Obituary: Leonard Cohen

Megan Fereday 11 November 2016

The renowned musician, novelist and poet Leonard Cohen has died, aged 82.

The news was announced in the early hours of this morning via his Facebook page, in a message which read: "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." His son and producer Adam Cohen has stated, "My father passed away peacefully at his home in Los Angeles with the knowledge that he had completed what he felt was one of his greatest records. He was writing up until his last moments with his unique brand of humour."

In a musical career which spanned almost fifty years, Cohen's charming, humourous and consistently profound music touched generations of listeners across the world. His lyrics explored bold themes of faith and religion, loneliness, love, joy and politics, without losing any of their down-to-earth quality – it was this which garnered him the praise of literary and music critics alike throughout the course of his career. His discography stands at 14 studio albums from 1967 up until this year, which saw the release of his final record, You Want It Darker. Although many critics viewed the record as the then-81 year-old's swan song, it was unanimously hailed as a superlative work indicative of the skill and poignancy which Cohen had exhibited ingenuously throughout his career.

Cohen was born in the well-to-do area of Westmount, Montreal on the 21st September 1934. At nine years old he suffered the death of his father, who left him a trust fund to allow him to pursue a literary career. This he duly did, enrolling in McGill University to study English Literature in 1951: within five years he would have released his first collection of poetry, Let Us Compare Mythologies. His complete bibliography comprises no less than thirteen volumes of poetry and two novels, all of which received copious amounts of praise from critics and readers alike: the Boston Globe compared him to James Joyce, whom they declared was "not dead. He is living in Montreal under the name of Cohen."

During the 1960's Cohen put his literary work aside to focus on a career as a musician. His debut album, Songs of Leonard Cohen, became a folk-cult classic amongst its initial recipients, and formed the foundation of a legacy which today places him within the ranks of such eminent folk stars as Bob Dylan and Paul Simon. Such well-loved songs of his as 'Bird on the Wire', 'So Long, Marianne' and 'Suzanne' won the singer global success and admiration throughout his career – yet Cohen will undoubtedly be remembered best for his 1984 single, 'Hallelujah'. The single is one of the most frequently-covered songs in musical history, despite it not having achieved instant success at its initial release: its enduring message, conveyed through Cohen's unpretentious yet deeply poignant lyrics, continues to touch the lives of millions of listeners and songwriters from all parts of the world.

Cohen was the recipient of 41 different awards, honours and titles during his lifetime. These included the Quebec Literary Competiton Prize for his first novel The Favourite Game; the first annual PEN award for songwriting excellence in Massachusetts in 2012 alongside Chuck Berry; and a Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award, which he received in 2010. He has been inducted into The Canadian Music Hall of Fame, the Canadian Songwriters Hall of Fame, and the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, and was a Companion of the Order of Canada: the highest civilian honour bestowed by the nation.

In a New York Times interview conducted shortly before his death, Cohen expressed his peace with the prospect of leaving some of his material unfinished. "I am ready to die," he said; "I hope it's not too uncomfortable. That's about it for me." Despite leaving a legacy of work which took frequent recourse to many dark themes, Leonard Cohen dealt with the struggles of his philosophies on life with a humility and guilelessness that welcomed all of his listeners to ponder, and sing along, with him. "There is a crack in everything," he sang in his 'Anthem'. "That's how the light gets in."