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10 things you need to know about Leonard Cohen

Jesse Kinos-Goodin

During a music career that spanned more than 40 years, Leonard Cohen was an inimitable presence: from his trademark, baritone growl to his elevated lyrics that unfolded with a little more meaning with each and every listen. Cohen’s brilliance inspired his contemporaries and the generations that followed in equal part, right up until the very end. Here are ten things you should know about this musical icon.

1. Cohen's first band was a country-western trio called the Buckskin Boys that he formed as a student at McGill University. He played acoustic guitar but soon switched to a classical after learning a few chords from a Spanish flamenco guitar player.

2. As a child, Cohen was a great hypnotist and practised on the family maid.

3. In 1970, Cohen single-handedly stopped a riot at the Isle of Wight Festival by simply speaking calmly and asking the crowd to light a single match while he performed. Riot thwarted.

4. Weeks before the Isle of Wight Festival, Cohen and his band arrived onstage at a French festival on horseback and were criticized for acting like rock stars.

5. While working on Death of a Ladies' Man in 1977, producer Phil Spector put a gun to Cohen's neck and told him he loved him. Cohen's reply: "I hope you do, Phil."

6. Cohen struggled for years with "Hallelujah," by far his most famous song. He wrote approximately 80 verses before editing it down and recording it for his 1984 album Various Positions.

7. CBS Records initially refused to release Various Positions, obviously not realizing that "Hallelujah" would become one of the greatest songs in pop culture.

8. At his son's urging, Cohen appeared on a 1986 episode of Miami Vice, playing Francois Zolan, a French secret service agent who was planning to illegally blow up Greenpeace boats.

9. Cohen regretted admitting that "Chelsea Hotel #2" was about his dalliance with the late Janis Joplin, saying in a 1994 interview with the BBC that it was "the sole indiscretion in my professional life.... Looking back I'm sorry I did because there are some lines in it that are extremely intimate."

10. Cohen was semi-retired and a practising monk at the Mt. Baldy Zen Centre outside Los Angeles, Calif., when he discovered his longtime manager, Kelley Lynch, had been draining him of his finances. His subsequent return to touring at 73 years old resulted in him earning more money than he actually lost.

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