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Gordon Lightfoot, Beloved Canadian Singer/Songwriter, Dies at 84

He's best known for his 1970s hits 'Sundown' and 'If You Could Read My Mind'
Gordon Lightfoot
(Credit: Charlie Gillett Collection/Redferns)

Gordon Lightfoot, the influential Canadian singer/songwriter best known for songs like “If You Could Read My Mind,” “Sundown,” “Early Morning Rain,” and “The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald,” has died at the age of 84. The troubadour’s passing was announced in a statement posted on his Facebook page. Last month, Lightfoot canceled his U.S. and Canadian tour dates due to a health issue. No cause of death has been revealed.

Born in Orillia, Ontario, on Nov. 17, 1938, Lightfoot started performing while he was still in grade school. In 1960, Lightfoot kicked off his music career when he joined Swinging Eight, and throughout the decade, his songs covered by everyone from Elvis Presley and Peter, Paul and Mary to Judy Collins and Bob Dylan.

For a period, Lightfoot was managed by Albert Grossman, who was also working with Dylan at that time. Dylan covered Lightfoot’s “Early Morning Rain” on his own 1976 album Desire and once said that he wished his songs “would last forever.”

In 1966, Lightfoot released his debut album, Lightfoot!, which spawned two of his most popular songs, “For Lovin’ Me” and “Early Mornin’ Rain.” Four years later, he released Sit Down Young Stranger, which featured “If You Could Read My Mind.” The song was his first hit in the U.S., peaking at No. 5 on the Billboard Hot 100. In 1974, Lightfoot released Sundown. The title track from that album hit No. 1 on the charts in the U.S. and Canada. Summertime Dream, featuring “The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald,” arrived two years later.

After his career slowed down in the 1980s, Lightfoot experienced a resurgence in the 1990s with the release of the albums Waiting for You and A Painter Passing Through.

During his career, Lightfoot won 13 Juno awards and was inducted into the Canadian Music Hall of Fame in 1986. He was also nominated for four Grammys, and in 2012, was inducted into the Songwriters Hall of Fame.

In 1997, Lightfoot received the Governor General’s Performing Arts Award and in 2003, the Companion of the Order of Canada, which is Canada’s highest civilian honor. He released his last studio album, Harmony, a year later. Lightfoot was the subject of a documentary, Gordon Lightfoot: If You Could Read My Mind, in 2019.

“Mr. Lightfoot gave us so many special moments over the years,” Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said in a statement. “With a career that spanned over half a century, Mr. Lightfoot’s music told stories that captured the Canadian spirit, none more so than his iconic Canadian Railroad Trilogy, which will forever be a part of our country’s musical heritage. I had the pleasure of meeting Mr. Lightfoot as a child — he spent the afternoon in the Gatineau Hills with my family, and it is a memory I will always cherish.”