Rufus Wainwright opens up about his relationship with ‘untouchable’ Leonard Cohen

'It really feels like someone superhuman has gone'

Rufus Wainwright has shared another long and heartfelt tribute to Leonard Cohen – describing him as ‘untouchable’ and ‘superhuman’.

Wainwright had a close relationship with Cohen, who was the grandfather of his daughter Viva after he had the child with Cohen’s daughter Lorca, and is now raising with his husband Jörn Weisbrodt. Releasing famed covers of Cohen classics ‘Hallelujah’ and ‘Chelsea Hotel No.2’, Wainwright has long been an admirer of his songwriting.

Now, he’s written a loving tribute and obituary to Cohen for The Guardian.


“It wasn’t until I moved to LA at 18, and met his daughter, Lorca that I got to know him,” says Wainwright of their friendship. “Also, it wasn’t until my late 20s that I started really listening to his songs after being asked to sing ‘Hallelujah’ for the Shrek soundtrack. Then I started really digging in, and realised how untouchable he was.”

Speaking of Cohen’s personality, Wainwright continued: “I loved his humour. He’d say funny things like, “Jesus said it’s more important what comes out of your mouth than what goes in it.” He was very disarming when he met people too. He’d hold their hands, and instead of saying “Hello” or “How are you?” he’d say, with a smile, “You’re never going to get us.” That’s playful, of course, but also mixed with real edge. Once I remember him getting really mad at a contractor who’d made a terrible mistake with a toilet or something – it was incredible to watch this poetic human who could write perfectly about the moonlight choosing his words perfectly to win an argument.

“I also bought him a Japanese print once for his apartment, and he stood there with his hand on it, motionless, staring for about two minutes. I was all, God, has he had a stroke or something? But he came out of it like he’d been in a trance. He’d also do odd things all the time.”

Opening up about their close family ties, Wainwright said: “He was a very happy grandfather. I remember one day when we were all just sitting there quietly, watching Viva play. He was smiling so much. He was always very sweet to me as Viva’s father. He’d introduce me to people by saying: “This is Rufus, he’s a member of my family”.”

Leonard Cohen, Canadian poet and singer-songwriter, plays some of his songs in a small recording studio, lower Manhattan, New York, mid 1980s. (Photo by Oliver Morris/Getty Images)
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Concluding, Wainwright added: “I think it’s a tragedy that we lost the man now. He was such a smart guy at a time when there aren’t many smart guys around. There’s also so much more that I wanted to ask him as a man in my 40s, as he had such an incredible transformation as a musician and a spiritual person at this time in his life. I’m sad I can’t ask him as a songwriter and as a human being, because he knew so much. It really feels like someone superhuman has gone.”

Cohen passed away last month, aged 82.