Gordon Lightfoot, Canadian singer-songwriter, dies at 84

The musician, who rose to fame in the 1960s and 1970s, died of natural causes

Gordon Lightfoot performs during the evening ceremonies of Canada's 150th anniversary of Confederation, in Ottawa, Ontario, on July 1, 2017.  The legendary folk singer-songwriter, whose hits including “Early Morning Rain,” and “The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald," told a tale of Canadian identity that was exported worldwide, died on Monday, May 1, 2023, at a Toronto hospital, according to a family representative.  He was 84.  (Sean Kilpatrick / The Canadian Press via AP)
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Canadian musician Gordon Lightfoot, the prolific singer-songwriter known for folk-pop hits such as If You Could Read My Mind and The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald, died on Monday in a Toronto hospital. He was 84.

He died of natural causes, his family said.

Known for his evocative lyrics and melodic compositions, Lightfoot received five Grammy nominations over the years and won 17 Juno awards, Canada's equivalent music honour.

He achieved the height of his popularity in the 1970s, with songs from albums such as Sundown, Summertime Dream and Dream Street Rose that built on his guitar-driven folk roots to produce more rock and pop-oriented songs.

He retained a loyal following in Canada and the United States through extensive concert touring.

Lightfoot's catalog of compositions has more than 200 songs, a number of them covered by performers such as Bob Dylan, Elvis Presley, Judy Collins, Barbra Streisand, Glen Campbell and Richie Havens. His For Lovin' Me and Early Morning Rain became a hit for the folk trio Peter, Paul & Mary.

Lightfoot emerged from the folk music movement of the mid-1960s with signature tunes such as Canadian Railroad Trilogy and Pussywillows, Cat-Tails.

In the 1970s, he picked up an electric guitar to pen pop ballads such as Beautiful and I'm Not Supposed to Care.

Lightfoot's 1976 epic, The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald, about the drowning of 29 sailors when a freighter sank in a storm on Lake Superior, remains one of fans' most loved songs.

In it, Lightfoot coupled a soaring melody with poignant lyrics about the sailors' last hours.

He also topped the singles charts with such titles as the wistful 1974 song Carefree Highway and the ballad If You Could Read My Mind, his first major international hit from 1971, about a dissolving marriage.

If You Could Read My Mind launched a successful run at Warner Bros Records, after Lightfoot defected from his previous label, United Artists.

He had been unhappy there in part over a lack of support he felt when many US radio stations banned his 1968 single Black Day in July, about riots in Detroit the previous year, seeing it as too incendiary.

Two other major 1970s hits, Sundown and Rainy Day People, were reportedly inspired by his volatile romance with back-up singer and rock groupie Cathy Smith.

Aside from writing lyrics and music, Lightfoot performed his songs in a warm tenor suited to ballads, though his voice grew thinner over the years and he was known for his clear articulation as a vocalist.

He survived a major health crisis at age 63 in 2002, when he collapsed from severe stomach pain before a concert in his hometown of Orilla, Ontario, and had emergency surgery for abdominal bleeding caused by a ruptured aorta.

He endured weeks of hospitalisation and several operations before returning to the recording studio and live performances.

At the time of his illness, Canadian country singer and admirer Ian Tyson saluted Lightfoot as a national treasure.

"I don't think anybody before or since has, or will have, the impact on Canadian culture, through popular music or folk music, that Gordon Lightfoot had," Tyson told Reuters then.

Updated: May 22, 2023, 9:59 AM