Leonard Cohen is one of the most talented artists in the world. Though most well known for his music, Cohen is also a highly regarded poet and novelist. He’s held in such great esteem that the Canadian government inducted him into the Order of Canada (CC) and the National Order of Quebec (GOQ).
Cohen was born in Montreal, Canada to a middle-class Jewish family. His father died when he was nine years old and as a teenager, he learned to play the guitar. This led him to forming a country-folk group called Buckskin Boys. He was able to pursue a literary career because his father had left a trust for him.
In 1951, he enrolled in college and his first book of poetry, Let Us Compare Mythologies, was published in 1956. His next was published in 1961. After completing his undergraduate degree, he spent a year at law school and then at Columbia. He released several more poetry collections in the following years until 1966.
In 1967, Cohen moved to the US and began pursuing a music career. His first album, Songs of Leonard Cohen (1967) was too dark for mainstream even though it was critically praised. However, it made him a cult name in the UK. By 1974, Cohen released four more albums (Songs from a Room, Songs of Love and Hate, Live Songs and New Skin for the Old Ceremony). One of his songs was even used in the film McCabe & Mrs. Miller.
In 1974, Cohen began collaborating with John Lissauer and began touring with Jennifer Warnes, both of whom would become important fixtures in his career. In 1977, he tried a new sound when he released Death of a Lady’s Man, but he didn’t like the sound and soon returned to his traditional sound for 1979’s Recent Songs. The 1980s brought Various Positions which featured the hits Dance Me to the End of Love and Hallelujah. Due to his fading popularity in the US, the album was never released there. Commercially, Cohen was always more successful in the UK and Canada. 1986, he restored his US popularity when he released I’m Your Man, which was his most acclaimed since Songs of Leonard Cohen.
Through the 1990s, many of his songs were featured in movies. In 1994, he retreated to the Mt. Baldy Zen Center in LA where he was eventually ordained as a Buddhist monk, spending five years of seclusion there. He left in 1999. In 2001, he released Ten New Songs and in 2004, he released Dear Heather. In 2006, he released Blue Alert and his novel Book of Longing.
In 2008, he announced a concert tour, which sold out rapidly. Cohen has two children with artist Suzanne Elrod: a son Adam, born in 1972, and a daughter Lorca, born in 1974. In 2008, he was made a Grand Officer of the National Order of Quebec.