May 1, 2023: Gordon Lightfoot, Singer-Songwriting Legend, Dies

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Gordon Lightfoot

Gordon Lightfoot, the legendary Canadian singer-songwriter, best known for such hits as “Sundown,” “The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald” and “If You Could Read My Mind,” died May 1, 2023, of natural causes at Sunnybrook Hospital in Toronto at the age of 84, according to his longtime publicist. The news followed the announcement some three weeks earlier that Lightfoot had cancelled his 2023 U.S. and Canadian concert schedule, citing “some health-related issues.”

When he cancelled the tour, he thanked his fans on his Facebook page, “for respecting his privacy as he continued to focus on his recovery.” The health-related issues were not identified. In March, many of his performances were moved to June.

Lightfoot had other health issues in recent years, postponing a 2019 tour due to a leg injury caused when he tripped over a bench in July 2019. Although no bones were broken, he was said to be in pain. In an article published at that time in Toronto’s City News, he said that he had quit smoking and that action rekindled his interest in songwriting. In 2020, he released a new album, Solo, his first in 15 years. Some of the songs were written and recorded years ago but he’d forgotten about them until he came across some homemade CDs while housecleaning. “I didn’t even know I had about half a dozen of these tunes,” Lightfoot told the news site.

Lightfoot was the subject of a 2020 documentary, Gordon Lightfoot: If You Could Read My Mind.

Lightfoot was considered by many to be Canada’s greatest singer-songwriter and a genre-defining figure in the folk-pop scene of the 1960s and 1970s. He was awarded the Governor General’s Performing Arts Award, Canada’s highest honor in the performing arts, as well as being named a Companion of the Order of Canada. His songs are indelible to the Canadian music landscape, and include such national treasures as “Sundown,” “The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald” and “If You Could Read My Mind.” Lightfoot was inducted into the Songwriters Hall of Fame, the Canadian Music Industry Hall of Fame, the Canadian Songwriters Hall of Fame, as well as Canada’s Walk of Fame.

Born Gordon Meredith Lightfoot Jr., on Nov. 17, 1938, in Ontario, he broke into the business in the mid-’60s as a folk singer. His early compositions, including “Early Morning Rain” and “For Lovin’ Me,” were recorded by Lightfoot for United Artists Records and were covered by numerous other artists. But it wasn’t until 1970, when he moved over to Reprise Records, a home for many of the era’s top singer-songwriters, that Lightfoot’s own career began to pick up.

His first international breakthrough was with 1970’s “If You Could Read My Mind,” his first Canadian #1 single and a top 5 single in the U.S.

Watch Lightfoot perform “If You Could Read My Mind” on The Midnight Special

While he continued to achieve significant success in Canada with a pair of chart-topping 1972 albums, it was Lightfoot’s 1974 album, Sundown, and its title cut that fully established him elsewhere. Both reached #1 in the U.S., paving his way to further pop success. He followed the track with “Carefree Highway” and then 1976’s emotional telling about a sinking of a carrier ship, “The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald.” He earned four gold albums, two platinum and one double platinum sales award in America and nine gold, four platinum and three double platinum in his native Canada. Prior to the pandemic, he still performed some 80 shows annually.

Related: Read the back story of Lightfoot’s hit “The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald”

His songs have been recorded by Elvis Presley, Johnny Cash, Bob Dylan, Barbra Streisand, Eric Clapton, Joni Mitchell, Neil Young, Hank Williams Jr., Jerry Lee Lewis, Harry Belafonte, Peter, Paul and Mary, Glen Campbell, Herb Alpert, Johnny Mathis, Olivia Newton-John, Jimmy Buffett, the Grateful Dead and many others. Bob Dylan regularly performs Lightfoot’s composition “Shadows,” Paul Simon and Billy Joel have included his tunes in their shows, and when Toby Keith does his surprise small venue/barroom appearances playing cover songs as the Incognito Bandito, “Sundown” is always on the set list.

