The Mayor of Margaritaville: The Life of Jimmy Buffett

Some know him as the leader of the Parrotheads, the Mayor of Margaritaville, or the son of a sailor, but most know him as Jimmy Buffett. After entertaining the world for over 50 years with his music, laid-back lifestyle, and patterned shirts, there are a lot of things the world still doesn’t know about Buffett.

Margaritaville / Jimmy Buffett / Jimmy Buffett / Jimmy Buffett, Jane Buffett.
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Buffett has been topping charts and creating classics for decades with humorous hits like “Margaritaville” and “Cheeseburger in Paradise.” Besides the lucrative music business, he is also involved in the cottage industry. So, grab yourself a margarita and a cheeseburger in paradise as we take a deeper look into Jimmy Buffett’s life.

A Christmas Miracle

James William Buffett was born on Christmas Day in 1946 in Mississippi and spent most of his childhood in Alabama. During his school years, he found an interest in music by playing the trombone in his school band. He also spent a lot of time on the water with his sailor father, which greatly influenced his music.

Jimmy Buffett and his Coral Reefer Band perform on stage.
Photo by Thomas A. Ferrara/Newsday RM/Getty Images

During his first year of college at Auburn University, Buffett started playing the guitar. Following college, he spent years working as a first mate on a yacht and perfecting the “Caribbean rock n’ roll” genre. He found a love for the easy-going lifestyle, but his life could have turned out differently if he had chosen a different career path.

Almost a Drug Smuggler

Although he made his fortune in the music and tourism industry, Buffett was once a young, struggling artist. After releasing his first album, Down to Earth, in 1970, he was left without a record deal. For a while, he stopped searching for a record deal and moved to Key West, Florida, for a laid-back lifestyle.

A photo of a young Jimmy Buffett.
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He was living as a bar musician, but Buffett almost decided to support himself in an illegal way. Key West was a significant entry point for drugs into the U.S., and Buffett said he was tempted to get into the business himself. He claims drug runners recruited him, but before long, he was out of Florida and on his way to becoming a successful musician.

He Can Afford Several Islands

It isn’t much of a surprise that Buffett is incredibly wealthy. He has been singing, touring, and selling plenty of Margaritaville merchandise for over five decades, making him one of the wealthiest musicians ever. Although he wears flip-flops and linen shirts, he’s got more money in his bank account than most people could imagine.

A photo of Jimmy Buffett holding a giant margarita.
Photo by Sean Zanni/Patrick McMullan/Getty Images

Buffett’s net worth is about $550 million, and a bulk of that comes from the successful marketing of “Margaritaville” as a lifestyle brand. People can buy Margaritaville shoes, home decorations, tequila, margarita mix, and packaged foods. There are also more than 20 Margaritaville hotels, resorts, vacation clubs, and casinos.

The Journey to Margaritaville

As most people know, “Margaritaville” is Buffett’s inspiration behind his whole brand, but it took him a while to get to the hit single. The song appeared on the album Changes in Latitudes, Changes in Attitudes, which was his eighth album. He created the song because he wanted to produce more music about the ocean.

Jimmy Buffett at Margaritaville L.A. Premiere.
Photo by Amanda Edwards/Getty Images

The song came about when Buffett told his producer about a day he had in Key West. Buffett was coming home from the bar, lost a flip-flop, stepped on a beer can top, and couldn’t find the salt for his margarita. His producer thought this was a terrible story to write about.

Proving His Producer Wrong

After telling his producer about the story, Buffett wrote the song. It didn’t stray too far from the details of his story, but his producer didn’t think it would be a hit. However, he proved everyone wrong became “Margaritaville” became an empire.

Jimmy Buffett performs at Margaritaville Resort Times Square.
Photo by Sean Zanni/Patrick McMullan/Getty Images

No one could have imagined that a song about his drunken day in Key West would have turned into the “Margaritaville” we know today. His producer was blown away by the success of the track, and Buffett certainly proved him wrong in the best way.

