Say the word “Margaritaville” to the legion of Jimmy Buffett's fans and they’re instantly transported into a world of joy, where sun, sand and perhaps one too many rum drinks are celebrated. It’s a state of mind — one carefully curated over decades by the man who created it.
Buffett, 76, died Sept. 1 “surrounded by his family, friends, music and dogs,” said a statement posted on his official website. “He lived his life like a song until the very last breath and will be missed beyond measure by so many.” The statement did not offer details of his death, although Buffett canceled concerts in May because of illness, and later posted on social media that he had been hospitalized.
Through a combination of catchy Caribbean-influenced songs, savvy business moves and the careful grooming of a wildly supportive audience, Buffett leveraged “Margaritaville” into an empire. It encompassed concert tours, satellite radio and digital content channels, books, restaurants, resorts and more, all celebrating the good-times beach vibes that Buffett represented to his fans. Forbes this year estimated his net worth at $1 billion.
The song that built Buffett’s brand was released in 1977. It is celebrated as a party anthem, but it is surprisingly melancholy. The first verse describes a beach bum’s paradise, with the singer sitting on his porch, playing his guitar while he boils shrimp. But it becomes a song of regret as it goes along, as he makes it clear he’s lost a woman he loves and is drinking to get past the pain. That didn’t stop his army of fans, lovingly known as “Parrot Heads,” from singing every word at the top of their lungs at his concerts and adding chants of “Salt!” between two of the lines.
Changes in Latitudes, Changes in Attitudes, the album that includes Buffett's one Top 10 hit, “Margaritaville,” featured more cuts flavored by Key West, Florida, and the Caribbean. The hits kept coming over the next few years, including the anthems “Cheeseburger in Paradise” and “Fins.”
Buffett’s concerts turned into beach parties, no matter if they were hundreds of miles from the nearest ocean. Even when his album and singles sales declined, Buffett was a popular and reliable live act, especially on summer tours when fans would celebrate with elaborate (and often alcohol-infused) tailgate parties.
After the music success came the business empire. Many musicians have launched restaurants and nightclubs to limited or temporary success, but Buffett’s grew over decades. He launched a store in Key West in 1985, followed soon by restaurants in tourist and beach locales. That eventually led to Margaritaville Holdings, the umbrella company that also includes interests in alcohol, lodging and brand licensing. Buffet even developed a retirement village, Latitude Margaritaville, in Daytona Beach, Florida, that played off the Buffet vibe — a younger, hipper place to retire. “They’re going to have to drag me off that stage or out of the cockpit,” he told AARP in 2021. “I want to be the poster child for the person who could retire but doesn’t.”