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Legendary poet and songwriter Leonard Cohen dies at 82

Le chanteur et poète Leonard Cohen pose le 16 janvier 2012 à Paris
Israeli president Rivlin among the leaders offering eulogies for the Montreal-born star

Leonard Cohen, the storied musician and poet hailed as one of the most visionary artists of his generation, has died at age 82, it was announced.

"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," read a statement on his Facebook page.

Cohen, who was brought up in Montreal but lived in California late in his life, was laid to rest in the Jewish cemetery on Mount Royal in his native city.

Laura Damecour

Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau mourned Cohen, long considered one of the country's foremost writers.

"No other poet's music felt or sounded like Leonard Cohen's. Yet his work resonated across generations," Trudeau tweeted.

"Canada and the world will miss him."

Montreal Mayor Denis Coderre ordered the city's flags to fly at half-mast.

"Tonight we lost one of our greatest ambassadors and icons Leonard Cohen," he tweeted.

"Leonard Cohen defined so well our cultural diversity and duality," he added about the bilingual metropolis.

Canadian singer Leonard Cohen began as a poet before at first reluctantly branching out into music, writing some of his generation's most reflective songs ( Diego Tuson (AFP/File) )

In Israel, where he was one of the most popular foreign artists, officials paid their tributes.

President Reuven Rivlin took to Facebook offering a eulogy written in the first person plural to include his spouse Nechama.

"It won't be the same without him, it is custom to say on such occasions. This morning we looked at each other and thought the same thoughts: 'Dance Me to The End of Love' was the soundtrack to many moments in our lives as a couple, as a family. Like many other of his songs, it lent spirit and depth to everyday moments. How sad it is to say goodbye to a man whose voice accompanied us countless years."

"A great artist with a heart open to everyone, he accompanied the State of Israel on the battlefield and in years," Rivlin went on, referring to Cohen's entertaining the troops during the Yom Kippur War of 1973.


"He never thought he ought to change his clearly Jewish name, Cohen, to win anyone's recognition. The man who could with a single line from his notebook lead and mold the worlds of others better than any speech ever written. Leonard Cohen will keep dancing alongside us to the edge of love. Thank you, for what you left us with. Nechama and Rubi."

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu tweeted out a tribute to a "great creator, talented artist and warm Jew who loved the people of Israel and the State of Israel."

Cohen began as a poet before branching out into music -- reluctantly at first -- writing some of his generation's most reflective songs, including the oft-covered spiritual "Hallelujah."

He released his final album, "You Want It Darker," just last month, featuring Cohen reflecting at length on his own mortality.

Cohen was preceded in death in July by Marianne Ihlen, the Norwegian woman with whom he lived on the Greek island of Hydra and who inspired his song "So Long, Marianne."

In a final letter to Ihlen revealed by a friend, Cohen declared his "endless love" for her, writing, "I think I will follow you very soon."

The Recording Academy, which in 2010 presented Cohen with a lifetime achievement Grammy, mourned him as "one of the most revered pop poets and a musical touchstone for many songwriters."

"His extraordinary talent had a profound impact on countless singers and songwriters, as well as the wider culture," Academy president Neil Portnow said in a statement, adding, "He will be missed terribly."

Born into a prosperous Jewish family that had founded synagogues in Canada, Cohen would be hailed as one of the all-time literary greats in his native country but spent his adult life constantly on the move both geographically and spiritually.

He started his music career in 1960s New York, where he mingled with avant-garde artists such as painter Andy Warhol and late Velvet Underground frontman Lou Reed who, on inducting the Canadian into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2008, said, "We're so lucky to be alive at the same time as Leonard Cohen."

Jonathan STOREY (AFP)

Yet Cohen by temperament was more comfortable in relative solitude. He spent formative years on the Greek island of Hydra -- where he could write at a leisurely distance from the world's tumult -- and spent the final chapter of his life as an ordained Zen Buddhist monk in a monastery near Los Angeles.

Cohen was also deeply attached to his mother -- one book was entitled, in a subtle play on his album title, "Death of a Lady's Man."

Cohen's father, a successful clothing merchant who raised the family in bilingual Montreal's English-speaking community, died when the future artist was nine.

He inherited from his father his impeccable attention to clothing -- Cohen's ritual before every concert was to polish his own shoes -- but the lack of a strong paternal figure also offered Cohen a chance for freedom.

Cohen would spend his evenings in the late-night bars and music clubs haunted by the sailors of Montreal.

While his skills at instruments were never what made him famous, Cohen learned the foundations of guitar from a Spanish flamenco player he met in Montreal.

He also owed a debt to Spain through Federico Garcia Lorca, the poet and playwright who so inspired Cohen that he later named his daughter after him.

Tortured by self-doubt

Cohen, already acclaimed as a poet, achieved his mainstream breakthrough with his 1966 novel "Beautiful Losers," now considered a classic of Canadian literature.

A postmodern tale that merges the 1960s hippie era with the Native Canadian past, "Beautiful Losers" also alluded through its title to Cohen's nearly debilitating depression as he completed it.

"I was wiped out; I didn't like my life. I vowed I would just fill the pages with black or kill myself," he told The Village Voice in 1967.

Cohen went through another tortured ordeal two decades later when he wrote "Hallelujah," which took him three years and 70 drafts to complete.

The song was initially rejected by Cohen's label. But it has since become an anthem of spiritual uplift, with celebrated versions by Jeff Buckley and Rufus Wainwright among many others.

Cohen had initially entered music in part to make money, with financial prospects much bleaker for a Canadian poet.

But Cohen late in his career found himself again performing for another reason -- his longtime manager, whom he whole-heartedly trusted, swindled much of his savings.

On his last album, "You Want It Darker," Cohen appeared at peace with his own mortality.

"Hineni, hineni / I'm ready, my Lord," Cohen intoned on the title track, employing Hebrew to say "Here I Am."

(staff with agencies)


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