The Making of His Next Big Hit

Although “Margaritaville” became his signature song, Buffett is also known for “Cheeseburger in Paradise.” The song is about a man in his 70s, stuck on a health-food diet of carrot juice and sunflower seeds, yearning for a cheeseburger. The man lives in a sunny climate and can’t get his cheeseburger in paradise.

Jimmy Buffett performs on stage.
Photo by Doug Lane/Fotos International/Getty Images

The meaning behind the song goes back to a long boat trip Buffett took. Buffett found himself in rough water, and the ice in their cooler melted. They were living off canned food and peanut butter when they docked on the island of Tortola. At the end of the dock was a bar and grill and the menu featured an American-style Cheeseburger.

Cheeseburger in Paradise

The restaurant was like a mirage after Buffett and his friends had been sailing without much food. They all ordered the cheeseburger with specific instructions on cooking the burger with blackened buns when they sat down. Buffett said it tasted like heaven and inspired “Cheeseburger in Paradise.”

A photo of the dish “Cheeseburger in Paradise.”
Source: Tumblr

The song also inspired Buffett to open a restaurant chain of the same name. The 23 chains remained open for almost two decades but closed in 2020 because of the pandemic. Sadly, people will have to get their cheeseburgers in places other than paradise.

Wildly Successful Live Act

Buffett is one of the most recognizable figures in music with a flock of hardcore fans. He has built up and catered to his fans with a relentless concert schedule. Since 1972, not a year has gone by that Buffett hasn’t played at least two dozen shows.

A vintage portrait of Jimmy Buffett.
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Between 1990 and 2014, his concerts grossed over $400 million. This puts Buffett in an exclusive club with the likes of The Rolling Stones, U2, and Elton John. However, his albums haven’t topped charts, and he only made a top 10 spot on the Billboard list once with “Margaritaville.”

Embarked on More Than 40 Tours

Buffett has kept himself busy throughout his career, even though he is known for taking it easy and relaxing. Over his 50 years of performing, Buffett has embarked on more than 40 tours, including the Pink Crustacean Tour of 1976 and the Son of a Sailor Tour that kicked off in 2018.

Jimmy Buffett performs on stage.
Photo by Richard E. Aaron/Redferns/Getty Images

Buffett has played shows for millions of people and often performs what is known as “The Big 8.” This setlist includes “Margaritaville,” “Come Monday,” “Fins,” “Volcano,” “A Pirate Looks at Forty,” “Cheeseburger in Paradise,” “Why Don’t We Get Drunk,” and “Changes in Latitudes, Changes in Attitudes.”

Sold Over 20 Million Albums

Although his live shows are much more successful, Buffett has made 29 studio albums. It doesn’t come as a surprise that he has sold millions of records during his career. His best-selling album was Changes in Latitudes, Changes in Attitudes, which is certified platinum in the U.S.

An album cover of one of Buffett’s albums.
Source: Tumblr

The album marked the first appearance of Margaritaville, which went to number eight on the Billboard Hot 100 chart and is Buffett’s highest-charting single to date. Buffett has gotten to number one on the charts as a guest performer on songs like “It’s Five O’Clock Somewhere” with Alan Jackson.

More Than a Talented Musician

Everyone loves Buffett’s music, but there is much more to his career than that. Buffett has also, surprisingly, written three number-one best-selling books. His books include Tales From Margaritaville, Where Is Joe Merchant? and A Pirate Looks at Fifty.

Jimmy Buffett attends an event.
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While he might not have topped many of the music charts, Buffett topped both the fiction and non-fiction bestseller lists, putting him in rare company. Only seven other authors have achieved this level of success, including Ernest Hemingway, John Steinbeck, and Dr. Seuss.

He Has a Special Name for His Genre of Music

Some people say Buffett is a country singer because he has been on the Hot 200, the Top Country Albums chart, and more. However, Buffett is a bit of a music chameleon. He described his music as “drunken Caribbean rock n’ roll” in the ‘70s.

Jimmy Buffett speaks on stage.
Photo by Paul Morigi/Getty Images

These days, Buffett would say his music style is “gulf and western.” This type of music combines elements of rock, pop, folk, country, and Caribbean. It also adds a dash of tropical-inspired lyrical themes. That is a much better way to describe his unique sound.

