Leonard Cohen | The Canadian Encyclopedia


Leonard Cohen

Leonard Norman Cohen, CC, GOQ, poet, novelist, singer, songwriter (born 21 September 1934 in Montreal, QC; died 7 November 2016 in Los Angeles, California). Leonard Cohen was one of the most iconic Canadian artists of the 20th century. A sage, mystic, bohemian and romantic, he built an acclaimed body of literary work and a revered career in pop music. In his poetry, novels and music, he constantly probed the human condition, exploring themes of love, loss, death and his commitment to his art. As a poetic and unlikely pop star, his narrow-ranged, gruff voice, which deepened and darkened with age, and his reliance on simple, singsong melodies were complimented by the intense imagery and depth of his lyrics. A Companion of the Order of Canada, he was inducted into the Canadian Music Hall of Fame, the Canadian Songwriters Hall of Fame, the US Songwriters Hall of Fame, the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and the Folk Music Walk of Fame. He also received a Governor General’s Performing Arts Award, the Glenn Gould Prize, eight Juno Awards, a Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award and numerous other honours.
Leonard Cohen in concert in Geneva, Switzerland, on 27 October 2008.

Family Background

Born in Westmount, Québec, to a traditional Jewish family, Cohen was the second child of Masha Klinitsky-Klein and Nathan Bernard Cohen. Cohen’s Polish-born grandfather, Lyon Cohen, was an important figure in Montréal’s Jewish community. He ran the Freedman Company, one of the city’s largest clothing corporations, co-founded The Jewish Times, the first English language Jewish newspaper in Canada, and was the first president of the Canadian Jewish Congress. He also helped settle Jewish refugees who fled to Canada from the Russian Empire. Klinitsky-Klein’s father, religious scholar Rabbi Solomon Klinitsky-Klein, was one of the refugees he helped settle in Montréal.

Klinitsky-Klein, a trained nurse, immigrated to Canada from Lithuania with her family. Cohen’s father Nathan was a lieutenant in the First World War and later helped run the Freedman Company until his death in 1944 when Cohen was nine years old.

Early Years and Education

Cohen attended Roslyn Elementary School and Herzliah High School, a private Jewish day school. In 1948, he transferred to Westmount High School where he became president of the student council and was heavily involved in the school’s theatrical productions. Cohen also attended Hebrew school at the Shaar Hashomayim synagogue, where his family was actively involved.

Cohen demonstrated an interest in writing, particularly poetry, from an early age. At 15, under the influence of country and western music, he began to play guitar. For a short time he took flamenco guitar lessons from a Spanish man he met by a tennis court near his home. Later his instructor convinced him to switch from a steel string guitar to a classical guitar with nylon strings. The classical guitar became an instrument Cohen used heavily throughout his career.

Leonard Cohen, musician
Cohen was already one of the most influential and popular Canadian writers when his songs gained him an international reputation (photo by Alexander W. Thomas).

Cohen attended McGill University and graduated with a degree in English literature in 1955. During his time at McGill, Cohen took a poetry course with Louis Dudek and a prose course with Hugh MacLennan. He was also introduced to poet Irving Layton, who became his friend and mentor. Cohen gave his earliest poetry readings in a Montréal nightclub to jazz accompaniment and also performed in a country band, the Buckskin Boys.

Early Career

Cohen’s poetry was first published in 1954 in the literary magazine CIV/n. Shortly after graduating university, Cohen’s first book of poetry, Let Us Compare Mythologies (1956), was published as part of the McGill Poetry Series established by Dudek. Cohen’s collection contained poems he had written between the ages of 15 and 20. Let Us Compare Mythologies was reprinted in 1966 and again in 2007.

After completing his undergraduate degree, Cohen spent a term at McGill’s law school but dropped out. In 1956–57, he pursued an MA at the School of General Studies at Columbia University but did not finish. He returned to Montréal in 1957 and worked various odd jobs including one at the Freedman Company. During this time he wrote an unpublished novel, The Ballet of Lepers. In 1959, Cohen signed a deal with the publisher McClelland & Stewart and received a $2,000 grant from the Canada Council for the Arts to write a novel. In addition to money he had inherited from his father and grandmother, this grant allowed him to pursue a career in writing.

