The country star opens up to PEOPLE about the late singer-songwriter, who died at age 76 on Friday
Following the singer-songwriter's death at age 76 on Friday from Merkel cell carcinoma, the country singer, 55, shared a heartfelt tribute about his friend with PEOPLE, highlighting the star's influence and songwriting style.
“Jimmy painted pictures and short stories in all the songs he wrote,” Chesney says.
“He taught a lot of people about the poetry in just living, especially this kid from East Tennessee,” he adds.
Chesney also posted a tribute to his friend on Instagram Saturday, sharing a video of him performing Buffett’s song "A Pirate Looks at Forty" on a beach, as he wished his friend farewell in the post's caption.
“So goodbye Jimmy," Chesney wrote. "Thanks for your friendship and the songs I will carry in my heart forever. Sail On Sailor 🦜🌴🌊."
Back in 2021, the country singer surprised fans when he joined Buffett and his Coral Reefer Band on stage in Nashville to perform “Margaritaville.”
"Always a blast being on stage with my friends Jimmy Buffett, Mac McAnally, and the rest of the Coral Reefer Band. Thanks for the invite Jimmy," Chesney wrote on Instagram at the time, alongside a video of the performance.
Chesney’s 2018 album Songs for the Saints features Buffett on a version of his 1974 track “Trying to Reason with Hurricane Season,” while an early Chesney album even includes a reference to Buffett in song.
His track “How Forever Feels” from the 1999 album Everywhere We Go mentions the singer by name in the lyrics: “Little umbrella shaped margaritas, coconut oil and senoritas / Oh, now I know how Jimmy Buffett feels.”
The two friends also appeared on stage for a performance of "Hey Good Lookin'" at the CMAs in 2004, alongside others, including Alan Jackson and Toby Keith.
Shortly after, in 2005, Chesney paid tribute to his fellow singer in an interview with the Minneapolis Star-Tribune.
“I think everybody’s a Jimmy Buffett wannabe,” he told the outlet at the time, adding, “Deep down, Jimmy was always a country artist. His songs had a country soul to them.”
Buffett died on Friday surrounded by his loved ones, a statement on Saturday confirmed.
“Jimmy passed away peacefully on the night of September 1st surrounded by his family, friends, music and dogs," the statement — which was accompanied by an image of Buffett sitting on a boat — read. "He lived his life like a song till the very last breath and will be missed beyond measure by so many."
Later, an official obituary for the star was posted on Buffett's website, which detailed that he died from Merkel cell skin cancer, which he was diagnosed with four years ago. (Merkel cell carcinoma is a rare, aggressive skin cancer that often begins as "red, shiny nodules on the face, hands and neck," per the MD Anderson Cancer Center.)
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The singer-songwriter — whose new album Equal Strain on All Parts was due to be released later this year — is survived by his wife of 46 years, Jane, and his three children: Savannah, Sarah and Cameron.
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