The long and glorious life of James William Buffett saw him go from the humblest of roots to the zenith of success, from playing guitar in bars in Key West to becoming a best-selling music icon, best-selling author and business mogul. He was a sailor, a pirate born 200 years too late, a surfer, a surrogate dad, a friend, and an inspiration to chase one’s dreams. Buffet’s Margaritaville was not just a hit song and the namesake of his financial empire, it was a state of mind — it was permission for everyone, everywhere, to relax and enjoy.
He was not just larger than life, he was a lifestyle.
Jimmy Buffett passed away on Friday at the age of 76. An outpouring of love, memories and heartache has filled every corner of the media landscape, celebrating a good man and a life magnificently lived.
Buffett was apparently suffering from a rare form of skin cancer for the past four years. He had rescheduled concerts set for spring 2024 because he’d reportedly been hospitalized for unspecified “immediate health concerns.”
It would not be very Jimmy Buffett of us to let our sadness linger for too long. Besides, it’s impossible to think of him as gone — Buffett released 29 studio albums, authored eight books, and branded a ton of restaurants, merchandise and swag as well as a cruise line and a retirement community. His salty-sweet mark has been made on the world.
Surely Jimmy Buffett’s successes were informed by his struggles. He was a starving artist, too, and when he made it, he worked so hard as to ironically defy the laid-back lifestyle he’d given everyone permission to enjoy.
We’re curious what your tribute to Jimmy Buffett would be, and how he drifted into your sailing lives — musically, in print, or maybe in the flesh — over the years. Please comment below, or email us here.
Here are a few tributes from around the world:
Captain Liz Clark wrote, “Jimmy! Your albums were the soundtrack to my childhood; lyrical stories that helped me make sense of a crazy world and fueled my rebellious sailing dreams. Your familiar songs united my family and brought lightness in a way nothing else did. And after all those years of listening to you sing over and over, to cross paths in the South Pacific? To ride waves together, sing on your stage, have you aboard and laugh like two ol’ pirates with treasure chests full of memories from chasing our wild dreams?”
Clark continued, “To whatever universal force I owe the immeasurable blessing of meeting you, getting scratched up on the reef with you, thank you. Ending up in that One Particular Harbor couldn’t have been random.
“I’m absolutely gutted to have to say goodbye, but you left us with so damn much — all those beloved songs are an example of the magic that can happen when we follow our bliss, keep it fun and navigate with humor, grace, and a childlike curiosity.”
Surfer Kelly Slater wrote, “I grew up listening to Jimmy Buffett with my family. His music basically outlined the lives we desired: fishing, diving, dreaming about being in the tropics, playing music, living the dream.
“I met Jimmy in France in 2010, about eight years after my dad died. I told him how much he reminded me of my own father, and from that moment on, he kind of became a surrogate to me, occasionally calling me from some far-off land telling me he missed me. I’m not sure I’ve met many people with as positive an attitude. (Jimmy laughed about making a living out of three-chord songs and once told me, ‘Ya know, if Jack Johnson would just let me do his marketing I could make him a lot of money!’)
“Jimmy passed on to the next life — I’m having a tough time accepting that, but I feel blessed to have had some incredible memories every single time I hung out with him, whether it was him flying me to my brother’s bachelor party in Key West, making me play a song with him at his restaurant, or giving me his guest house in Palm Beach and taking me for a round of golf the next day.
“It’s 5 o’clock somewhere, Jimmy, and I know you’d be smoking a joint with a drink in your hand and a huge smile — like any good pirate would. Thanks for being one of the good guys.”
Latitude 38 founder Richard Spindler shared on his Facebook page a video of Buffett performing on David Letterman, and “talking about almost killing himself at the Howard Johnson’s in Marin. Funny in retrospect,” Spindler wrote.
Buffett told Letterman that writing the song Come Monday brought him back from the brink. “I was desperately depressed. I was at a Howard Johnson’s under Mount Tamalpais in Marin County, living there, and playing in San Anselmo. It was awful, and I wrote this song, and it hit and the rest is history.” (Like many huge fans of Buffett’s music, I found myself humming Come Monday for hours and hours a few days ago.)
Spindler and Buffett’s relationship runs deep:
Buffett seemed to touch a little bit of everything in culture:
Catch you later, Jimmy B! We’ll bring the margaritas.