Literary Career, 1960–70

Cohen briefly moved to London, England, in 1959 and then relocated to the Greek island of Hydra. Although he returned occasionally to North America, Greece remained his primary residence for the next seven years. While there, he published three collections of poetry — The Spice-Box of Earth(1961), Flowers for Hitler (1964) and Parasites of Heaven (1966) — and two novels: The Favourite Game (1963) and Beautiful Losers (1966).

Cohen’s poetry was received positively by the public and by critics, earning him the reputation in Canada of a promising young talent. Jack McClelland, of McClelland & Stewart, rejected the first draft of Cohen’s debut novel, The Favourite Game, because he felt it was too autobiographical and preoccupied with sex. As a result, the novel was published in 1963 by British publisher Secker and Warburg and was not published by McClelland & Stewart until 1970.

Despite these publishing problems, Cohen won the Québec Literary Competition Prize for The Favourite Game in 1964. That year, McClelland arranged a Canadian university campus tour for Cohen to perform his poetry. Filmmaker Donald Brittain recorded Cohen’s performance at McGill for his award-winning National Film Board documentary, Ladies and Gentlemen, Mr. Leonard Cohen (1965).

Although Cohen’s popularity was growing steadily, his second novel, Beautiful Losers, was met with mixed reviews due in part to its graphic sexual nature. It subsequently sold poorly, but is now considered one of Canada’s first postmodernist novels and part of the Canadian literary canon. However, frustrated by poor sales, Cohen travelled to New York City in 1966 to explore the burgeoning folk music scene.

In 1968, to capitalize on the success of Cohen’s debut album as a singer-songwriter, McClelland & Stewart released a compilation of Cohen’s poems entitled Selected Poems 1956–1968. The book sold 200,000 copies in the first few months of release and was awarded the Governor General's Award for English language poetry. However, Cohen refused the award, as the Globe and Mail reported, on the grounds that, “the world is a callous place and he would take no gift from it.”

Literary Career, 1970–2000s

During the 1970s, Cohen’s literary work was sporadic: The Energy of Slaves (1972) is made up of “anti-poems,” rejecting his own stance and stature as a poet, while Death of a Lady's Man (1978) was divided between original poems and a set of commentaries, often bitter and ironic, supplementing them.

Cohen released a collection of poetry entitled Book of Mercy (1984),which reaffirmed the richness of his language and reintroduced a tone of religious awe. Cohen described the poems in this collection as prayers, while the Globe and Mail characterized the collection as “an eloquent victory of the human spirit in combat with itself.” Book of Mercy won the Canadian Authors Association Literary Award for Poetry in 1985.

A major volume of Cohen’s collected writing, Stranger Music: Selected Poems and Songs, was published in 1993 and included previously published work and some rewritten versions of older poems. In 2006, Cohen published his first collection of new poetry in 22 years, entitled Book of Longing. This collection contained 167 previously unpublished poems and over 40 drawings by Cohen himself, written primarily during his residence at a Zen monastery near Los Angeles, as well as additional sojourns in LA, Montréal and Mumbai. Book of Longing became a No. 1 best seller in Canada.

Early Music Career, 1966–69

On 14 February 1966, during a poetry reading at the 92nd Street YMHA (Young Men’s Hebrew Association) in New York, Cohen sang “The Stranger Song.” His readings soon evolved into concerts, and his songs became increasingly popular through performances by other artists. In New York, Judy Collins sang and recorded several of his songs, most notably “Suzanne,” and introduced Cohen personally to some of her audiences. In 1967, Cohen performed at the Mariposa and Newport folk festivals and Expo 67. At the Newport folk festival, Cohen impressed an A&R rep who quickly signed him to Columbia Records. In that same year, composer Norma Beecroft based two works — Elegy and Two Went to Sleep — on Cohen verses.

Cohen’s first recording, Songs of Leonard Cohen, was released in 1967. Though musically rudimentary in the context of its era, the album was extremely influential. It included several of his most enduring songs, including “Suzanne,” “The Stranger Song,” “So Long, Marianne” and “Hey, That's No Way To Say Goodbye.” The album was certified gold in Canada for sales of more than 50,000 copies.

In 1969, Cohen released his second album, Songs from a Room, which included one of his most popular songs, “Bird on a Wire.”The album reached No. 2 on the UK charts, No. 63 on the Billboard 200 chart and was certified gold in Canada.

