Leonard Cohen Was Smoking On Guitar – New York Recording Studio (Mid-1980s)

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“[My voice is the result of] about 500 tons of whiskey and millions of cigarettes.”1

Leonard Cohen

From the materials on the chair beside Leonard, including a lighter, a well-used ash tray, and two packs of cigarettes (different brands: Vantage & Marlboro), it appears he was hard at work on those “millions of cigarettes” in this session.

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More information about Leonard Cohen’s smoking is available at From The Smokey Life To Anti-smoking Ad Soundtrack.


  1. Quotation from Leonard Cohen’s ‘Book of Longing’ interview. Fresh Air on NPR: May 22, 2006 []

Leonard Cohen Announces “I intend to go back to [smoking] shortly” – In 1974

You know why I really stopped smoking? I had a rival – not a rival for anyone’s hand or anyone’s love. It was just someone who saw me in a comparative way and forced me to look at him that way. And he didn’t smoke. And I said to myself, ‘If he can do it, then you can do it.’ But I think it’s [smoking is] wonderful… I love the smell of it – the associations of the stylistic possibilities. I intend to go back to it shortly.quotedown2

Leonard Cohen

Leonard Cohen & Smoking

Smoking was a long term issue with Leonard Cohen. The above excerpt from Leonard Cohen Looks at Himself by Danny Field (Soho Weekly News, Vol. 1, #9. Dec 5, 1974) is only the latest addition to Cohencentric’s category. Current fans may be familiar with Leonard’s more recent version of the “go[ing] back to smoking” declaration: his “start smoking again at 80” stage shtick, which itself led to the below photo and its caption, “Leonard Cohen enjoying his first (and last) cigarette on the occasion of his 80th birthday,” from the booklet accompanying the Leonard Cohen Can’t Forget album.

"Leonard Cohen enjoying his first (and last) cigarette on the occasion of his 80th birthday" from the Can't Forget album booklet

And there’s more. For example, Everybody Knows, a Leonard Cohen song1 delivered in his famously deep, raspy voice, the final result, as Cohen himself puts it, of “about 500 tons of whiskey and millions of cigarettes,” was chosen as the music for a major anti-smoking ad. Cigarettes, once an obligatory accoutrement for Cohen, were apparently vanquished in 2003 when he quit smoking on doctor’s advice.2 And, of course, several records feature cover art with Leonard smoking.


  1. Authorship of Everybody Knows, first released in 1988 on Cohen’s I’m Your Man album, is co-credited to Leonard Cohen and Sharon Robinson []
  2. He Has Tried in His Way to Be Free by Sarah Hampson. Shambhala Sun: Nov 2007 []

Now In English: Leonard Cohen takes up smoking again at 80 – ¿Es posible morir viejo y dejar un cadáver feliz? [Is it possible to die old and leave a happy corpse?]


Note: During the 2012 Tour, Leonard Cohen instituted the “start smoking again at 80” stage shtick, based on the premise that he was waiting for his  80th birthday to take up smoking again. This routine culminated in the above photo from the Can’t Forget album booklet, captioned “Leonard Cohen enjoying his first (and last) cigarette on the occasion of his 80th birthday.”  The “start smoking again at 80” performances led not only to appreciative laughter from concert audiences but also to concerns from fans about the potential impact on Mr Cohen’s personal health and  observations on the purported plan as a sociological phenomenon by various pundits, columnists, healthcare professionals … . The article below is a prime example of the sociological phenomenon species.

¿Es posible morir viejo y dejar un cadáver feliz? [Is it possible to die old and leave a happy corpse?] by Carmen Mañana (El Pais: Oct 6, 2014)
Translated by Helen Ketcham

Is It Possible To Die Old And Leave A Happy Corpse?

Leonard Cohen has taken up smoking again at 80. When is it time to stop sacrificing for the future and enjoy the present?

