Jimmy Buffett dies at 76: What you should know about his type of skin cancer

By Stephanie Srakocic | Fact-checked by MDLinx staff
Published September 6, 2023

Key Takeaways

  • Jimmy Buffett was 76 when he passed away on Friday after a four-year battle with Merkel cell carcinoma

  • Merkel cell carcinoma is aggressive and 40 times rarer than melanoma

Singer Jimmy Buffett passed away on Friday, September 1, 2023, after a four-year battle with Merkel cell skin cancer. Buffett, 76, died at his home in Sag Harbor, New York. A statement released on his website says the singer died peacefully, surrounded by family, friends, and his dogs. Buffett was married to his second wife, Jane, and had three children: Sarah, Savannah, and Cameron.[]

Buffett had previously rescheduled concert dates set for this coming spring, citing unspecified health concerns. According to the statement on his website, Buffet’s most recent performance was a surprise appearance in Rhode Island in early July. It was one of many performances and appearances Buffett gave after his cancer diagnosis.[]

Merkel cell carcinoma is about 40 times rarer than melanoma. The Skin Cancer Foundation reports that around 3,000 people are diagnosed with this cancer each year.[]

There’s no known cause for Merkel cell carcinoma, but several risk factors are linked to its development. Most of these risk factors apply to Buffett. Merkel cell carcinoma is most common in fair-skinned men over 65. Like all skin cancers, sun exposure increases the risk.[] 

It’s also believed that a weakened immune system is involved in developing Merkel cell cancer. The cancer is linked to Merkel cell polyomavirus, but Merkel cell polyomavirus is very common. Most people with it do not ever develop Merkel cell carcinoma, making it likely that other risk factors are needed.

Merkel cell carcinoma is aggressive. Although it can be successfully treated when caught early, it quickly spreads beyond the skin into nearby lymph nodes. The most recently calculated five-year survival rate is 65%.[]

Jimmy Buffett was born in Mississippi and raised in Alabama. He spent most of his adult life in the Florida Keys and is known for his laid-back beach lifestyle-influenced music. His first single was released in 1970. Throughout the early and mid-70s, Buffett found success on the country music chart. In 1977, he broke onto the pop charts with his most iconic song, “Margaritaville.” The song was a top ten hit, reaching the number 8 spot at its peak.[] 

“Margaritaville,” also became key to Buffett’s brand. Although “Margaritaville” was Buffett’s only solo top 10 hit, he had a dedicated fan base, sold-out concerts, and a massive business empire. In 1987, he opened a “Margaritaville” retail store as well as the first Margaritaville cafe in Key West, Florida. Over the next three decades, Buffett expanded the “Margaritaville” concept to include hotels, cruises, casinos, vacation clubs, shoes, shirts, and a line of tequila.[] 

Buffet’s music career spanned 50 years. He released 4 platinum studio albums and 8 studio gold albums. Buffett’s two compilation albums, released in 1985 and 1992, sold over 3 million copies. In recent years, Buffett joined major country music stars to record number 1 hits such as 2003’s “It’s Five O'clock Somewhere” with Alan Jackson and 2011’s “Knee Deep” with the Zac Brown Band. Buffett also penned several New York Times bestselling books, composed soundtracks, wrote a musical, and made cameo appearances in film and television. In the days since his death was announced, tributes from fans of all ages, along with celebrities, athletes, and politicians, have been written about the singer, with many noting his generosity, positive attitude, and talent.[][] 

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