Jimmy Buffett, who popularized beach-bum soft rock with the Caribbean-flavored song “Margaritaville” and transformed that song into an empire of restaurants, resorts, and frozen concoctions, has passed away. He was 76 years old.
“Jimmy passed away peacefully on the night of September 1st surrounded by his family, friends, music and dogs,” a statement posted to Buffett’s official website and social media pages said late Friday. “He lived his life like a song till the very last breath and will be missed beyond measure by so many.”
The statement did not specify where or why Buffett passed away. Buffett acknowledged in social media posts that he had been hospitalized, but did not provide further details. Illness had forced him to reschedule concerts in May.
— Jimmy Buffett (@jimmybuffett) September 2, 2023
“Margaritaville,” released on Feb. 14, 1977, quickly took on a life of its own, becoming a state of mind for those ”wastin’ away,” an excuse for a life of low-key fun and escapism for those “growing older, but not up.”
The song is an unhurried portrait of a loafer on his front veranda, observing sunbathing tourists as a pot of shrimp begins to boil. The performer has a new tattoo, a hangover, and misgivings over a past relationship. There is a misplaced salt canister somewhere.
“What seems like a simple ditty about getting blotto and mending a broken heart turns out to be a profound meditation on the often painful inertia of beach dwelling,” Spin magazine wrote in 2021. “The tourists come and go, one group indistinguishable from the other. Waves crest and break whether somebody is there to witness it or not. Everything that means anything has already happened and you’re not even sure when.”
The song from the album “Changes in Latitudes, Changes in Attitudes” spent 22 weeks and peaked at No. 8 on the Billboard Hot 100 chart. The song was inducted into the Grammy Hall of Fame in 2016 for its cultural and historical significance, became a karaoke standard, and helped establish Key West, Florida, as a distinct sound of music and a globally recognized destination.
“There was no such place as Margaritaville,” Buffett told the Arizona Republic in 2021. “It was a made-up place in my mind, basically made up about my experiences in Key West and having to leave Key West and go on the road to work and then come back and spend time by the beach.”
The song quickly inspired restaurants and resorts, transforming Buffett’s alleged desire for island simplicity into a multimillion-dollar brand. In 2016, he ranked thirteenth on Forbes’ list of America’s wealthiest celebrities, with a net worth of $550 million.
Buffett and his discography, including tracks such as “Fins,” “Come Monday,” and “Cheeseburgers in Paradise,” have never received favorable reviews from music critics. However, his legions of admirers, known as “Parrotheads,” routinely attended his concerts while donning parrots, cheeseburgers, sharks, and flamingos on their heads, leis around their necks, and flamboyant Hawaiian shirts.
“It’s pure escapism is all it is,” he told the Republic. “I’m not the first one to do it, nor shall I probably be the last. But I think it’s really a part of the human condition that you’ve got to have some fun. You’ve got to get away from whatever you do to make a living or other parts of life that stress you out. I try to make it at least 50/50 fun to work and so far it’s worked out.”
His unique Gulf Coast blend of country, pop, folk, and rock included Caribbean-influenced instruments and tones, such as steel drums. There were steelpans, trombones, and pedal steel guitar in the mix. Buffett’s lyrics about fish tacos and sunsets often overshadowed his exceptional ear for hooks and light rhythms.
Rolling Stone, in a review of Buffett’s 2020 album “Life on the Flip Side,” gave grudging props. “He continues mapping out his surfy, sandy corner of pop music utopia with the chill, friendly warmth of a multi-millionaire you wouldn’t mind sharing a tropically-themed 3 p.m. IPA with, especially if his gold card was on the bar when the last round came.”
The evolution of Buffett’s brand began in 1985 with the establishment of a chain of Margaritaville-themed stores and restaurants in Key West, followed in 1987 by the opening of the first Margaritaville Café in the vicinity. Throughout Florida, New Orleans, and California, a number of additional establishments opened over the next two decades.
The brand has since expanded to dozens of categories, including resorts, apparel and footwear for men and women, a radio station, a beer brand, ice tea, tequila and rum, home décor, food items such as salad dressing and Margaritaville Crunchy Pimento Cheese & Shrimp Bites, the Margaritaville at Sea cruise line and restaurants, including Margaritaville Restaurant, JWB Prime Steak & Seafood, 5 o’Clock Somewhere Bar
There was also a jukebox musical destined for Broadway called “Escape to Margaritaville,” a romantic comedy in which a singer-bartender named Sully falls in love with the far more career-oriented Rachel, who is vacationing with friends at Margaritaville, the hotel bar where Sully works.
James William Buffett was born on December 25, 1946, in Pascagoula, Mississippi, and was reared in Mobile, Alabama. After graduating from the University of Southern Mississippi in Hattiesburg, Mississippi, he moved from busking on the sidewalks of New Orleans to performing six nights a week in clubs on Bourbon Street.
He released his first record, “Down To Earth,” in 1970 and issued seven more on a regular yearly clip, with his 1974 song “Come Monday” from his fourth studio album “Living and Dying in ¾ Time,” peaking at No. 30. Then came “Margaritaville.”