The folk-rock legend Gordon Lightfoot, whose soaring songs told a story of Canada that was exported to the world, died Monday at Sunnybrook Health Sciences Centre in Toronto. His publicist, Victoria Lord, said he died of natural causes.
He was a native of Orillia, Ont., and grew up with the ruggedly beautiful landscape that inspired him to write music. He began playing guitar at age eight and quickly formed a band.
In 1958, he moved to Los Angeles and wrote jingles for television commercials. He returned to Toronto in 1962, where he was immediately embraced by the city’s bugeoning folk music scene. He soon began releasing albums that became hits in Canada.
After the folk boom died out in the 1960s, Lightfoot began making a transition to pop, and his 1971 single “If You Could Read My Mind,” a reflection on a failing marriage likened to an old-time movie about a wishing well, was a hit in America. It also spawned scores of covers.
As he matured, Lightfoot began to write more autobiographical lyrics that explored issues such as the meaning of love and loss. Several of his albums earned gold and multi-platinum status.
His hits include “Early Mornin’ Rain,” “Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald” and “Sundown.” He was nominated for five Grammy awards and won 17 Junos, Canada’s equivalent to the Grammy.
He suffered from facial paralysis and alcoholism in the 1970s, but he did not let that stop him from performing and recording. He later quit drinking.
A ruptured artery in his stomach put him in a coma for six weeks in 2002, but Lightfoot eventually recovered and resumed touring. He recorded a new album in 2004 and performed with a touring group in 2005, according to his publicist.
Besides his music, Lightfoot was a devoted family man and had many children. He married his third wife, Kim Hasse, in 2014. They have six children: Fred, Ingrid, Miles, Meredith, Eric and Galen.
The singer-songwriter was a founding member of the Canadian Railroad Trilogy, a group of musicians who toured North America in the 1970s. The group performed original songs and a collection of classic American tunes.
In 1999 Rhino Records released a four CD boxed set, Gordon Lightfoot Songbook. This is a wonderful tribute to one of the greatest artists ever, and contains all of his best known recordings together on one great collection.
He had a major hit with the album Complete Greatest Hits in 2002, which included all of his four biggest hits together on one album. It was remastered and packaged very elegantly by Rhino.
A few years later he made his last studio album, Harmony. This album features two live shows from the 2001 Massey Concert Series and nine new studio recordings that he had recorded while he was recuperating in 2002 before his near-death illness.
He was a beloved Canadian artist who was considered one of the greatest songwriters of all time. He was inducted into the Songwriters Hall of Fame in 2012.