Leon Redbone, a Mysterious Musician Who Evoked a Bygone Era, Has Died

Leon Redbone, a Mysterious Musician Who Evoked a Bygone Era, Has Died
Leon Redbone, the famously mysterious musician whose strummy, Ragtime-style crooning seemed to emanate from a bygone era, died at age 69 on June 30. (Lloyd Bishop/NBC/NBCU Photo Bank via Getty Images)

Leon Redbone, the famously mysterious musician whose strummy, Ragtime-style crooning seemed to emanate from a bygone era, died on May 30 at age 69.

“He departed our world with his guitar, his trusty companion Rover and a simple tip of his hat,” read a statement on his website, which joked that Redbone had “crossed the delta for that beautiful shore at the age of 127.”

With his signature Panama hat and dark sunglasses, Redbone rose to fame in the ’70s folk scene when Bob Dylan sought him out at a Canadian music festival, according to a biography on Redbone’s website.

In a 1974 interview with Rolling Stone, Dylan said of Redbone: “I’ve heard he’s anywhere from 25 to 60… I can’t tell. But you gotta see him.”

A Prolific Live Performer

He was a prolific live performer and released more than 15 albums over a four-decade career.

With his distinctively nasal, sing-songy baritone lilting over an acoustic guitar, he gained a devoted fan base and became a regular on Johnny Carson’s “Tonight Show.” More recently, he served as the voice of “Leon the Snowman” in Will Ferrell’s 2003 holiday hit “Elf.”

He released his debut album, “On the Track,” in 1975, and dropped 16 albums throughout his career.

In concert and in interviews, Redbone remained elusive about his past. When asked for a biography for a music festival program, he wrote: “I was born in Shreveport, La., in 1910 and my real name is James Hokum”—none of which appears to be true.

“I don’t do anything mysterious on purpose. I’m less than forthcoming, but that doesn’t necessarily mean I’m mysterious. It just means I’m not inclined to go there,” Redbone was quoted saying in the press release that announced his death.

A 16-minute documentary about his life aptly titled “Please Don’t Talk About Me When I’m Gone” was released last year.

“Some people seem to believe that as soon as you perform on stage you lose your rights as a private citizen,” he told Maclean’s, a Canadian magazine, in 2001. “They want to find out who I am, what I am, where I was born, how old I am—all this complete nonsense that belongs in a passport office.”

His wife and manager, Beryl Handler, confirmed to the Washington Post that he was born in 1949, in Cyprus. Redbone’s publicists announced his retirement in 2015, citing health concerns.

The statement on his website announcing his death closed with a wry farewell: “To his fans, friends, and loving family who have already been missing him so in this realm he says, ‘Oh behave yourselves. Thank you… and good evening everybody.'”

The Associated Press contributed to this report. 

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