Iconic singer and songwriter Leonard Cohen died last night at the age of 82, the cause still not publicly stated. "It is with profound sorrow we report that legendary poet, songwriter and artist Leonard Cohen has passed away," a message on his Facebook page read. "We have lost one of music’s most revered and prolific visionaries."
Cohen's career was indeed prolific, spanning about half a century. Even as he reached his 80s, Cohen still performed live — partially because he needed the cash after he learned that his manager had embezzled millions from him in 2005, but also because he liked it.
His passion for his craft was evident the last time he visited Miami in 2013, at the age of 78. "Yet in spite of 'struggl[ing] out of bed,' Cohen slips so spritely around the stage," we said of his performance at the James L. Knight Center. "And he performs for hours. There is an intermission. A second act to the show. And three encores. The old songman moves promiscuously from instrument to instrument too. He caresses the microphone with both hands, singing or whispering spiritual, sarcastic, and occasionally explicit lyrics. He fondles the guitar. He twangs the Jew's harp. He even fingers the electronic keyboard a bit."
Cohen's career was often unpredictable. He underwent wave after wave of spiritual and musical reinvention (he famously wrote somewhere around 80 verses for his most famous track, "Hallelujah," before settling on the final version) and eventually found a musical voice somewhere between wondering poet and angelic garbage disposal. In any given year, there was no safe assumption of what Leonard Cohen was working on next.
So when he randomly showed up in an episode of Miami Vice in 1986, it really shouldn't have come as a shock.
The episode was called "French Twist" and featured Cohen as a French member of Interpol. In the episode, Cohen speaks only French, acting as sullen behind-the-scenes commander who orders the death of a rogue agent gone bad.
Cohen's cameo is very brief — he's in the show for a minute and a half, tops — and his only two conversations in the 45-minute episode happen over the phone. He also, sadly, wears a plain black jacket instead of a pastel blazer and white pants.
There was a reason why his scenes were so short, Cohen said in a 1991 interview with Q Magazine, which has since been reprinted on Leonard Cohen fan sites. He explained that his role on the show came about at the urging of his son, who had been a big fan of the series. He also explains why that role was so small.
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"In truth, I had a much bigger part. I went down there and did my first scene and the assistant director rang me up and said, 'You were really great, truly wonderful.' And I said, 'OK, thanks a lot.' Then the casting director from New York called me up and said, 'You were fantastic, truly wonderful!' And I said, 'You mean I'm fired.' And he said, 'Yeah, we're cutting all your other scenes and giving them to another guy.'"
Cohen's two scenes have been scrubbed from YouTube thanks to copyright law, but the full episode is available to anyone with a Hulu account.
It's a relevant reminder of an artist who was never afraid to try anything. We're thankful you were a better musician than you were an actor, Leonard. Rest in peace.