Music Career, 1970s

In 1970, Cohen embarked on his first tour across the US and Europe. At the Isle of Wight festival, Cohen captivated an audience estimated at 600,000 people. His performance was released in 2009 as part of the live CD/DVD, Live at the Isle of Wight 1970. Also in 1970, Brian Macdonald choreographed the ballet The Shining People of Leonard Cohen,which interpreted verses of Cohen’s poetry and incorporated an electronic score by Harry Freedman.

In 1971, Cohen released Songs of Love and Hate, which includes “Joan of Arc,” “Avalanche” and one of his most influential songs, the haunting and eerie “Famous Blue Raincoat.” Like his previous studio album, Songs of Love and Hate was very well received in the UK and peaked at No. 4 on their album chart. Cohen released his first live album Live Songs in 1973, which included recordings from European shows in 1970 and 1972. The following year, Cohen released his fourth studio album New Skin for the Old Ceremony (1974), which was certified silver in the UK. The musical Sisters of Mercy: A Musical Journey into the Words of Leonard Cohen, adapted by Gene Lesser from Cohen's writings about women (utilizing poems, songs and fiction), was first staged at the Shaw Festival in 1973.

Leonard Cohen
Leonard Cohen in the back of a cab in New York City in 1972.

In 1975, Cohen released a greatest hits album, The Best of Leonard Cohen, which features popular songs from his first four albums. The collection was re-released in 2009 under the name of Greatest Hits, with a revised track list that includes songs released after 1974.

Death of a Ladies’ Man (1977) featured a heavily orchestrated production by pop music producer Phil Spector, who reportedly produced Cohen’s demos and then released the album without his approval, much to Cohen’s dissatisfaction. The album was met with almost universally negative reviews. Rolling Stone’s Paul Nelson wrote that “too much of the record sounds like the world’s most flamboyant extrovert producing and arranging the world's most fatalistic introvert” and characterized the song “Memories” as a “Doo-Wop nightmare.” Recent Songs, released in 1979, marked a return to Cohen’s folk style and was his last recording for several years. Cohen’s long-time touring backup singer Jennifer Warnes is prominently featured throughout the record.

Music Career, 1980s

In 1983, Cohen co-wrote and starred in I Am a Hotel, a half-hour CBC TV musical that dramatizes five of Cohen’s songs. I Am a Hotel won the Golden Rose international television award in Montreux, Switzerland in 1984. Also in 1984, Cohen received PROCAN’s William Harold Moon Award, which honours artists who promote Canadian music internationally.

Cohen co-wrote the musical film Night Magic (1985) with Lewis Furey, which earned four Genie Award nominations in 1986. Cohen’s composition “Angel Eyes” won for Best Original Song.

On Cohen’s seventh studio album, Various Positions (1984),he returned to his country music roots, experimented with synthesizers and continued to explore aspects of spirituality. Additionally, the album, which also prominently featured Warnes, revealed that Cohen’s singing voice had deepened and provided the first examples of what would become his signature gravelly baritone. Columbia Records declined to release the album in the US, which forced American retailers to import the album from CBS Canada. About Columbia’s refusal to release Various Positions, Cohen claimed in a 2009 interview that, “they didn’t think it was good enough.” Various Positions had mixed reviews and generally low sales, but later received renewed interest due to the inclusion of what became one of Cohen’s signature songs, “Hallelujah.”

Leonard Cohen
Leonard Cohen in Trouville-sur-Mer, Normandy, France, 26 January 1988.

Famous Blue Raincoat, an album of Cohen material recorded in 1987 by Jennifer Warnes, sparked a renewed interest in Cohen in the pop mainstream. Cohen and Warnes’s duet of “Joan of Arc” and Warnes’s version of two newer songs — “First We Take Manhattan” and “Ain’t No Cure for Love” — were all popular tracks.

Columbia Records renewed their support of Cohen for his 1988 record, I’m Your Man. The album was another significant departure for Cohen, introducing a sophisticated electronic backdrop and featuring dark songs such as “Everybody Knows,” which referenced current events such as the rise of AIDS. Described by Rolling Stone as “an unabashedly contemporary record,” I’m Your Man was very positively received, with many calling it Cohen’s “comeback.” I’m Your Man was certified silver in the UK and topped the charts in Norway for 16 weeks. In a list of the 100 best albums of the 1980s, Pitchfork ranked I’m Your Man No. 51. In 1988, CBS Records awarded Cohen the Crystal Globe Award, given to artists who have sold more than five million albums overseas. Cohen also earned his first two Juno Award nominations in 1989: Canadian Entertainer of the Year and Male Vocalist of the Year.

