East Coast folk legend Ron Hynes dead at 64
ST. JOHN'S, N.L. -- Acclaimed singer-songwriter Ron Hynes, Newfoundland and Labrador's "man of a thousand songs," died Thursday after a brief battle with cancer.
His family says he died shortly after 6 p.m. while receiving treatment at the Health Sciences Centre in St. John's. He was 64 years old.
Hynes long referred to himself as the "man of a thousand songs," a moniker he coined in an endearing folk song that speaks of the lonely, shabby side of being a singer.
But he is perhaps best known for his song "Sonny's Dream," a lament about a mother worrying about losing her son to the sea. The song, written in 1976, has been covered by other artists so many times that it has become a late-night anthem in many corners of the globe.
In St. John's, many friends and fans took to social media to recount stories of the sometimes gruff and mischievous performer, some of them saying it was fitting that the city was plunged into darkness by a power failure as news broke about his death.
"The lights went out downtown," tweeted comedian Mark Critch, a fellow Newfoundlander. "St. John's is dark tonight and so it should be."
Singer-songwriter Alan Doyle described Hynes online as his "musical hero" and "The greatest songwriter I ever met." Comedian Rick Mercer, another Newfoundlander, described Hynes as the "poet laureate of Newfoundland and Labrador."
Newfoundland filmmaker Mary Sexton recalled how her camera developed a problem when she was filming a documentary about Hynes as he toured through Ireland, where "Sonny's Dream" is widely thought to be an Irish classic.
"I brought the footage home, sent the film to the lab and found out we had a camera leak and all of the band and Ron had halos around them," she said in an email. "I do believe in fairies ever since ... Mostly I remember his talent, his songwriting and he always had a smile and a hug for me."
In a 2007 interview, Hynes said an addiction to drugs had almost killed him four years earlier.
"Once you're addicted, you're addicted for life," he said at the time. "It's not like you have a cold for a weekend and then Monday morning you're feeling a whole lot better and all those germs are gone."
Hynes often confronted his demons in song. Even in "Man of a Thousand Songs," the jagged, dark side of his life comes out in the lyrics.
"He got a friend in the backstage alley, got just the thing to make the night move along," Hynes would sing, a well-worn fedora always part of the act.
Hynes is also famous in his home province for a moving tribute he wrote for the 84 men killed in 1982 when the offshore drill rig Ocean Ranger capsized in a violent storm off Newfoundland.
The haunting lyrics of "Atlantic Blue" capture a profound sense of loss that endures in Newfoundland to this day: "What colour is a heartache from a love lost at sea? What shade of memory never fades but lingers to eternity? And how dark is the light of day that sleepless eyes of mine survey? Is that you, Atlantic Blue? My heart is as cold as you."
Born in St. John's and raised in Ferryland, Hynes was founding member of The Wonderful Grand Band and later released seven solo albums. He won several East Coast Music Awards and was a Juno and Canadian Country Music Awards nominee.
Hynes was diagnosed with throat cancer in 2012, but he kept the disease at bay until this fall when he confirmed it had returned, this time to his hip and lung. He was rushed to hospital earlier this week.
-- By Michael MacDonald in Halifax