Leonard Cohen, the Canadian poet and novelist who abandoned a promising literary career to become one of the foremost songwriters of the contemporary era has died, according to an announcement Thursday night on his Facebook page. He was 82.
Over a musical career that spanned more than 45 years, Mr. Cohen wrote scores of songs that addressed, in language that was spare and often oblique, themes of religion and love, depression and suicide, politics and war. More than 2,000 recordings of those songs have been made, by artists ranging from the folk singers who were his first champions, like Judy Collins and Tim Hardin, to leading rock, pop, country and even rhythm and blues performers, including U2, Elton John, Sting, Trisha Yearwood and Aretha Franklin.
Mr. Cohen was an unlikely and reluctant pop star, if in fact he ever was one. He was already 33 when his first record was released in 1967, sang in an increasingly gravelly baritone that seemed to have trouble finding and remaining on key, played simple chords on acoustic guitar or a cheap Casio keyboard and cultivated a withdrawn, ascetic image at odds with the Dionysian excesses associated with rock ’n’ roll.
In addition, he was anything but prolific, struggling for years to write some of his most celebrated songs and recording barely a dozen studio albums in his career, of which only the first qualified as a gold record in the United States for sales of 500,000 copies. But Mr. Cohen’s sophisticated, carefully crafted lyrics, with their meditations on love sacred and profane, captivated other artists and gave him a reputation as, to use the phrase his record company concocted for an advertising campaign in the early 1970s, “the master of erotic despair.”