He’s Not Wasting Away in Margaritaville Anymore

Buffett might promote a breezy island lifestyle, but he is no longer living the life of someone who enjoys the pleasures of alcohol and indulges on delicious cheeseburgers. However, it’s hard to listen to his music and not fantasize about a life in the Florida Keys, downing margaritas and relaxing.

A picture of the facade of Margaritaville.
Photo by Roberto Machado Noa/LightRocket/Getty Images

In fact, Buffett’s life isn’t what you’d think it is at all. Buffett said, “I don’t do sugar anymore or carbs. Except on Sunday.” On Sundays, Buffett allows himself to indulge in a low-calorie watered-down tequila on the rocks. He also quit smoking and just inhales vape oil sometimes after work.

He Appeared on Hawaii Five-0

Over the years, Buffett has had a few guest appearances on the hit show Hawaii Five-0. He played rugged pilot Frank Bama, which might sound familiar to you if you are a big Buffett fan. If you are wondering where the character came from, Frank is a character Buffett created for his book Where Is Joe Merchant?

A still of Jimmy Buffett in his guest role in Hawaii Five-0.
Photo by Karen Neal/CBS

When Buffett was asked why he decided to take the role on Hawaii Five-0, he said he was a big fan of the original show during the ‘60s and ‘70s and wanted a chance to be part of the updated version. It was a huge opportunity to have a role written just for him

His Backup Band

Buffett wouldn’t be anything without his legendary Coral Reefer Band. He and the band have been touring and recording together since 1974. Initially, the band consisted of fictional performers with names like Al Vocado and Kay Pasa, but now they are real people.

Jimmy Buffett and his Coral Reefer Band perform on stage.
Photo by Thomas A. Ferrara/Newsday/Getty Images

Over the years, several big names have been in the Coral Reefer Band, including Timothy B. Schmit, John Hiatt, and Jerry Jeff Walker. There have also been many special guests, including Paul McCartney, Sheryl Crow, Brian Wilson, and Roy Orbison. Ric Flair also provided “background woos” during a live concert.

He Loves Manatees

Buffett is a complex man with a soft spot for the creatures of the sea, especially manatees. In 1981, he co-founded the Save the Manatees Club. Their mission is to protect endangered manatees and their natural habitats. The club has grown immensely since its creation.

A vintage photo of Jimmy Buffett playing with a Manatee.
Source: Flickr

Today, there are about 40,000 members of the Save the Manatee Club, all working together to fund research, rescue, conservation, and rehabilitation efforts. They also share awareness campaigns to inform the public about these adorable and unique animals. It is one of the largest pro-manatee campaigns in the world.

“Margaritaville” Was Inducted Into the Grammy Hall of Fame

Buffett’s iconic song “Margaritaville” made it to the Grammy Hall of Fame in 2016. Buffet and his song were honored because of the song’s lasting significance for 25 years. The song must be living on island time because it was past 25 years old when it made it to the Hall of Fame.

Jimmy Buffett performs on stage.
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You would probably take your time, too, if you were kicking back with drinks in hand at a tropical Caribbean location. This was a tremendous honor for Buffett because the song made his career iconic and cemented him among many of the greats in music.

“Margaritaville” Is the Most Lucrative Song Ever Written

In addition to being one of Buffett’s best songs, it is also the most lucrative song he wrote. Not only is the song a top hit, but restaurants, resorts, and casinos all over the world bear the Margaritaville name. You can wear Margaritaville apparel and mix up a Margaritaville margarita.

A photo of Jimmy Buffett’s Margaritaville restaurant.
Photo by Robert Alexander/Getty Images

There is a reason Buffett can slow down and have his cheat days, and that is because of the immense success of the song. Although Cheeseburger in Paradise chains closed in 2020, Margaritaville is still going strong with plenty of locations.

He Had a Cameo in Jurassic Park

While Buffett has appeared on the small screen in Hawaii Five-0, he has also been on the silver screen. He made several cameos in movies like Repo Man, Hook, and Congo. However, those are nothing compared with his iconic appearance as Margarita Guy in Jurassic World.

