TORONTO — Gordon Lightfoot, the legendary folk singer whose silvery refrains told a tale of Canadian identity that was exported to listeners worldwide, has died at age 84.
The musician died at a Toronto hospital on Monday evening, said Victoria Lord, a representative for the family.
Considered one of the most renowned voices to emerge from Toronto's Yorkville folk club scene in the 1960s, Lightfoot went on to record no less than 20 studio albums with songs that include "Early Morning Rain," "If You Could Read My Mind" and "Sundown."
Once called a "rare talent" by Bob Dylan, Lightfoot's compositions have been covered by dozens of artists including Elvis Presley, Barbra Streisand and Sarah McLachlan.
Most of his songs are deeply autobiographical with lyrics that explored issues surrounding national identity while also probing personal strife.
Lightfoot made his popular radio debut with the single "(Remember Me) I'm the One" in 1962.
He became a household name in 1965 when "I'm Not Sayin'" climbed the charts in Canada and helped spread his name stateside.
By the time the folk music boom came to an end in the late 1960s, Lightfoot was making his transition to pop.
In 1971, he made his Billboard chart debut with "If You Could Read My Mind," a lyrical reflection on a failing marriage. It reached No. 5 and has since spawned scores of covers.
His 1975 song "The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald" chronicled the demise of a Great Lakes ore freighter, and 1966's "Canadian Railroad Trilogy" depicted the construction of the railway.
Lightfoot's popularity peaked in the mid-1970s when both his single and album, "Sundown," topped the Billboard charts, his first and only time doing so.
During his career, he collected 12 Junos, including one in 1970 when it was called the Gold Leaf. He was nominated for four Grammys, received an Order of Canada citation in 1970 and was promoted to Companion of the Order of Canada in 2003.
In 1986, he was inducted into the Canadian Recording Industry Hall of Fame, now the Canadian Music Hall of Fame.
In 2002, he suffered an aortic aneurysm and later fell into a coma, facing surgery and a rehabilitation period that he says stretched for two and a half years.
A minor stroke in 2006 made it difficult for him to use his right hand while playing guitar for a short while.
Still, he kept touring, helped by a strict workout regimen.
He continued with road life, closing out 2016 with an astounding schedule of about 80 tour dates.
Lightfoot continued to play live despite other health setbacks, including a fall at home in 2021 that forced him to postpone dates.
Hardly four months later, he was back on stage for a three-night engagement that reopened the renovated Massey Hall in Toronto, the start of another tour that ran well into the following year.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published May 1, 2023.
David Friend, The Canadian Press