“Margaritaville” Singer and Entrepreneur Jimmy Buffett Died at Age 76

jimmy buffett smiles while playing a mint green electric guitar on stage, he stands in front of a microphone with drum sets behind him, he wears a blue t shirt
Jimmy BuffettGetty Images

"Hearst Magazines and Yahoo may earn commission or revenue on some items through these links."


Latest News: Jimmy Buffett Died at Age 76

“Margaritaville” singer-songwriter Jimmy Buffett died on September 1 at age 76, according to a statement on his website. He had been undergoing treatment for Merkel Cell skin cancer for four years. After being hospitalized in May for a then-undisclosed reason, Buffett had paused touring but continued working on a new album and made a surprise appearance onstage in Rhode Island this July.

Who Was Jimmy Buffett?

Jimmy Buffett was born in 1946 in Mississippi and grew up in Alabama. After college, he moved to Nashville, Tennessee, to pursue a career as a country singer and released his first album in 1970. He gained a loyal following within a few years and broke into the mainstream with his sixth album, containing the song “Margaritaville.” The 1977 hit became the namesake for Buffett’s sprawling business ventures and, more than four decades laters, entered the National Recording Registry. Buffett released some 40 albums over the course of his career and toured frequently. He died in September 2023 at age 76.

Quick Facts

FULL NAME: James William Buffett
BORN: December 25, 1946
BIRTHPLACE: Pascagoula, Mississippi
DIED: September 1, 2023
SPOUSE: Margie Washichek (1969-1972) and Jane Buffett (1977-2023)
CHILDREN: Savannah, Sarah, and Cameron

Early Life and Career

Singer and songwriter Jimmy Buffett was born James William Buffett on December 25, 1946, in Pascagoula, Mississippi. He grew up in Mobile, Alabama, where he attended Catholic high school. He left Mobile and eventually attended the University of Southern Mississippi, where he took up the guitar to meet women. After college, Buffett moved to Nashville to pursue a career as a country singer but first worked as a journalist for Billboard magazine.

jimmy buffett smiles while playing a guitar in this black and white photo, he wears a hawaiian t shirt and sits back against a mirror
Jimmy Buffett, circa 1970, at the start of his musical careerGetty Images

After working with a cover band called The Now Generation, Buffett landed his first record contract in 1970. Later that year, he released his folk-country debut, Down to Earth, followed by High Cumberland Jubilee, both of which went largely unnoticed.

Mainstream Musical Success with "Margaritaville"

Having always been drawn to the sea, Buffett moved to Key West in the early 1970s, where he adopted his trademark beachcombing persona. Under this new guise, he signed a contract with ABC-Dunhill and put out White Sport Coat and a Pink Crustacean in 1973. With instant party hits like “Why Don’t We Get Drunk,” Buffett gained a loyal following who appreciated the laid-back atmosphere of his live shows. Soon, his fans started wearing Hawaiian shirts, traveling Grateful Dead–style to his shows, and calling themselves “Parrotheads.”

jimmy buffett looks down and smiles while sitting with his hands clasped, he wears a blue t shirt, jeans, a gold necklace and a watch, his blond hair is shoulder length and he has a mustache
Jimmy Buffett in August 1977, shortly after “Margaritaville” peaked at No. 8 on the Billboard Hot 100.Getty Images

Buffett broke into the mainstream with his sixth album, 1977’s Changes in Latitudes, Changes in Attitudes, containing the enduring party standard “Margaritaville.” He got the idea for the song after a night out while drinking margaritas at a bar in Austin, Texas. Initially scrawling on a cocktail napkin, Buffett finished the song later that day on his trip back to the Florida Keys and played it for the first that night at a bar in Key West. It was his only Top 10 song on the Billboard Hot 100 chart.

His 1978 follow-up album, Son of a Son of a Sailor, featured another classic track “Cheeseburger in Paradise.” As with Changes, the album went platinum within a year of release.

