Warren Zevon, who died on this date in 2003 at the far-too-premature age of 56, was a singer, a songwriter and one of the great under-appreciated talents in modern America. But he could also be, as his friends, family and lovers will quickly tell you, a pain in the ass. He was at times intimidating, self-destructive, aloof. “He had tons of charisma, but when he didn’t want people coming up to him, he had charisma in reverse,” his ex-wife Crystal Zevon remembers.
Zevon was born in Chicago, Illinois, the son of Beverly Cope and William Zevon. His father was a Jewish immigrant from Russia, whose original surname was Zivotovsky. William Zevon worked as a bookie who handled volume bets and dice games for the notorious Los Angeles mobster Mickey Cohen. He worked for years in the Cohen crime family, in which he was known as Stumpy Zevon, and was best man at Cohen’s first wedding. Warren’s mother was from a Mormon family and was of English descent. They moved to Fresno, California. By the age of 13, Zevon was an occasional visitor to the home of Igor Stravinsky, where he briefly studied modern classical music alongside Robert Craft. Zevon’s parents divorced when he was 16 years old. He soon quit high school and moved from Los Angeles to New York City to become a folk singer.[Wikipedia]
Zevon’s work has often been praised by well known musicians, including Jackson Browne, Bruce Springsteen, Bob Dylan, and Neil Young. His best-known compositions include “Werewolves of London”, “Lawyers, Guns and Money”, “Roland the Headless Thompson Gunner” and “Johnny Strikes Up the Band”, all of which are featured on his third album, Excitable Boy. Other well-known songs written by Zevon have been recorded by other artists, including “Poor Poor Pitiful Me”, “Accidentally Like a Martyr”, “Mohammed’s Radio”, “Carmelita”, and “Hasten Down the Wind”.
In September 1975, Zevon was living in Los Angeles, where he roomed with then-unknown Stevie Nicks and Lindsey Buckingham. There, he collaborated with Jackson Browne, who in 1976 produced and promoted Zevon’s self-titled major-label debut. Contributors to this album included Nicks, Buckingham, Mick Fleetwood, John McVie, members of the Eagles, Carl Wilson, Linda Ronstadt, and Bonnie Raitt.
Over more than twenty years, Zevon was a regular guest on the David Letterman show, where despite his worsening health he remained sardonically humorous in this clip from his last appearance.
Warren Zevon died on September 7, 2003, aged 56, at his home in Los Angeles. His body was cremated and his ashes were scattered into the Pacific Ocean near Los Angeles.