A still from Jimmy Buffett’s Cameo in Jurassic Park.
Source: Pinterest

At one point in the movie, the dinosaurs escape their compound, and as panicked vacationers run for their lives, Margarita Guy picks up his drinks before exiting. The internet fell in love with this character, and some people call him the true hero of Jurassic World.

He Loves Sports

While Buffett is a Saints fan at home, he is also a Dolphins fan. Buffett grew up not far from the Big Easy, in Mississippi and Alabama, and he was lucky enough to attend the first Saints home game back in 1967. The fandom has endured for decades.

A picture of Jimmy Buffett attending a game.
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Buffet became friends with the Saints coach, Sean Payton. Although he is personally a Saints fan, he has enjoyed a long professional association with the Miami Dolphins. Buffett wrote Dolphins-themed lyrics in his 1979 song “Fins.” In 2009 and 2010, the team played in Land Shark Stadium after Buffett’s beer brand purchased the naming rights.

He Wrote a Broadway Show

Buffett might be able to write island hits, but the thought of him writing a musical is strange. However, he took on the challenge and centered the musical around Don’t Stop the Carnival, a 1965 novel by Herman Wouk. In 1997, Buffett wrote the songs for the stage musical.

Jimmy Buffett attends an event.
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The show opened in Miami’s Coconut Grove Playhouse with poor reviews. Although it didn’t get great reviews, it played for four years at a resort in the Bahamas. Don’t Stop the Carnival never made it to Broadway, but investors approached Buffet about it.

A Possible One-Man Show

Although Buffett never brought Don’t Stop the Carnival to Broadway, he entertained offers to do a one-man show like Springsteen’s. However, that didn’t materialize because Buffett would have lost money if he did that instead of touring.

Jimmy Buffett performs on stage.
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Eventually, his fans were delighted to see Escape to Margaritaville, a Broadway-bound musical written by My Name Is Earl creator Greg Garcia and Glee star Mike O’Malley. The plot was built around Buffett’s familiar tunes like “Margaritaville” and “Cheeseburger in Paradise.”

He’s Not a Regular Dad; He’s a Cool Dad

Buffett already gives off major dad vibes, and as a father of two, he loves to make quintessential “dad” jokes. While it’s classic rock, Buffett’s songs are also about hanging out, chilling out, and having a drink – stuff many dads do. He has even peppered his songs with good-natured puns for more than 40 years.

Jimmy Buffett, wife Jane Buffett, and daughter Delaney Buffett attend an event.
Photo by Bruce Glikas/Bruce Glikas/FilmMagic/Getty Images

Buffett indeed went wild, naming his albums, including License to Chill, Last Mango in Paris, Floridays, Off to See the Lizard, and A White Sport Coat and a Pink Crustacean. He also calls his music style “gulf and western,” which is a play on a significant mid-20th century corporate conglomerate, Gulf.

The Biggest Margarita

In 2001, Buffett’s Margaritaville restaurant in Orlando, Florida, created the largest mixed drink ever. The 7,030-gallon margarita was iconic, but Buffett actually enjoys drinking much simpler cocktails. His fans might be sipping on smaller margaritas, but he prefers a rum-based drink.

Jimmy Buffett holds a giant margarita during a grand opening celebration.
Photo by Ethan Miller/Getty Images

Buffett told Men’s Journal that he likes mixing dark rum with coconut water and limes. Sometimes he enjoys it frozen in his margarita maker. How can the man who wrote “Margaritaville” not love sipping margaritas by the ocean in a hammock?

Facing Controversy

The earliest controversy Buffett faced was his recording of “God’s Own Drunk.” In 1983, the son of the late entertainer Lord Buckley sued Buffett for $11 million for copyright infringement, claiming Buffett took parts of the monolog from Buckley’s A Tribute to Buckley and claimed it as his own.

Jimmy Buffett drinks a beer at an outdoor festival.
Photo by Lynn Goldsmith/Corbis/VCG/Getty Images

He wasn’t allowed to perform the song until the lawsuit was settled or resolved. Therefore, when he would get to the part of his show when he usually played the song, He played a different song called “The Lawyer and the A**hole.” That’s not petty at all.