Music Career, 1990s

In 1991, Cohen was inducted into the Canadian Music Hall of Fame and made an Officer of the Order of Canada, a title that would be elevated to Companion in 2003. In 1992, he released his ninth studio album, The Future,which includes the popular song “Closing Time.” Like I’m Your Man, The Future contained darker lyrical content that focused on the global unrest of the time. By 1993, The Future was certified double platinum in Canada for sales of more than 200,000 copies. That year Cohen received the Governor General’s Performing Arts Award and won two Juno Awards: Male Vocalist of the Year and Best Video for “Closing Time.” He was also nominated for Producer of the Year.

He also conducted extensive tours of Europe and North America in 1988 and 1993, which resulted in a new live album, Cohen Live: Leonard Cohen in Concert (1994). In 1994, Cohen was awarded a Juno for Songwriter of the Year, The Future was nominated for Album of the Year and the video for the title track was nominated for Best Video.

In 1997, Cohen released another greatest hits collection, More Best of Leonard Cohen. The album included songs from I’m Your Man, The Future and Cohen Live and two previously unreleased songs, “Never Any Good” and “The Great Event.”

Music Career, 2000s

In 2001, Cohen released his first studio album in nine years, Ten New Songs. The album was co-written and produced by musician Sharon Robinson. Described by Rolling Stone as “Cohen’s most exquisite ode yet to the midnight hour,” Ten New Songs peaked at No. 4 on Canada’s album chart and was certified platinum in Canada. At the 2002 Juno Awards, the song “In My Secret Life” was nominated for Best Video, Ten New Songs was nominated for Best Pop Album and Cohen was nominated for Best Songwriter and Best Artist.

Cohen released his eleventh studio album, Dear Heather, in 2004. Once again Cohen collaborated with Robinson, who co-produced the album and co-wrote and arranged many of the songs. Dear Heather peaked at No. 131 on the Billboard 200 chart, the highest position for an original Cohen album since Songs from a Room (1969).

Embezzled Funds and Subsequent Tours

After working together for seventeen years, Cohen fired longtime manager Kelley Lynch in 2004 after discrepancies in Cohen’s finances were brought to the attention of Cohen’s daughter, Lorca. It was later discovered that Lynch had embezzled over $5 million from Cohen’s personal accounts and investments, leaving him with insufficient funds for retirement. The following year, Cohen sued Lynch for fraud and breaches of contract; Cohen was granted $9 million by the Los Angeles County Superior Court, although according to reports it is unclear whether Lynch paid this sum in full. Despite a restraining order, in the following years Lynch harassed Cohen through emails and telephone calls. In 2012, Lynch was convicted of harassment and violating her restraining order and was sentenced to 18 months in jail (see also Leonard Cohen Goes Broke).

In 2007, Cohen, accompanied by Herbie Hancock, recited Joni Mitchell’s “The Jungle Line” for Hancock’s tribute album to Mitchell, River: The Joni Letters. The album went on to win Album of the Year and Best Contemporary Jazz Album of the Year at the 2008 Grammy Awards. Also in 2008, Cohen was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.

To replace the money embezzled by Lynch, Cohen embarked on numerous global tours between 2008 and 2013, performing a total of 387 concerts. His performances were documented for the live albums Live in London (2009) and Songs from the Road (2010). Live in London made the long list for the Polaris Music Prize in 2009.

Late-Career Albums

In 2012, Cohen released Old Ideas, his first album of new original songs in seven years. Described as “a work of genius” by the Telegraph, Old Ideas garnered widespread critical praise. It peaked at No. 3 on the Billboard 200 album chart, No. 1 on Canada’s album chart, and in the Top 10 on various album charts across Europe. Old Ideas was longlisted for the Polaris Music Prize in 2012. At the 2013 Junos, Cohen was nominated for the Juno Fan Choice Award, and won Artist of the Year and Songwriter of the Year.

Cohen released his thirteenth studio album, Popular Problems, in 2014. The album peaked at No. 1 on Billboard’s Canadian albums chart, No. 15 on the Billboard 200 chart, No. 1 on Billboard’s Folk Albums chart and No. 4 on the Billboard’s Top Rock Albums chart. Cohen earned 2015 Juno Award nominations for Artist of the Year, Juno Fan Choice Award and Adult Alternative Album of the Year. Popular Problems won the Juno for Album of the Year.

