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BREAKING: Canadian icon Gordon Lightfoot has died

'He will surely be missed by the Mariposa Folk Festival, by his beloved fans, by Orillia and the world,' said Mariposa Folk Festival official
Gordon Lightfoot sings one of his iconic songs at the Mariposa Folk Festival on the closing night of the 2022 festival.

Gordon Lightfoot, Orillia's favourite son, a world-renowned singer/songwriter and folk legend, has died.

His publicist announced Monday night that Lightfoot had passed away at a Toronto hospital at 7:30 p.m. He died of natural causes. He was 84.

"I'm shocked," Pam Carter, president of the Mariposa Folk Foundation that is behind the hugely successful Mariposa Folk Festival, said Monday night.

Lightfoot's name was synonymous with the "grand old dame" of folk festivals. When it returned to Orillia in 2000, Lightfoot was the headliner and he performed for free.

"I think that speaks to his generosity and his humility and his love for Orillia," said Carter.

In the years since the festival returned to Tudhope Park, Lightfoot was ever-present and often took the stage. Last summer, he was inducted into the Mariposa Folk Festival Hall of Fame.

He was moved to tears during the tribute performed by Tom Wilson, Blue Rodeo and the Good Brothers.

"That meant a lot to him," said Carter. "I was in the golf cart with him to take him to the green room after and he was just so moved. He had a kind word for everyone and signed autographs. It was really beautiful."

Tom Wilson told OrilliaMatters following the induction ceremony at Tudhope Park that Gordon Lightfoot had a huge impact on the festival and the music industry.

“There’s been a lot of great artists that we have seen on this stage that impact us in so many ways, people that have opened up the doors of possibilities, but Gordon Lightfoot lives in our blood, he’s the soundtrack to some of our greatest and most beautiful memories as well as some of our biggest disasters and has comforted us in those times," Wilson explained.

"He lives in our blood, he’s a part of us and that’s what unites us a community here at Mariposa.”

Artists from far and wide joined in the tribute as video messages were played for Lightfoot and the audience, including heart-felt tributes from Julian Taylor, Sarah McLachlan, Ron Sexsmith, Judy Collins, Steve Earle, Don Mclean, and Andy Kim.

Carter said the death of the Canadian icon is a huge loss.

"He will surely be missed by the Mariposa Folk Festival, by his beloved fans, by Orillia and the world," said Carter.

A few weeks ago, Lightfoot cancelled his 2023 concert dates.

"The singer is currently experiencing some health-related issues and is unable to confirm rescheduled dates at this time," said a brief statement issued that day by Lightfoot on his Facebook Page.

Lightfoot was born on Nov. 17, 1938 in Orillia and is often referred to as Canada's best songwriter.

As a youth, Lightfoot sang in the choir of Orillia's St. Paul's United Church. The boy soprano performed periodically on local Orillia radio stations, performed in local operettas and oratorios, and gained exposure through various Kiwanis music festivals.

Lightfoot has never stopped performing since, with the exception of a health scare in September of 2002. In between sold-out concerts at the Orillia Opera House, Lightfoot suffered severe stomach pain and was airlifted to McMaster Medical Centre in Hamilton.

He underwent emergency surgery for a ruptured abdominal aneurysm and stayed in the ICU for several weeks. He was in a coma for six weeks and required four surgical operations.

Two months later, he was released and continued his recovery at home. All his 2002 concert dates were cancelled.

However, he made a full recovery and returned to live performances.

More recently, in 2021, he had a fall at his home that resulted in a fractured wrist.