A Plane Shot Down

Buffett once had a plane named Hemisphere Dancer. It previously carried U2’s Bono, Island Records producer Chris Blackwell. In January 1996, Buffett’s Grumman HU-16 was shot down by Jamaican police, who believed the plane was smuggling drugs. The government acknowledged their mistake, and Buffett found inspiration.

A photo of Jimmy Buffett’s performance at an Amphitheater.
Photo by Tim Mosenfelder/Getty Images

After the event, Buffett wrote the song “Jamaica Mistaica” for his Banana Wind album. The plane from the incident is now on display at Margaritaville Orlando, located at Universal Studios. Luckily, no one was on board that day, so no one was injured in the accident.

Media Frenzy

In 1999, Buffett’s song “Math Suks” caused a brief media frenzy because it was condemned by the U.S. National Council of Teachers of Mathematics and the National Education Society. They claimed it had a negative effect on children’s education. Jon Stewart also criticized the song on The Daily Show.

Jimmy Buffett is performing on stage.
Photo by Tim Mosenfelder/Getty Images

Stewart called the segment “Math Is Quite Pleasant.” While he took a hit with this song, it wasn’t his last controversy. In 2001, Buffet was asked to move his seat during a Miami Heat game because he used words in front of a child and woman that weren’t so appropriate.

Jail Bird

While his controversies have been minor, in 2006, Buffett was arrested by French customs officials in Saint Tropez. He was allegedly carrying over 100 pills of ecstasy. Buffett’s luggage was checked after his private jet landed at Toulon-Hyeres International Airport. He paid $300 and was released shortly after.

Jimmy Buffett rehearses before a show.
Photo by Paul Morigi/Getty Images

Buffett’s spokesperson stated the pills were actually prescription drugs but declined to name the drug or health problem they treated. Buffett later said the so-called ecstasy was actually a B-vitamin supplement called Foltx. It doesn’t seem like he wanted to admit the truth.

Buffett Takes a Tumble

While on tour in Australia in 2011, Buffett fell off the stage while performing in Sydney after an encore. One of the audience members said, “He just went over the edge of the stage, like he had numerous times throughout the night, just to wave, and people were throwing gifts at him.”

A still from Jimmy Buffett’s fall off the stage.
Source: YouTube

However, what really happened was that he took one extra step and didn’t have time to put his arms out to save himself, and he dropped off the stage. They thought he broke his neck because he hit his head on the metal corner of the stage. He had a gash on his head but recovered.

He Cares About the Community

Buffett lives in an area where hurricanes are pretty standard. The southern native used his influence to raise funds in 2004 with his Surviving the Storm hurricane relief concert in Orlando, Florida. The show provided relief for hurricane victims in Florida, Alabama, and the Caribbean.

Jimmy Buffett performs on stage.
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In 2004, four significant storms devastated the south, just a year before Hurricane Katrina. Buffett also performed in Hong Kong in 2008 for the Foreign Correspondents Club Charity Fund. It was his first concert there, and it sold out within weeks.

Helping the Gulf Coast

In July 2010, Buffett, a Gulf Coast native, put on a free concert on the beach in Gulf Shores, Alabama. The show was Buffett’s way of responding to the BP oil disaster in the Gulf. The 35,000 free tickets were given away within minutes to help draw people back to the Alabama beaches.

A general view atmosphere at Jimmy Buffett’s concert at the Gulf Coast.
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Buffett performed a modified version of “Margaritaville,” changing the lyrics in the chorus to “now I know, it’s all BP’s fault.” The concert was a huge success, and it featured Jesse Winchester and Alien Toussaint. He changed some of his other songs to make fun of BP.

How Old Is Jimmy Buffett?

The Margaritaville creator’s lifestyle must be good for the soul because Buffett is 74 years old and is still young and thriving. He has no plans to slow down anytime soon. He is keeping himself healthy with a balanced diet while relaxing and enjoying his successful career.

