Leon Redbone death: Singer-songwriter and early musical guest on Saturday Night Live dies, aged 69

Musician earned praise from Bob Dylan early on

Clémence Michallon
New York
Thursday 30 May 2019 18:32
Leon Redbone, who died on Thursday, 30 May, at the Capital Jazz Festival in London, in 1979.
Leon Redbone, who died on Thursday, 30 May, at the Capital Jazz Festival in London, in 1979.

Musician Leon Redbone, who caught Bob Dylan’s attention in the Seventies and was an early musical guest on Saturday Night Live, has died at the age of 69.

An announcement on his website says he died early in the morning on Thursday, 30 May – and whimsically claims that Redbone was 127 at the time of his death.

Born in August 1949 in Cyprus, Redbone first stepped into the limelight in the Seventies, after Bob Dylan praised his work in an interview with Rolling Stone.

Dylan had been so impressed with Redbone’s work that he told the magazine he would sign him on as his first client, should he ever start his own music label.

“Leon interests me,” he told the publication. “I’ve heard he’s anywhere from 25 to 60, I’ve been this close [he held his hands a foot and a half from each other] and I can’t tell. But you gotta see him. He does old Jimmie Rodgers, then turns around and does a Robert Johnson.”

Redbone made his Saturday Night Live debut in 1976, and ended up appearing twice as a musical guest during the show’s first season.

Having already played at various folk festivals, Redbone also made a name for himself in the world of talk shows, becoming a recurring guest on The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Carson.

The musician went on to voice Leon the Snowman in the 2003 film Elf, and dueted with Zooey Deschanel to sing “Baby It’s Cold Outside” on the movie’s soundtrack.

Over four decades, Redbone released more than 15 albums. He was the subject of a 2018 documentary titled “Please Don’t Talk About Me When I’m Gone”, after one of his most popular songs.

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Redbone had announced his retirement in 2015. His official death announcement, written with a touch of his trademark humour, reads: “It is with heavy hearts we announce that early this morning, May 30th, 2019, Leon Redbone crossed the delta for that beautiful shore at the age of 127.

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“He departed our world with his guitar, his trusty companion Rover, and a simple tip of his hat. He’s interested to see what Blind Blake, Emmett, and Jelly Roll have been up to in his absence, and has plans for a rousing sing-along number with Sári Barabás.

“An eternity of pouring through texts in the Library of Ashurbanipal will be a welcome repose, perhaps followed by a shot or two of whiskey with Lee Morse, and some long overdue discussions with his favorite Uncle, Suppiluliuma I of the Hittites.

“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.’”

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