September 05, 2023
Jimmy Buffett, a fly angler and musical legend who made a billionaire’s fortune thanks in part to a lost salt shaker and a blown flip flop that he crooned about in the timeless song Margaritaville, passed away at his home in Sag Harbor, Long Island, New York on Friday, September 1.
A passionate musician, businessman, and fisherman, Buffett was the unofficial leader of the Margaritaville fan base known as “Parrotheads.” But despite legions of adoring fans, Buffett had privately endured a deadly form of skin cancer in recent months, a battle known only to family and friends.
“Jimmy passed away peacefully on the night of September 1st surrounded by his family, friends, music and dogs,” read a statement on his website. “He lived his life like a song till the very last breath and will be missed beyond measure by so many."
According to his obituary, Buffett had performed all the way to this past July before finally succumbing to the deadly Merkel cell skin cancer that he had battled quietly for months.
Born on Christmas Day 1946 in Pascagoula, Miss., Buffett and his Coral Reefer Band were best known for Buffett's self-described "island escapism" brand of tropical rock music, including the songs Margaritaville, A Pirate Looks at 40, Cheeseburger in Paradise, Son of a Son of a Sailor, and It's Five O’clock Somewhere that he sang with country music star Alan Jackson.
Growing up near Mobile, Alabama, Buffett was a legendary musician who released more than 30 albums in his musical career, eight going certified gold, nine going certified platinum or multiplatinum. With more than 20 million album sales in a musical career that began in 1964, Buffett also parlayed his Parrotheads fan base fame into a lucrative business and entrepreneurial career over the years.
Included in those business ventures were the Margaritaville restaurant chain, and dabbling in other interests like writing books (each of his three books hit the New York Times Bestseller list), producing Broadway musicals, investing in hotel and casino ventures, and more. So successful was Buffett in all of his endeavors that earlier this year, Forbes Magazine listed Buffett as having a 2023 net worth of $1 billion, making him one of the music industry’s richest entertainers.
While that was all a part of Buffett’s public persona, when he wasn’t smiling for cameras or strumming his six-string guitar on stage in front of thousands—his last full-fledged concert was reportedly in May of this year in San Diego—you might find Buffett toting a fly rod and a Tibor fly reel. Over the years, Buffett fly fished at such locations as the Florida Keys, the Bahamas, and even Christmas Island.
With the evidence of Buffett’s love of the fly rod regularly sprinkled into his social media posts down through the years, the renowned musician was the brother-in-law of renowned Montana novelist and fly-fishing writer Tom McGuane, who wrote Ninety-two in the Shade and the essays in the fly fishing book, The Longest Silence: A Life in Fishing, among other works.
Laurie Buffett McGuane, Tom’s wife and Jimmy’s sister, noted this week that she and her brother battled cancer at the same time over the past several years.
“Jimmy and I were diagnosed with cancer about the same time,” said Laurie, who beat her own pancreatic cancer diagnosis after surgery and treatment, in an interview this week with People magazine. “It was four years ago and Jimmy was actually diagnosed first. When Jimmy found out [I had cancer] he brought the whole family and the dogs to Montana to be with me.”
Laurie, who along with her sister Lucy (Lulu) and Buffett’s own family, were with the music legend when he passed away last Friday, also noted that she became even closer to her brother Jimmy during their battles with cancer, being members of a club that no one else would want to belong to.
“When Jimmy was in the world, I felt safe,” said Laurie McGuane. “Even though I have Tom, it will be a whole new thing for me to be without my brother Jimmy.”
As many fly fishing enthusiasts know, Tom McGuane was a part of the Key West scene in the 1970s as the tarpon fly fishing craze swept through the islands sprinkled up and down U.S. Highway 1. With a crew consisting of the likes of McGuane, the late author Guy de la Valdene, the late author Jim Harrison, and the late author and artist Russell Chatham, the tarpon fishery near Key West was at its legendary best and springboarded the annual rush to the Keys in the spring and early summer of each new year for a half-century now.
Buffett was there at times too, and even wrote original music for the long-ago Key West cult classic film Tarpon. While Buffett didn’t live in Key West, he was one of the Conch Republic’s favorite sons, so much so that after news of his death spread, scores of Parrotheads gathered in Key West over the Labor Day holiday weekend, lining Duval Street as a festival parade gathered steam and It’s Five O’clock Somewhere blared.
For all of the sounds that Buffett and his Coral Reefers Band helped generate during his musical career, Buffet was often most at home in the quietness of the great outdoors, especially where saltwater waves lapped the sandy shoreline near his adopted Caribbean island home of St. Barts.
A dedicated sailor, surfer, and angler who enjoyed everything from tuna to tarpon, Buffett even helped design the fly-friendly lineup of Dragonfly stand-up paddleboards. Buffett had a keen desire for SUP’s and fly fishing, often sprinkling in social media photos for his fans as he paddled about near remote shorelines looking for bonefish, a piscatorial critter that seemed to be of particular interest to Buffett.
In fact, as recently as Dec. 12, 2022, Buffett posted a photo of himself wading a pristine saltwater flat with a fly rod in hand. In the background, his SUP was sitting quietly at anchor—complete with a YETI Cooler serving as a SUP seat and a keeper of tropical beverages and salt shakers, no doubt—with the simple hashtag line of #justafewfriends. It was a pastoral scene at a beautiful tropical location off the grid, the source of many angling dreams as the Mayor of Margaritaville sought a few bonefish who might be fooled by a fly.
Rest in peace Jimmy Buffett, and thanks for the music.
Lynn Burkhead is a senior digital editor for Outdoor Sportsman Group.