Gordon Lightfoot, the folk singer-songwriter who achieved icon status in his native Canada and scored a string of pop hits in the U.S. in the late 1960s and '70s, died Monday night in Toronto, his spokeswoman Victoria Lord said. He was 84, and his death was attributed to natural causes.
Lightfoot — born in Orillia, Ontario, in 1938 — was already a well-regarded singer-songwriter in Canada and folk circles when he switched labels to Reprise Records in 1968. His debut record on Reprise, released in 1970, contained his first U.S. hit, "If You Could Read My Mind." He also climbed to the top of the American adult contemporary charts in the mid-1970s with "Sundown," "Carefree Highway," "Rainy Day People," and "The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald." "Sundown" also hit No. 1 on the Billboard Hot 100 chart in 1974.
"Through the '70s, Lightfoot made his deepest mark as a romantic balladeer," Variety reports. His last major U.S. hit — "The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald," a somber 1976 ballad about a deadly 1975 shipwreck on Lake Superior — was "an anomaly" but is considered some of his finest work.
Lightfoot suffered a string of health problems throughout his career, including facial paralysis from Bell's palsy in the early 1970s, a ruptured abdominal aneurysm and resulting six-week coma in 2002, a minor stroke in 2006 that made him unable to play guitar for a year, and emphysema in 2018. But he continued recording albums and touring until shortly before his death — he canceled his 2023 U.S. and Canadian tour dates on April 11, citing "health related issues."
Lightfoot maintained a spot in the folk music firmament long after he stopped scoring radio hits. His ardent admirers include fellow Canadians Joni Mitchell and Neil Young and also Bob Dylan, who inducted Lightfoot into the Canadian Music Hall of Fame at the 1986 Juno Awards. "Every time I hear a song of his, it's like I wish it would last forever," Dylan wrote in 1985.
Lightfoot is survived by six children and his third wife, Kim Hasse.