by Yahoo Canada News, January 17, 2003
OTTAWA (Reuters) - Leonard Cohen, the smokey-voiced singer, songwriter, poet, novelist and Zen monk whose songs have been recorded by the music industry's elite, was awarded Canada's highest civilian honor on Friday for achievement in the arts and pop culture.
Governor General Adrienne Clarkson, Canada's ceremonial head of state, promoted Montreal-born Cohen to Companion of the Order of Canada, which recognizes outstanding work in various fields of endeavor.
Cohen, 68, joins such other companions of the order as film director Norman Jewison, jazz piano great Oscar Peterson, actor Christopher Plummer and former Prime Ministers Joe Clark and Brian Mulroney. He been an officer of the order, the second-highest of three tiers of membership, since 1991.
Known for such songs as "Suzanne," "Tower of Song" and "First We Take Manhattan," his musical and written work has explored longing, loss, sexual desire and what he once called the search for "a kind of balance in the chaos of existence."
"He has the distinction of creating a body of work that has remained contemporary and significant through three decades of shifting musical and aesthetic tastes," said a statement from Clarkson's office which described him as "a venerated dean of the pop culture movement."
Cohen, who lives in Los Angeles, was out of the country traveling and writing on Friday and was not available for comment, his management firm said.
He published his first book of poems in 1956 while involved in the underground literary scene as a student at McGill University in Montreal.
After briefly studying at New York's Columbia University, Cohen moved to the Greek Island of Hydra for seven years, writing poetry and two novels, "The Favorite Game" in 1963 and Beautiful Losers" in 1966.
Returning to the United States, he gained fame as a songwriter when folksinger Judy Collins recorded "Suzanne" and "Dress Rehearsal Rag." In 1967, Cohen performed at the Newport Folk Festival, where he was discovered by legendary Columbia Records talent scout John Hammond.
Since then he has recorded several albums, but it was not until 1986, when longtime collaborator Jennifer Warnes released the collection of Cohen songs "Famous Blue Raincoat" that he won mass appeal. He subsequently released the popular records "I'm Your Man" and "The Future," featuring his deep-bass, almost-talking vocals.
Artists as varied as Elton John, Sting, Willie Nelson and the band REM are among those who have recorded Cohen's tunes.
Starting in the mid-1990s, he spend nearly five years meditating at a Zen retreat on Mt. Baldy in southern California, where he was ordained as a monk and given the Dharma name Jikan, or Silent One.
Among others honored on Friday, Donald Carty, chief executive of American Airlines, and David Cronenberg, director of such horror films as "The Fly" and "Dead Ringers", were named Officers of the Order of Canada.