Margaritaville The Business

After winning a lawsuit against Chi-Chi’s restaurant chain that attempted to trademark a “Margaritaville” drink special, the business-savvy performer decided to capitalize on his beach-bum image. In 1985, he opened a Margaritaville store in Key West. A restaurant followed two years later.

Partnering with John Cohlan in the 1990s accelerated the business with more restaurant openings and the launch of a tequila brand and Land Shark beer. The Margaritaville name has since graced a beach apparel and footwear line, casinos, a chain of bars, a radio station, a cruise ship, a musical, and more. Today, there are 30 branded resorts and hotels across nine states and five tropical countries. The New York Times and Bloomberg have reported the company’s annual sales were $1.5 billion (before the COVID-19 pandemic).

Buffett’s other entrepreneurial pursuits included starting his own custom record labels, Margaritaville Records in 1992 and Mailboat Records in 1999, and writing several books.

More Songs and Albums

jimmy buffett smiles and stands in front of a microphone holding a glass award, behind him stands alan jackson in a cowboy hat
Jimmy Buffett and Alan Jackson won the CMA Award for Vocal Event of the Year for their song “It’s Five O’Clock Somewhere.”Getty Images

Margaritaville Records produced his two best-selling albums from the 1990s: Fruitcakes (1994) and Banana Wind (1996).

In the 2000s, collaborating with other big-name country artists proved successful. “It’s Five O’Clock Somewhere” with Alan Jackson earned a CMA Award for Vocal Event of the Year in 2003, as well as a Grammy nomination. The duo teamed again the next year for “Hey Good Lookin’” that also featured Clint Black, Kenny Chesney, Toby Keith, and George Strait. A second Grammy nod followed. “Hey Good Lookin’” was also the lead track on 2004’s License to Chill. It was Buffett’s only No. 1 album on the Billboard 200.

Buffett continued producing new records, including 2013’s Songs from St. Somewhere and, most recently, Life on the Flip Side (2020). In April 2023, the Library of Congress inducted “Margaritaville” into the National Recording Registry. It is one of 625 preserved songs.

Buffett and his Coral Reefer Band played numerous concerts across the country every year up until months before his death.

Declining Health and Death

Buffett died on September 1, 2023, at age 76 at his home on Long Island, New York. A statement on his website said he had been undergoing treatment for Merkel Cell skin cancer for four years.

The singer was hospitalized at least twice in the year before this death. In September 2022, he was briefly hospitalized for then-unspecified health issues. He postponed three concerts and canceled two others on his Life on the Flip Side Redux tour. A statement on his website read: “Jimmy will need to refrain from touring for the rest of the year. On doctor’s orders, he must take this time to recuperate and heal. Jimmy looks forward to getting back on stage next year.”

He did just that on his Second Wind Tour, which began in February 2023. However, in May, he abruptly postponed a show in Charleston, South Carolina, two days before the scheduled date. Announcing the news on social media, Buffett wrote: “I had to stop in Boston for a check-up but wound up back in the hospital to address some issues that needed immediate attention. Growing old is not for sissies.”

His final appearance onstage—in Rhode Island in early July—was a surprise. The barefoot performer played half a dozen songs at a Mac McAnally concert; McAnally is a longtime member of the Coral Reefer Band.

Personal Life: Wife, Children, and Interests

jimmy buffett and his wife jane hold hands while smiling for photos, he wears a teal shiny suit jacket with a white collared shirt, black tie and black pants, she wears a silver glittering long sleeve gown with a large amber colored necklace
Jimmy Buffett and his wife Jane in March 2023Getty Images

In 1977, Buffett married Jane Slagsvol. Together, they had two daughters, Savannah and Sarah, and one son, Cameron.

Jane was Buffett’s second wife. He had previously been married to Margie Washichek, from 1969 to 1972.

Buffett had a home in Palm Beach, Florida, where he was an avid sailor and pilot, and an outspoken environmental activist. His Florida ties and environmental passion collided when scientists named a newly discovered crustacean after him. The tiny Gnathia jimmybuffetti inhabit the Florida Keys.

Fact Check: We strive for accuracy and fairness. If you see something that doesn’t look right, contact us!

You Might Also Like