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He attended McGill University and, while enrolled there, published his first collection of poetry in 1956. It was his second collection, however, in 1961, The Spice-Box of Earth, which catapulted Cohen to some notoriety among poets in Canada. Soon after, he relocated to Greece and continued to spend the rest of the decade writing fiction and poetry there.
By the end of the 1960s, he'd moved to the U.S. to pursue a career as a folksinger. Artists like Judy Collins achieved considerable success with his songs and he eventually signed with Columbia Records. Throughout the 1970s, Cohen rose to cult status with his dark, explicit songs about relationships and sexuality. His experimental approach to contemporary folk music, utilizing world elements and electronic instruments, quickly became hugely influential among other singer-songwriters.
In the 1990s, he moved to the Mount Baldy Zen Center in Los Angeles, where he lived for five years. He was ordained as a Zen Buddhist monk in 1996 and took on the name Jikan, before leaving the Zen Center in 1999.
He released a new album in 2001, and continues to make music. He has been inducted into the Canadian Songwriters Hall of Fame, the Canadian Music Hall of Fame, and the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, and is a Companion of the Order of Canada.