Books & Music

Singer Leon Redbone, Who Wrote The ‘Mr. Belvedere’ Theme Song, Has Died

Our condolences to his friends and family, who knew him well.

Leon Redbone, an enigmatic singer-songwriter who released 17 albums over the course of his career and was known for embracing jazz and a bygone style of music, has died. Just how old was he? That’s an interesting question.

Redbone, who had a rumbling voice and seemed as though he was living in another era, was more than 100 years old, at least that’s according to one not-so-serious profile of the artist posted to his own website. It states he was born in 1910, which seems unlikely but fits Redbone’s persona. The performer masked himself with a bushy mustache, black sunglasses, a panama hat and white suit as though it were his uniform, and even left Bob Dylan guessing at his age.

“I’ve heard he’s anywhere from 25 to 60,” Dylan told Rolling Stone of Redbone in a 1974 interview.

Redbone’s own online biography says he had a love affair with flapper-era radio ditties, Depression-spawned ragtime and World War II folk-jazz. His style has been described as similar to Tin Pan Alley.

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But Redbone wasn’t totally outside the mainstream. He sang the theme song for the 1980s sitcom “Mr. Belvedere,” performed as a musical guest during the inaugural season of “Saturday Night Live” and you’ll recognize his voice in the 2003 movie “Elf.” (He was the voice of Leon the Snowman and crooned “Baby it’s Cold Outside”).

Dylan helped lift Redbone into the spotlight after seeing him perform in the 1970s at the Mariposa Folk Festival in Ontario, Canada. In that same Rolling Stone interview, Dylan said: “Leon interests me … He does old Jimmie Rodgers, then turns around and does a Robert Johnson.” If he had a record label of his own, Dylan has famously said he would have signed Redbone.

The Washington Post’s obituary reveals Redbone was actually 69 years old, and a publicist had confirmed with news outlets that was indeed his age and that he had been born on the Mediterranean island of Cyprus.

The family’s statement, reported by various media outlets, said: “He departed our world with his guitar, his trusty companion Rover, and a simple tip of his hat.” Details, though, surrounding his cause of death have not been released.

Redbone retired from performing in 2015 due to health issues, according to the New York Times’ obituary, saying at the time his health had been an ongoing problem and it was “too challenging for him to continue the full range of professional activities.”