Lightfoot was awarded Canada’s highest civilian honor, the Companion of the Order of Canada, in 2003, and is pictured on his own Canadian postage stamp. Dylan once said, “I can’t think of any Gordon Lightfoot song I don’t like. Every time I hear a song of his, it’s like I wish it would last forever.” Kris Kristofferson said, “Gordon has created some of the most beautiful and lasting music of our time.” The Guess Who recorded a song titled “Lightfoot” in 1968 that used many of his song titles in its lyrics. A 2003 multi-artist salute to him, Beautiful: A Tribute to Gordon Lightfoot, featured such noted acts as Cowboy Junkies, Maria Muldaur, the Tragically Hip, Jesse Winchester, Bruce Cockburn, Blue Rodeo, Murray McLauchlan and others.

Watch Dylan induct Lightfoot into the Canadian Music Hall of Fame in 1986

“The term legend is overused way too often,” Lightfoot said. “I’ve certainly been around a long time and been at it now over 50 years, but I don’t consider myself a legend. I’m a guy who likes to sing my songs in front of people who want to hear them. I work at what I do and I enjoy it,” he said.

Watch Gordon Lightfoot perform “Sundown”

Related: Musicians we lost in 2023

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11 Comments so far

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  1. Pete
    #1 Pete 16 November, 2018, 12:44

    Great to hear about this tour; a friend of mine were just talking about Gordon & his great music; we would love to see him ~ !

    Reply this comment
    • Jane
      Jane 18 November, 2018, 06:13

      I saw Gordon three years ago and he was wonderful. His voice is still strong and he kept his audience captivated. If you get a chance to see him in concert, don’t miss it!

      Reply this comment
      • Watchman's Gone
        Watchman's Gone 14 May, 2019, 20:47

        Long time fan, have many, many of his albums. Saw Lightfoot last June ’18 and was shocked to hear how weak and frail his voice has become. Loved seeing Gord and his band thou. Really miss Terry on lead guitar. Left the Hall that night feeling quite sad, Gordon’s time has passed. I’ll just listen to his recordings now.

        Reply this comment
        • Tutu Bonnie
          Tutu Bonnie 12 September, 2019, 23:44

          Watchman’s Gone,
          I understand how you feel. I saw Judy Collins a few months ago at a small venue in Indiana and I left feeling sad. I’ll always be a fan, she is so much than her music. She is a wonderful person. But, at age 80, it’s time for her to retire. She does a lot of writing and painting now, I would hope that could satisfy her creativity.
          We will always love or idols, but none of us stay young forever.

          Reply this comment
  2. Abba2971
    #2 Abba2971 28 April, 2019, 12:37

    I look forward to the doc coming out on DVD

    Reply this comment
  3. Sam
    #3 Sam 26 July, 2019, 00:46

    If you missed seeing Gordon Lightfoot you have miss the best in music…do not wait.

    Reply this comment
  4. Bruce
    #4 Bruce 24 October, 2019, 20:42

    My favorite artist. His voice, the lyrics, the WONDERFUL acoustic guitar music. It’s heaven. Dylan had it right: you NEVER tire of it. You want it to last forever.

    Reply this comment
  5. Gail
    #5 Gail 18 December, 2019, 02:23

    Sadly nothing on the West Coast….but keep on singing Mr. Lightfoot

    Reply this comment
  6. TyStick
    #6 TyStick 2 May, 2023, 10:01

    RIP Gordon, you had some very good songs. I remember them well growing up in the 70s.

    Reply this comment
  7. Gramps
    #7 Gramps 2 May, 2023, 12:17

    RIP Gordon. You will be missed and thanks for all the great music

    Reply this comment
  8. 122intheshade
    #8 122intheshade 2 May, 2023, 16:16

    The greatest artists had that unique voice and ways of singing lyrics that made them instantly recognizable. Lightfoot was one.

    My all-time fave (“Beautiful”) of his was a minor hit – should have been much bigger.

    Reply this comment

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