Someone starting to smoke again is a long way from what could be considered news. For Leonard Cohen to do so would be at best, a curiosity in a trivia game about his life. But the matter starts to gain depth if it is a scheduled relapse and if the subject, in this case the Canadian composer, decides to surrender to nicotine to celebrate his 80th birthday. The most cynical will say – we will say– that the gesture is perfectly summed up by the Spanish proverb that begins with the prophetic “As much time as I have left in the convent …’ * But when life expectancy continues to grow as it does in Western society– in Spain it now stands at almost 83 years– and medicine focuses increasingly on preventing future ills rather than curing disease, the question about when it’s time to stop sacrificing for the future and start enjoying the present moment seems at least worthy of being raised. After reaching a certain age, is it worth savoring the forbidden pleasures—smoking, drinking, eating fat—even if that might steal a few years from us?, Is it worth it to us to live happier rather than to live longer? Perhaps one is still too young at 80 to stop worrying about the behaviors that can be harmful to one’s health? Especially considering that improving the quality of life allows many, like the singer, to stay active and motivated.

Cohen stopped smoking at 74 and drinking at 75. In an interview in 2008 he said he had just lost the “taste” for both pastimes, which had formed a distinctive part of his personality. He himself used to explain that his unmistakable voice was the result “of about 500 tons of whiskey and millions of cigarettes.” However, last year, during a concert in Birmingham, he announced that he planned to return to tobacco when he reached 80. And he has followed through. “I hope to tour a little more, but you are not going to be so happy when you know why. You see, I want to start smoking next year when I’m 80. I think that’s the right age to restart,” he explained on the English stage.

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Unpublished Leonard Cohen Photo Taken Oct 20, 1978 By David Boswell – Vancouver

Note that this photo meets criteria for The Once Smokey Life of Leonard Cohen category, subgenus The Cigarette Holder Phase.

Other photos of Leonard Cohen by David Boswell:

A Non-Tobacco Possibility About Leonard Cohen’s Cigarette On The You Want It Darker Cover


The Cigarette (on the) Cover Story

The cigarette held by Leonard Cohen on the cover of his new album, You Want It Darker, has drawn a surprising amount of interest, including comments by the album’s producer, Adam Cohen, and by Leonard Cohen himself, and has become the latest chapter in the complex and captivating story of Leonard’s tobacco use.1  You Want It Darker Isn’t Leonard Cohen’s First Smoking Album Cover summarizes the speculations about that cigarette on the cover. But, it turns out that tobacco isn’t necessarily involved.


We [My father, Leonard Cohen, and I] would listen to a song on repeat like teenagers, with the help of medical marijuana, for sometimes hours.quotedown2

Adam Cohen


So, was Leonard burning some rope when that photo was taken? Does “You Want It Darker” refer to his preferences in medical marijuana strains? Is a cover of Brewer & Shipley’s One Toke Over The Line in the offing? Well, probably not, but the idea does make for a Saturday morning sort of divertissement.

More importantly, Adam’s heartwarming and intimate account of working with his father on the new album can be heard in its entirety below:

More Information About You Want It Darker

Information about You Want It Darker by Leonard Cohen is collected and updated at Info & Updates: Leonard Cohen’s You Want It Darker


  1. See related posts at []

No-Smoking Alternative Album Covers For Leonard Cohen’s You Want It Darker

You Want It Darker – Original Cover

Since the first announcement of Leonard Cohen’s new album, You Want It Darker, there has been discussion about the cover art showing Leonard holding a cigarette. Even the album’s producer, Adam Cohen has weighed in, as has his dad, Leonard Cohen.

Now, Cohencentric offers, in addition to the already posted You Want It Healthier version, two more You Want It Darker alternative album covers.

First, for those who simply reject smoking altogether, there is Cohencentric’s now you see a cigarette, now you don’t model:

You Want It Darker
But Not So Smoky


You Want It Darker no-smoking album cover

And, for those who prefer a more affirmative, stop-smoking approach approach, Cohencentric, in conjunction with the Nicotine Patch Manufacturers Alliance, is proud to open this treatment’s product placement campaign with a specialty cover of Mr Cohen’s album.

You Want It Darker
But Not So Smoky
And Covered By National Health Insurance


You Want It Darker nicotine patch album cover

You Want It Darker Nicotine Patch Album Cover Close-up View



You Want It Darker nicotine patch album cover close-up