Leonard Cohen performs in Florence
Leonard Cohen performs in front of a big audience for his only Italian date of the tour: Florence, piazza Santa Croce on September 1, 2010.

Failing Health and Final Album

Following his extensive global tours, Cohen suffered from multiple fractures of the spine as well as other ailments, which restricted his mobility. As a result, his final studio album, You Want It Darker (2016), was recorded in his home in Los Angeles and was co-produced by his son Adam.

Released in October 2016, a month before Cohen’s death, You Want It Darker received universal acclaim. Pitchfork called it “a pristine, piously crafted last testament, the informed conclusion of a lifetime of inquiry.” The Guardian’s Alexis Petridis, in a five-star review, praised the album’s “orchestral arrangements of varying degrees of sumptuousness,” while noting that “the lyrics are as fascinating and conflicted as ever… Throughout, he sounds wise and honest, and – despite the occasional lyrical protestations of weariness – full of life.”

You Want It Darker debuted at No. 1 on the Canadian album charts and at No. 10 on the Billboard 200 chart. It was named one of the best albums of the year by numerous publications, including Rolling Stone, Mojo and Pitchfork. At the 2017 Juno Awards, You Want It Darker won Album of the Year and Cohen was posthumously named Artist of the Year. In January 2018, Cohen posthumously received a Grammy Award for Best Rock Performance for the title track.

Lyrically, You Want It Darker lives up to its title and largely focuses on death and God. In an interview with the New Yorker, Cohen stated about his deteriorating heath, “I am ready to die. I hope it’s not too uncomfortable. That’s about it for me.” A few days later, during a listening session of the new album at the Canadian consulate in Los Angeles, Cohen told the audience that he “was exaggerating” and added, “I intend to live forever.”


On 7 November 2016, Cohen died at the age of 82 in his sleep at his home in Los Angeles. Though Cohen had been battling cancer for some time, his manager later revealed that Cohen fell in the middle of the night and subsequently died in his sleep. Cohen was laid to rest with a Jewish rite and buried in a family plot at a cemetery on Mount Royal on 10 November – the day his death was publicly announced. At that time, tributes to Cohen poured in from around the world, including one from Prime Minister Justin Trudeau who tweeted, “No other artist’s music felt or sounded like Leonard Cohen’s. Yet his work resonated across generations. Canada and the world will miss him.”

Leonard Cohen performing at the HP Pavillion in San Jose, California, 13 November 2009.

Characteristic Style

Although Cohen’s poems were often about love, his imaginative vision in both his literary and musical work could also be dark and despairing. Cohen was always acutely aware of the Holocaust, and images of the Nazi genocide permeate and condition his writing. Poetry, religion, sex, death, beauty and power form interlocking patterns in his work, heightened by the sensuousness of his language and by his wild, black sense of humour.

Describing Cohen’s writing style, Rolling Stone’s Mikal Gilmore noted, “The work wasn't always dour. Cohen had a wry humour that made its way into conversation and into the way he sometimes juxtaposed his tombstone voice with arch music.” Canadian singer-songwriter Dan Mangan described Cohen as “a wordy writer” who “always allowed important pauses in the music that permitted you to reflect on what was just conveyed.”

Cohen’s distinctly rich baritone voice added even more profundity and emotion to his words. As it deepened with age, Cohen’s voice became a unique signifier and another source of intrigue for listeners. The New Yorker’s David Remnick described Cohen’s voice as a “fantastical growl, confiding, lordly” while CBC broadcaster Laurie Brown said: “As his voice grew lower, he started to sound like, it’s a cold and frigid Montreal morning and you’re trying to hear a truck start out on the road — he started to sound like that. That was sort of the quintessential Canadian voice.”

About Cohen’s songwriting style, Bob Dylan once noted: “When people talk about Leonard, they fail to mention his melodies, which to me, along with his lyrics, are his greatest genius. Even the counterpoint lines — they give a celestial character and melodic lift to every one of his songs. As far as I know, no one else comes close to this in modern music.”

