Legendary singer-songwriter Jimmy Buffett, who popularised island escapism with his hit ‘Margaritaville’ and turned the song that celebrated loafing into a billion-dollar business empire, died on Friday September 1 aged 76.

A statement posted to Buffett’s official website and social media pages said: ‘Jimmy passed away peacefully on the night of September 1st surrounded by his family, friends, music and dogs.’

Jimmy passed away after being diagnosed with skin cancer four years ago, a source told TMZ, leaving behind his wife, Jane Slagsvol, whom he’s been married to since 1977, and three children: Savannah, Sarah, and Cameron.

He entered a hospice on Monday and had been visited by Paul McCartney at his home a week ago, with the former Beatle singing to Buffett and his family.

From humble beginnings to a rock and roll lifestyle in Key West, Buffett built a sprawling $1 billion business empire based on his Caribbean-flavored soft rock that saluted the Florida Keys, sunshine and nightlife.

Humble beginnings

Buffett was born on December 25 1946 in Pascagoula, Mississippi and raised in the port town of Mobile, Alabama, according to the singer’s official website.

Spending his childhood as a parochial school student and an altar boy, it wasn’t long before a guitar was to take him off course from the life his parents had imagined for him.

When Jimmy saw how a fraternity brother in college with a guitar – garnering the attention of girls – he quickly learned some basic chords and started playing himself.

Soon after, Jimmy’s world opened up – while he still attended classes, he assembled his first band and went from busking in the streets of New Orleans to performing six nights a week at Bourbon Street clubs.

After graduation, Jimmy headed to Nashville to work for Billboard Magazine, along with trying his luck as a folk-country singer – releasing his first song Down To Earth in 1970.

However, it was a fateful trip to Key West, Florida with Jerry Jeff Walker in 1971 that would give Jimmy the inspiration to merge his musicality, wanderlust and storytelling.

The singer would soon learn he fit right in with the laid back tropical lifestyle of the island town where drugs, booze, and easy sex were plentiful in the early 1970s.

‘Changes in Latitudes, Changes in Attitudes’ breakthrough

Jimmy’s seventh studio album ‘Changes in Latitudes, Changes in Attitudes’ was released in 1977, ultimately giving the artist his big break.

The album spent 22 weeks on the Billboard Hot 100 chart and peaked at No. 8, garnering a loyal fanbase of “Parrotheads,” according to Forbes.

‘Margaritaville’ was released on February 14, 1977 – quickly taking on a life of its own and becoming a state of mind for those ‘wastin away,’ an excuse for a life of low-key fun and escapism for those ‘growing older, but not up.’

The track is the unhurried portrait of a loafer on his front porch, watching tourists sunbathe while a pot of shrimp is beginning to boil.

The song was inducted into the Grammy Hall of Fame in 2016 for its ‘cultural and historic significance,’ becoming a karaoke standard that helped Key West, Florida, gain international notoriety as a destination.

Buffett returned with hit ‘Cheeseburger in Paradise,’ from his 1978 album Son of a Son of a Sailor, and continued putting out music into the 2000s.

In 2003, the singer released ‘It’s 5 O’Clock Somewhere’ with Alan Jackson, which spent eight weeks at the top of Billboard’s country charts.

After more than five decades of touring and recording, his music is estimated to have earnt Buffett a cool $570 million altogether.

Birth of the Margaritaville empire

Behind the laid-back exterior, Buffett was an admitted workaholic. He expanded his business into novels, nightclubs and many other ventures.

Buffett’s evolving lifestyle brand began in 1985 with the opening of a string of Margaritaville-themed stores and restaurants in Key West, followed in 1987 with the first Margaritaville Café nearby.

Over the course of the next two decades, several more of each opened throughout Florida, New Orleans and California.

The title of Buffett’s most popular song popped up in restaurants and casinos and on booze and clothing.

He became involved in such products as Landshark Lager, the Margaritaville and Cheeseburger in Paradise restaurant chains, boat shoes, salsa, tortillas, hummous, dips, tequila and even blenders.

The Margaritaville cafe on the Las Vegas strip was said to be the top grossing restaurant in the nation.

The Broadway-bound jukebox musical Escape to Margaritaville was launched in 2017, based on Buffett’s catalogue of songs.

The romantic comedy depicted a singer-bartender named Sully, who falls for the career-minded Rachel at his workplace Margaritaville, a hotel where Rachel is vacationing with friends.

In 1985, Buffett founded and became chairman of Margaritaville Holdings based in Palm Beach, Florida as a promotional side business to his music career.

The company was used to distribute Buffett’s tickets and merchandise, before incrementally expanding to include resort destinations and restaurants, as well as home decoration, tequila and margarita mixes, pool floats and pickleball sets.

He had a restaurant and a casino in Vegas, a casino in Mississippi and a hotel in Pensacola Beach, Florida, but the exact scope of his empire was a secret.

Margaritaville Holdings LLC didn’t disclose its finances, and he usually declined interview requests, but, according to Forbes, Buffett owned a 28% stake in Margarita Holdings, valued at roughly $180 million.

Billionaire status

Buffett had been added to Forbes’ billionaires list in April, generating his wealth not only from nationwide stadium tours and expansive music catalog, but from his Margarita Holdings chain of merchandise, resorts and restaurants.

Forbes estimated Buffett’s net worth to be roughly $1 billion in April, making him the world’s 2,543rd richest person.

Along with the $570 million earned from music sales and the $180 million from Margarita Holdings, Buffet had also accumulated an extra $140 million in private planes and homes – including an estate in St. Barts owned for three decades.

Buffett also owned shares in investment giant Berkshire Hathaway, the conglomerate owned by billionaire Warren Buffett.

When asked about their connection in April, Warren Buffett – the world’s fifth-richest person – told Forbes: ‘Tell Jimmy to keep me in his will!’

Today, however, there are still 23 operational Margaritaville restaurants, as well as hotels, casinos and resorts under the brand – along with a $1 billion retirement village in Daytona Beach, known as Latitude Margaritaville.

‘There was no such place as Margaritaville,’ Buffett told the Arizona Republic in 2021.

‘It was a made-up place in my mind, basically made up about my experiences in Key West and having to leave Key West and go on the road to work and then come back and spend time by the beach.’

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Kay Adams