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'Margaritaville' singer Jimmy Buffett dies at 76

Jimmy Buffett, the singer-songwriter best-known for breezy, tropical-themed hits like "Margaritaville" and "Cheeseburger in Paradise," has died at 76.

"Jimmy passed away peacefully on the night of September 1st surrounded by his family, friends, music and dogs," read the announcement on his website and social media. "He lived his life like a song till the very last breath and will be missed beyond measure by so many."

Buffett’s official website said the singer had been fighting Merkel Cell Skin Cancer for four years. "He continued to perform during treatment, playing his last show, a surprise appearance in Rhode Island, in early July," the website said.

Born in Pascagoula, Mississippi on Christmas Day in 1946, James William Buffett didn't pick up a guitar until his freshman year of college, where he earned a degree in history. He recorded his first album, 1970's "Down to Earth," in Nashville, Tennessee while working for Billboard magazine as a correspondent. Five other albums followed, each of which enjoyed modest sales and radio airplay. The exception was the 1974 Billboard Hot 100 top-40 single "Come Monday," from Buffett's third album, "Living and Dying in 3/4 Time."

But it was Buffett's breakthrough seventh album, 1977's "Changes in Latitudes, Changes in Attitudes," that made him a star, on the strength of the album's hit single, "Margaritaville." Sung from the perspective of a man "wasting away" the summer season at a beach resort while questioning his life and romantic choices, "Margaritaville" was a top-10 "Billboard" hit and became Buffett's signature song.

"Margaritaville's" enduring popularity was affirmed in 2023 when the song was inducted into the Library of Congress National Recording Registry, selected for inclusion for its "cultural, historical or aesthetic importance in the nation's recorded sound heritage."

"You're lucky enough at some point to put your thumb on the pulse of something that people can connect with," Buffett told the Registry at the time. "It's an amazing and lucky thing to happen to you, and that happened with 'Margaritaville.'"

MORE: By the Numbers: Jimmy Buffett's 'Margaritaville'

In addition to "Margaritaville" and "Come Monday," Buffett's hits – all displaying the signature musical style he early on described as "drunken Caribbean rock and roll" – included playful favorites like "Cheeseburger in Paradise" and "Fins," as well as introspective ruminations like "A Pirate Looks at 40," "He Went to Paris" and "Son of a Son of a Sailor."

Buffett's 1985 greatest hits album, "Songs You Know by Heart: Jimmy Buffett's Greatest Hit(s)," remains his most commercially successful release, selling more than 5.6 million copies. The parenthetical 's' at the end of "Hit" in the title is a winking acknowledgment that for some, "Margaritaville" is the only song for which they know him.

Over a performing career that spanned five decades, Buffett released more than 30 records, 17 of which were RIAA-certified gold or platinum for sales of 500,000 units or more. He was known for his near-constant touring schedule with his Coral Reefer Band, drawing a devoted fan base affectionately known as Parrotheads.

PHOTO: Jimmy Buffett performs during 2022 New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival, May 8, 2022 in New Orleans. (Erika Goldring/Getty Images)
PHOTO: Jimmy Buffett performs during 2022 New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival, May 8, 2022 in New Orleans. (Erika Goldring/Getty Images)

An avid sailor and private pilot, Buffett lived the lifestyle about which he sang and wrote. But he also was a savvy businessman, parlaying his persona and musical success into Margaritaville Holdings, a business empire formed in 1985 that encompassed music, lifestyle brands and more, including restaurants, resorts, clothing, home décor, foods, beer, tequila, and even a retirement community. "Forbes" estimated Buffett's net worth at $1 billion as of June 2023.

Buffett was also a novelist, releasing the short story collection "Tales from Margaritaville" in 1989 and the 1992 novel "Where Is Joe Merchant?", both of which topped the "New York Times" bestseller list, as did his 1998 memoir, "A Pirate Looks at 50." In the process, Buffett became one of only a few authors to top both the "New York Times" fiction and nonfiction bestseller lists. In addition to other novels, Buffett co-wrote two children's books with his daughter, Savannah Jane. His music was also turned into a musical, "Escape to Margaritaville," which debuted on Broadway in March 2018 and ran for 124 regular performances, followed by a national tour.

Tributes poured in for the singer on Saturday from across the entertainment world and beyond.

President Joe Biden called him a "poet of paradise" and an "American music icon who inspired generations to step back and find the joy in life and in one another."

"We had the honor to meet and get to know Jimmy over the years, and he was in life as he was performing on stage -- full of goodwill and joy, using his gift to bring people together," Biden said in a statement.

"So goodbye Jimmy. Thanks for your friendship and the songs I will carry in my heart forever. Sail On Sailor," country music star Kenny Chesney, who appeared on Buffett's 2004 song "License to Chill," posted on X, formerly known as Twitter.

"Love and Mercy, Jimmy Buffett," Brian Wilson, co-founder of the Beach Boys, said in an Instagram post.

Jimmy Buffett is survived by his wife, Jane, two daughters and a son.

ABC News' Jill Lances contributed to this report.

'Margaritaville' singer Jimmy Buffett dies at 76 originally appeared on abcnews.go.com