Personal Life

Throughout his life, Cohen was romantically linked to numerous women, including Joni Mitchell, Janis Joplin, Nico and Anjani Thomas. In the 1960s, Cohen had a relationship with a Norwegian woman, Marianne Ihlen, whom he met when living in Hydra, Greece. The pair lived together at Cohen’s home for a number of years and Cohen helped care for her son. During that time, Ihlen became one of Cohen’s great muses and was the subject of his song “So Long, Marianne.” Upon learning that Ihlen was dying of leukaemia in 2016, Cohen wrote her a farewell letter, saying, “And you know that I’ve always loved you for your beauty and your wisdom, but I don’t need to say anything more about that because you know all about that.”

In the 1970s, Cohen was in a relationship with artist Suzanne Elrod until they separated in 1978. The couple had two children: Adam, born in 1972, and Lorca, born in 1974. Cohen also had two grandchildren: Adam’s son Cassius and Lorca’s daughter Viva, whose father is Rufus Wainwright.

In the 1980s, Cohen was in a relationship, personally and professionally, with French photographer Dominique Issermann. In the 1990s, he was linked to American actor Rebecca De Mornay, who co-produced Cohen’s album The Future.

Cohen retreated to live at the Zen Center on Mount Baldy, near Los Angeles in 1994. He was ordained as a Zen monk in 1996 and continued to live at the Buddhist monastery under the name Jikan (meaning “silence”) intermittently until early 1999.

Posthumous Projects

In September 2018, Adam Cohen published The Flame, a collection of his father’s lyrics and poems. As per Leonard’s instructions, The Flame is divided into three sections. The first contains 63 poems, some of them several decades old and already in print. The second section reprints the original lyrics (differing in some cases from the recorded versions) of the songs from Cohen’s final three albums. Also included are the lyrics to “Blue Alert,” a song by Cohen that was recorded in 2006 by Anjani Thomas, his former backup singer and romantic partner. The third section includes excerpts from more than 3,000 pages of Cohen’s personal notebooks written over the course of 60 years.

A documentary about Cohen’s relationship with Marianne Ihlen, Marrianne & Leonard: Words of Love, was released in 2019.  It was directed by acclaimed filmmaker Nick Broomfield, who also had a romantic relationship with Ihlen.

The Flame, a posthumous album of material left over from You Want it Darker, was set to be released by Sony Music on 22 November 2019. Produced and arranged by Adam Cohen, the album features contributions from Feist, Beck, Patrick Watson, Daniel Lanois and Arcade Fire’s Richard Reed Parry, among others.

Covers and Tributes

Cohen’s illustrious and extensive body of work has inspired generations of artists. As a result, his songs have been covered by countless musicians from around the world. Early in Cohen’s career, his music reached a broader audience when Judy Collins covered a number of his songs, most notably “Suzanne,” and when Nina Simone put her own spin on “Suzanne.” Some other well-regarded covers include: The Neville Brothers’ and Johnny Cash’s separate versions of “Bird on a Wire,” Roberta Flack’s “Hey, That’s No Way to Say Goodbye,” Lana Del Rey’s “Chelsea Hotel No. 2” and Tori Amos’s “Famous Blue Raincoat.” Cohen’s “Hallelujah” has also been covered extensively — some would say exhaustively — by artists from around the world, including Jeff Buckley, k.d. lang and Rufus Wainwright.

In addition to Warnes’s Famous Blue Raincoat, a number of other tribute albums have been released. In 1991, French music magazine Les Inrockuptibles produced I’m Your Fan: The Songs of Leonard Cohen, which features alternative artists such as R.E.M. and Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds. A few years later, A&M Records released Tower of Song: The Songs of Leonard Cohen (1995), which included such artists as Elton John, Billy Joel and Willie Nelson.

In 2005, a tribute concert was held at the Sydney Opera House, which featured performances by Kate & Anne McGarrigle, Rufus and Martha Wainwright, U2 and Jarvis Cocker. The concert was released later that year on DVD and CD entitled Leonard Cohen: I’m Your Man.

A few days after Cohen’s death, the Toronto collective Choir! Choir! Choir! organized a musical tribute in Toronto’s Christie Pits park, which was attended by thousands of people. In December 2016, a tribute concert took place in Montreal called God Is Alive, Magic is Afoot: A Montreal Tribute to Leonard Cohen. Performers included Basia Bulat, Li’l Andy and Thus Owls. Numerous other tribute concerts around the world were also organized following Cohen’s death.

Three years after his death, Canada Post issued a commemorative set of three stamps honouring Cohen. Four million of the stamps were printed and made available on 21 September 2019, which would have been Cohen's 85th birthday.

