards, including one in 1970 when it was called the Gold Leaf.

In 1986, he was inducted into the Canadian Recording Industry Hall of Fame, now the Canadian Music Hall of Fame.

He received the Governor General’s award in 1997 and was ushered into the Canadian Country Music Hall Of Fame in 2001.

Lightfoot is survived by his older sister, Beverley Eyers; his children, Fred, Ingrid, Miles, Meredith, Eric and Galen, and his wife, Kim Hasse. 

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