Jimmy Buffett was more than just an Alabama legend

Jimmy Buffet
Jimmy Buffett, a Mobile native, died Friday at the age of 76. (“Jimmy Buffett Virginia 2012” by kentonlrussell is licensed under CC BY-NC-SA 2.0)

Friday, Mobile native Jimmy Buffett died at the age of 76 after a bout with Merkel Cell Skin Cancer. To say that he was beloved by fans would be a massive understatement, and to say that he was merely an Alabama legend would be even more of an understatement.

The passing of Jimmy Buffett not only means Alabama has lost one of its favorite sons, but means an entire music culture — spanning the globe — has lost its icon.

Jimmy Buffett went from Mobile resident to international superstar

Jimmy Buffett
Buffett was beloved worldwide. (“Jimmy Buffett” by Sam Howzit is licensed under CC BY 2.0)

Buffett’s death affected me personally because I was a fan of his at an early age, thanks to my older brother David. David took me to my first Jimmy Buffett concert at the Oak Mountain Amphitheater in the summer of 1986. After that, I saw Buffett in concert about a dozen times — and while that may sound like a lot, it’s nothing compared to the number of times many of his fans saw him.

The guy was one of the hardest working musicians in the business, touring seemingly non-stop and recording more than 50 albums (both live and in-studio). His legion of fans — dubbed “Parrotheads”– flocked to his shows all over the world.

Born in Mississippi, Buffett was raised in Mobile and graduated from McGill-Toolen Catholic High School in 1964. He briefly attended Auburn University before transferring to the University of Southern Mississippi where he received a B.A. in History.

He moved to New Orleans after college and his popularity started to rise. He discovered his unique and legendary sound after moving to Key West in 1971. He maintained a residence in Key West throughout his life.

Here’s just a small glance at what his music career alone included:

  • He embarked on more than 40 concert tours in his career.
  • He sold more than 20 million albums
  • His iconic song, “Margaritaville” was inducted into the Grammy Music Hall of Fame
  • His net worth at the time of his death was estimated at $1 billion
  • Nine of his albums were certified Platinum (1 million album sales) and eight were certified Gold (500,000 album sales).
  • He earned two Grammy Award nominations, two Academy of Country Music Awards and a Country Music Association Award.

Buffett’s passing is a hard one to swallow

Growing up, I cannot recall a beach trip, a lake weekend, a pool party or road trip that did not involve Jimmy Buffett’s music — a unique blend of country, soul, reggae and blues.

He was not just beloved by casual music fans like me. He was a well-respected member of the music community by his peers in the business. His death Friday prompted tributes and comments from some the industry’s most legendary members, including Paul McCartney, Elton John, Kenny Chesney and more.

“When we swapped tales about the past his were so exotic and lush and involved sailing trips and surfing and so many exciting stories that it was hard for me to keep up with him. … So many of us will miss Jimmy and his tremendous personality. His love for us all, and for mankind as a whole.”

Paul McCartney

He was more than just a musician

Jimmy Buffet
Buffett parlayed his music success into multiple business ventures. (“Jimmy Buffett’s Margaritaville – neon sign in Key West” by tsand is licensed under CC BY-NC-SA 2.0)

Buffett was able to capitalize on the popularity he gained from his music by spearheading multiple business ventures and becoming an activist for numerous causes.

His Margaritaville brand included a hospitality company that manages and franchises hotels, a casual dining American restaurant chain and retail stores selling Buffett-themed merchandise. This of course helped him build his net worth of $1 billion.

But he was even more than a businessman and musician. His work with a variety of charitable causes also added to his legacy.

Buffett started philanthropic organizations such as:

  • Singing for Change: Funds organizations that inspire personal growth, community integration and the enhanced awareness that collectively, people can bring about positive social change.
  • Save the Manatee Club: A non-profit dedicated to the awareness and conservation efforts of manatees throughout Florida.
  • Last Mango Boatworks: An organization that sells boating merchandise — the proceeds from which go toward numerous charities.

Buffett’s family has requested that donations be made in his memory to one of the previously mentioned charities, or to the Brigham and Women’s Hospital; the Dana Farber Cancer Institute; or the MD Anderson Cancer Center.

One of my favorite Jimmy Buffett quotes encompasses his demeanor and personality best:

“If there’s a heaven for me, I hope there’s a beach attached to it”

Jimmy Buffett

I hope so too, Jimmy. I hope so too.

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Michael Seale
Michael Seale
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