Legacy and Significance

Cohen is one of Canada’s most beloved poets and musicians. He is considered by many to be one of the greatest songwriters of all time. In 1967, the Toronto Star noted that Cohen was “probably the first Canadian poet of any age to achieve genuine fame abroad as well as at home.” In November 2016, Canadian Heritage minister Mélanie Joly spoke of Cohen on CBC Radio’s q: “He was one of our musical geniuses. He was in the line of great Canadian musical talents such as Glenn Gould, but just in a different sector of music and from a different era.”

The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame’s biography of Cohen states, “His music and words will resonate forever." In Rolling Stone magazine’s list of the 100 Greatest Songwriters, Cohen was ranked No. 16. In October 2016, Adam Cohen spoke to CBC Radio q host Tom Power of his father’s legacy, saying, “He’s the last of his kind. Unlike so many from that golden era, from which he comes, he’s not a nostalgic act. This guy is speaking from his particular rung in life — he will be leaving a giant void when he leaves us.”

Following his death, tributes from around the world poured in highlighting Cohen’s artistic legacy. Nick Cave tweeted, “For many of us Leonard Cohen was the greatest songwriter of them all. Utterly unique and impossible to imitate no matter how hard we tried.” Ron Sexsmith tweeted, “Devastating news... My life was forever changed by his music and words. He will never be forgotten.”

On Cohen’s legacy, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau released this statement: “Leonard Cohen is as relevant today as he was in the 1960s. His ability to conjure the vast array of human emotion made him one of the most influential and enduring musicians ever. His style transcended the vagaries of fashion.”

Leonard Cohen in Budapest
Leonard Cohen performs on stage at Sportarena on August 31, 2009 in Budapest, Hungary.


Cohen was inducted into the Canadian Folk Music Walk of Fame in 2005 and the Canadian Songwriters Hall of Fame in 2006. In 2008, he was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and named a Grand Officer of the National Order of Québec. On Cohen’s 75th birthday in 2009, the Chelsea Hotel in New York City dedicated a plaque to him, inscribed with a lyric from his 1974 song “Chelsea Hotel.”

In 2010, he was inducted into the US Songwriters Hall of Fame and granted the Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award. He was awarded the Prince of Asturias Award for Literature and the Glenn Gould Prize for lifetime achievement in the arts in 2011, and in 2012 he received a PEN New England Song Lyrics Award for Song Lyrics of Literary Excellence, and the Prix Denise-Pelletier.

See also: Leonard Cohen (Profile).


Juno Awards

  • Canadian Music Hall of Fame (1991)
  • Male Vocalist of the Year (1993)
  • Best Video (“Closing Time”) (1993)
  • Songwriter of the Year (1994)
  • Songwriter of the Year (2013)
  • Artist of the Year (2013)
  • Album of the Year (Popular Problems) (2015)
  • Album of the Year (You Want It Darker) (2017)
  • Artist of the Year (2017)


  • Québec Literary Competition Prize (The Favourite Game) (1964)
  • Honorary Doctor of Laws, Dalhousie University (1970)
  • Wm. Harold Moon Award, PROCAN (1984)
  • Best Original Song (“Angel Eyes”), Genie Awards (1986)
  • Officer, Order of Canada (1991)
  • Honorary Doctor of Laws, McGill University (1992)
  • Governor General’s Performing Arts Award (1993)
  • Queen Elizabeth II Golden Jubilee Medal (2002)
  • Companion, Order of Canada (2003)
  • Canadian Folk Music Walk of Fame (2005)
  • Canadian Songwriters Hall of Fame (2006)
  • Grand Officer, Ordre National du Québec (2008)
  • Rock and Roll Hall of Fame (2008)
  • Lifetime Achievement Award, Grammy Awards (2010)
  • US Songwriters Hall of Fame (2010)
  • Prince of Asturias Awards, Literature (2011)
  • Glenn Gould Prize (2011)
  • PEN New England Song Lyrics Award, Song Lyrics of Literary Excellence (2012)
  • Queen Elizabeth II Diamond Jubilee Medal (2012)
  • Prix Denise-Pelletier (2012)
  • Best Rock Performance (“You Want It Darker”), Grammy Awards (2018)  

Selected Works of
Leonard Cohen

Songs of Leonard Cohen