A portrait of Jimmy Buffett during an interview.
Photo by Gerald Martineau/The The Washington Post/Getty Images

How could anyone grow old quickly when their life is filled with cheeseburgers in paradise and beautiful Key West beaches? If we lived his life, we would look like we were in our 20s forever. He also has a beautiful wife who keeps him on his toes.

He Has a Passion for Conservation

Besides manatees, Buffett loves many other animals and hopes to help save other endangered species. In 2006, Buffett played a role, co-produced, and wrote a soundtrack for the film Hoot. His primary interest in the movie was that it related to the conservation of owls.

Jimmy Buffett attends the film premiere.
Photo by Raul R. Rubiera/WireImage/Getty Images

Besides Hoot, Buffett has also been a longtime supporter of and major donor to the Gulf Specimen Marine Laboratory. It is a non-profit marine research, education organization, and public aquarium in Florida. He wants to do whatever he can to support worthy causes.

He Was a Street Performer

Before becoming a big star, Buffett was frequently seen street performing in New Orleans during the 1970s. He went to Key West on a busking expedition with Jerry Jeff Walker. This was before he moved to Key West officially and established his easy-going beach-bum persona.

A vintage portrait of Jimmy Buffett.
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After moving to Key West, Buffett would play for drinks at the Chart Room Bar in the Pier House Motel, and he changed his sound to resemble island music. It fit the vibe of the setting, and it helped him establish his signature sound.

Where Does Jimmy Buffett Live?

As a child, Buffett moved from Mississippi to Alabama to Texas to Louisiana to Florida. He was always drawn to the gulf area, and it influenced his music style. It also allowed him to sail with his father as a child. He has houses in many places, including the Florida Keys, St. Barts, and Palm Beach.

A portrait of Jimmy Buffett.
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Towards the end of 2020, Buffett listed his staggering Palm Beach mansion for $6.9 million. Buffett sticks to places with beaches because he enjoys the easy-going lifestyle that helped him start his career. Not many people can say lounging on the beach helped them make millions.

Not a Pirate

Although he has been in many films and TV shows, Buffett turned down the opportunity to appear in Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl. Maybe he just didn’t think the pirate lifestyle went well with his island brand.

Jimmy Buffett attends an event.
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Buffett might have turned down Pirates, but he made cameos on South Park, NCIS: New Orleans, Billionaire Boys Club, and The Beach Bum. In most of the roles, he played himself, so it’s possible he didn’t want to play a character in Pirates.

Performing for the President

Performing for the President of the United States is a massive honor, and Buffett received that honor in August 2000 when he performed with the Coral Reefer Band for Bill Clinton. The event took place on the White House lawn, and he was excited to have such an opportunity.

A portrait of Bill Clinton at the White House.
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Buffett performed some of his top hits, and Bill Clinton thoroughly enjoyed the performance. It was a significant opportunity for him because the President specifically requested Buffett. He also duetted with Frank Sinatra in 1994 for Sinatra’s final studio album.

Is Jimmy Buffett Married?

In 1969, Buffett married Margie Washicheck, but it only lasted for two years before the couple divorced. While he established himself in the music world, Buffett remained single until his second wife, Jane Slagsvol. The couple married in 1977 and have been together since.

Jane Buffett and Jimmy Buffett attend an event.
Photo by Taylor Hill/FilmMagic/Getty Images

Buffett and his wife have two daughters, Savannah Jane and Sarah Delaney, and an adopted son, Cameron Marley. The couple splits their time between Sag Harbor, New York, and West Palm Beach, Florida. The couple separated in the ‘80s briefly but reconciled in 1991.

Buffett Is Keeping Busy

Today, Buffett is still inspired by music after 27 studio albums, three New York Times bestsellers, a Broadway play, numerous TV and movie appearances, Grammy nominations, and awards. He is just as likely to play an impromptu set on a Caribbean beach bar as he is on stage in front of 30,000 fans.

Jimmy Buffett attends an event.
Photo by Axelle/Bauer-Griffin/FilmMagic/Getty Images

After logging millions of miles on the road and traveling around the world, distant places still call to Buffett as he tours the world for his adoring “parrottheads.” Curiosity drives him to find the following story to share in song form, and Buffett is not stopping anytime soon.