Singer-songwriter Leon Redbone, who specialized in music of the old school vaudeville and the Tin Pan Alley style, died on Thursday, confirmed his family. He was sixty-nine. Although the official statement announcing his death gave his age as 127 in a characteristically whimsical fashion.
“I’ve heard he’s from 25 to 60,” Bob Dylan told Rolling Stone in 1974, “and I can’t tell you, but you’ve got to see him.” That same year, when Rolling Stone was asked him about his age, Redbone replied, “Of course I don’t know. It’s just something I can’t tell you for sure.”
In 2015, Redbone had officially retired with a representative then citing unspecified health concerns that had “been an issue of concern for some time” as the reason why he was unable to continue performing or recording.
Ironically, “Please Don’t Talk About Me When I’m Gone” was one of Redbone’s most popular concert pieces, a number that incorporated whistling solos that further ensured that Redbone would be discussed in his absence. That song title, dating back to 1930, has been adopted as the name of a Redbone documentary that premiered at festivals in 2018 but hasn’t been released widely yet.
According to the Billboard charts, his commercial success peaked in 1977 when the Double Time album reached the top 50, helped in part by two performances during the debut season of Saturday Night Live. However, Redbone remained a cultural presence for decades, singing Mr. Belvedere’s sitcom theme song and appearing in 2003 as “Leon the Snowman” in the now-classic Christmas movie Elf.
When asked in 1984 whether he enjoyed his performances, Redbone responded with a wink: “I never have a good time … but I try.”