Who was Jimmy Buffett? Biography, Career, Songs, Albums, Wife, Children, Death

Jimmy Buffett was born in Mississippi in 1946 and grew up in Alabama. He traveled to Nashville, Tennessee, after college to seek a career as a country singer, and recorded his first album in 1970. Within a few years, he had a devoted following and burst into the mainstream with his sixth album, which included the song “Margaritaville.”

The 1977 smash became the inspiration for Buffett’s many business undertakings and was inducted into the National Recording Registry more than four decades later. Buffett released 40 albums and travelled extensively over his career. He passed away in September 2023, at the age of 76.

Early Life

Jimmy Buffett was born on December 25, 1946, in Pascagoula, Mississippi, as James William Buffett. He was raised in Mobile, Alabama, and attended Catholic high school. He left Mobile and finally enrolled at the University of Southern Mississippi, where he learned to play the guitar in order to meet ladies. Buffett traveled to Nashville after graduation to attempt a career as a country singer.

Buffett received his first record contract in 1970 after working with a cover band called The Now Generation. Later that year, he released Down to Earth, his folk-country debut, followed by High Cumberland Jubilee, both of which went mostly unnoticed.

Mainstream Musical Success with “Margaritaville”

Buffett, who had always been drawn to the water, went to Key West in the early 1970s, when he developed his characteristic beachcombing persona. In 1973, he obtained a contract with ABC-Dunhill and released White Sport Coat and Pink Crustacean under this new guise. Buffett established a devoted fan base because to quick party songs like “Why Don’t We Get Drunk,” as well as the laid-back ambiance of his live shows. Soon, his admirers began wearing Hawaiian shirts, traveling to his gigs in Grateful Dead style, and referring to themselves as “Parrotheads.”

Buffett burst into the mainstream with his sixth album, Changes in Latitudes, Changes in Attitudes, released in 1977, which included the enduring party classic “Margaritaville.” He wrote the song after a night out drinking margaritas at a bar in Austin, Texas. Buffett began writing the song on a cocktail napkin and finished it later that day on his way back to the Florida Keys, where he performed it for the first time that night at a bar in Key West. It was his sole Billboard Hot 100 chart Top 10 hit.

Son of a Son of a Sailor, his 1978 follow-up album, featured another great track, “Cheeseburger in Paradise.” The album, like Changes, went platinum within a year of its release.

Margaritaville The Business

The business-savvy artist chose to capitalize on his beach-bum image after winning a lawsuit against Chi-Chi’s restaurant chain for attempting to trademark a “Margaritaville” drink special. In 1985, he opened the first Margaritaville location in Key West. Two years later, a restaurant opened.

In the 1990s, partnering with John Cohlan advanced the business by adding more restaurants and launching a tequila and beer brand. Margaritaville has since inspired a beachwear and footwear line, casinos, a bar chain, a radio station, a cruise liner, a musical, and more.

There are already 30 branded resorts and hotels spread over nine states and five tropical nations. According to the New York Times and Bloomberg, the company’s annual sales were $1.5 billion prior to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Buffett’s other ventures included founding his own custom record labels, Margaritaville Records in 1992 and Mailboat Records in 1999, as well as writing multiple books.

More Songs and Albums

Fruitcakes (1994) and Banana Wind (1996) were his two best-selling albums from the 1990s, both released by Margaritaville Records.

Collaborations with other well-known country musicians were fruitful in the 2000s. In 2003, “It’s Five O’Clock Somewhere” with Alan Jackson garnered a CMA Award for Vocal Event of the Year and a Grammy nomination. The next year, they collaborated again on “Hey Good Lookin’,” which also included Clint Black, Kenny Chesney, Toby Keith, and George Strait. A second Grammy nomination followed. “Hey Good Lookin'” was also the lead single from the 2004 album License to Chill. It was Buffett’s only Billboard 200 No. 1 album.

Buffett continued to release new music, including Songs from St. Somewhere (2013) and, most recently, Life on the Flip Side (2020). The Library of Congress inducted “Margaritaville” into the National Recording Registry in April 2023. It is one of 625 songs that have been preserved.

Buffett and his Coral Reefer Band performed at a number of gigs across the country each year until a few months before his death.

Personal Life

Buffett married Jane Slagsvol in 1977. They had two daughters, Savannah and Sarah, as well as one son, Cameron.

Buffett’s second wife was Jane. Previously, from 1969 until 1972, he was married to Margie Washichek.

Buffett lived in Palm Beach, Florida, and was an ardent sailor and pilot as well as an outspoken environmentalist. When scientists named a newly found crab after him, his Florida ties and environmental interest collided. The Florida Keys are home to the small Gnathia jimmybuffetti.

Health and Death

Buffett died on September 1, 2023, at age 76. A statement announcing the news said he passed “peacefully” and was “surrounded by his family, friends, music and dogs.” It didn’t provide a cause of death.

The singer was hospitalized at least twice in the year before this death. In September 2022, he was briefly hospitalized for unspecified “health issues.” He postponed three concerts and canceled two others on his Life on the Flip Side Redux tour. A statement on his website read: “Jimmy will need to refrain from touring for the rest of the year. On doctor’s orders, he must take this time to recuperate and heal. Jimmy looks forward to getting back on stage next year.”

On his Second Wind Tour, which began in February 2023, he did precisely that. However, he abruptly canceled a gig in Charleston, South Carolina, two days before the scheduled date, in May.
Announcing the news on social media, Buffett wrote: “I had to stop in Boston for a check-up but wound up back in the hospital to address some issues that needed immediate attention. Growing old is not for sissies.”

His final performance onstage, in early July in Rhode Island, came as a surprise. At a Mac McAnally event, the barefoot artist sang half a dozen songs; McAnally is a longtime member of the Coral Reefer Band.

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