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Jimmy Buffett Remembered as Down-to-Earth Neighbor

Thu, 09/07/2023 - 10:43
Jimmy Buffett, who was remembered this week for generously lending his time and talent to good causes, performed at Amagansett Square during a 2015 Soldier Ride fund-raiser for the Wounded Warrior Project.
Robert D. Comes

The musician Jimmy Buffett, who lived on North Haven for many years, was remembered on the South Fork this week as a generous, gracious, and down-to-earth neighbor, his worldwide fame and considerable wealth notwithstanding. Mr. Buffett died on Friday at home on North Haven after living with Merkel cell carcinoma, a rare and aggressive form of skin cancer, for four years. He was 76.

Known for songs including “Margaritaville,” “It’s Five O’Clock Somewhere,” “Cheeseburger in Paradise,” and “Son of a Son of a Sailor,” his music extolled a laid-back lifestyle on an island and on the water, conjuring locales like Key West, Fla., the islands of the Caribbean, Florida’s Gulf Coast, and Montauk.

Indeed, his music was informed by experience: The Mississippi-born, self-styled pirate and good-natured rogue migrated from Alabama to New Orleans to Nashville to the Florida Keys, stopping in Aspen, Colo., before settling on the South Fork and the Caribbean’s Saint Barthelemy, or St. Barts. His song “Jamaica Mistaica” documents a 1996 incident in which Jamaican police, suspecting the smuggling of marijuana, shot at one of his airplanes. (Mr. Buffett was a pilot.) Aboard the aircraft were Mr. Buffett’s wife and two daughters along with the singer Bono and Chris Blackwell, the founder of Island Records.

The “permanent vacation” idyll sought by legions of Mr. Buffett’s fans, known as Parrotheads, manifested in ways that made the musician very wealthy: Along with millions of album and concert ticket sales, the Margaritaville bar and shop in Key West, and the Margaritaville restaurant at Universal Studios’ Islands of Adventure theme park in Orlando, Fla., those “55 and better” can live at Latitude Margaritaville, planned communities in Daytona Beach and Watersound, in Florida, and Hilton Head, S.C., complete with amenities like the Bar & Chill restaurant, the Paradise Pool, the Fins Up! fitness center, and the Last Mango theater and banquet hall.

“More than twenty million people a year pass through the doors of a Margaritaville-branded establishment,” according to a 2022 feature in The New Yorker. “The company, with annual system-wide sales of $1.7 billion, licenses the name to restaurants, hotels, casinos, and resorts, and sells a wide array of branded merchandise,” along with plans to launch a cruise line. “Who knew people wanted to live in Margaritaville?” Mr. Buffett told The New Yorker’s Nick Paumgarten.

His first album, “Down to Earth,” was released in 1970, but it was 1977’s “Changes in Latitudes, Changes in Attitudes,” which featured “Margaritaville,” that made him a superstar.

He was also a successful author, his website notes. “He was one of a handful of writers who had number-one best sellers on both the fiction and nonfiction lists of The New York Times Book Review.”

Mr. Buffett canceled concerts in May and June and was hospitalized because of a then-unspecified illness. He had also canceled five performances in October 2022 for health reasons. But in July, he visited the WLNG studio in Sag Harbor, where he premiered a new song called “My Gummy Just Kicked In.”

“He continued to perform during treatment,” according to his website, “playing his last show, a surprise appearance in Rhode Island, in early July.”

On the South Fork, those who knew Mr. Buffett recalled a trusted friend. “Jimmy just had this charisma and this energy,” said Tony Caramanico of Montauk, a surfer and artist. “He seemed to do more things in one day than people would do in a week. We’d surf in the morning, then he’d say he’s going to fish, or sail, or play golf or tennis — always something going on. He was very productive. Even between surf sessions this year, he’d be writing songs, finishing interviews. He was just always in motion.”

When Mr. Caramanico had an art show in Key West, Mr. Buffett lent him his house there. “In St. Barts, we did a lot of surfing and hanging out,” he said. “But mostly here, surfing in Montauk, doing trips to Block Island. It was a lot of fun.” He recalled boating excursions with Mr. Buffett and a mutual friend, Russell Drumm, a reporter for The Star who died in 2016. “A lot of good memories,” he said.

“His music spoke for itself,” Mr. Caramanico added. “I’ve been to his concerts and watched the hysteria that goes on around it. He just drew people in, he was a happy guy. Everybody fed off of it. He was so well loved wherever he went. He was accessible. He would sit in a parking lot getting ready to surf and say hi to people, be gracious, stop and talk to people.”

Mr. Buffett performed at the Stephen Talkhouse in Amagansett “probably a dozen times,” said Peter Honerkamp, an owner of the storied live-music venue. Mr. Honerkamp took over the Talkhouse in 1987 and quickly added live music to its offerings. The following year, he recalled, Mr. Buffett came to the club with Jann Wenner, the founder of Rolling Stone magazine and a part-time resident of Montauk, to see the late blues guitarist Albert Collins and his band, the Icebreakers.

“He was a local guy, he was a regular guy, he just came to the bar, played with all these artists, and did these charity events,” he said. Mr. Buffett “bailed me out on innumerable occasions.”

A letter from Mr. Honerkamp detailing some of Mr. Buffett’s charitable efforts appears elsewhere in this issue. “He always saved the day,” he said of Mr. Buffett. “I’m really sad about this.”

“Always a sweet man who did so much to make people happy with his music and his efforts,” Nick Kraus, also of the Talkhouse, wrote on social media. “He will be missed by many.”

Paul McCartney, who owns a house in Amagansett, was also among those taking to social media following word of Mr. Buffett’s death. “It seems that so many wonderful people are leaving this world, and now Jimmy Buffett is one of them,” Mr. McCartney, who performs on “My Gummy Just Kicked In,” wrote on Saturday. “I’ve known Jimmy for some time and found him to be one of the kindest and most generous people.”

The picture Mr. McCartney posted of himself with Mr. Buffett appears to have been taken at the Talkhouse, where, one memorable night in August 2013, the former Beatle, along with Mr. Buffett and the actress Anjelica Huston, partied and chatted with fans late into the night after an unannounced performance by Mr. Buffett, who opened for his friend Tom Curren.

Mr. Buffett is survived by his wife of 46 years, Jane Buffett, his daughters, Savannah Jane Buffett and Sarah Delaney Buffett, a son, Cameron Marley Buffett, a grandson, Marley Ray Buffett, and “a devoted pack of dogs,” according to his website. Two sisters, Laurie Buffett McGuane and Lucy Buffett, also survive, as do five nieces and a nephew.

His family has suggested memorial donations to his Singing for Change foundation at, Brigham and Women’s Hospital at, the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute at, or the MD Anderson Cancer Center at

Mr. Buffett, Mr. McCartney wrote, “had a most amazing lust for life and a beautiful sense of humour. 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. Right up to the last minute his eyes still twinkled with a humour that said, ‘I love this world and I’m going to enjoy every minute of it.’ “


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