Jimmy Buffett's Final Days Were Filled with Laughter, Says Sister: 'He Brought Joy to So Many' (Exclusive)

Laurie Buffett McGuane and her husband, author Tom McGuane, open up to PEOPLE in this week's issue about the late musician

Jimmy Buffett PEOPLE cover
Jimmy Buffett PEOPLE cover

Jimmy Buffett made a career celebrating the simple things in life. So when his cancer took a turn for the worse, it was no surprise to his family that the singer maintained a positive spirit — even in his final days.

Buffett’s sister Laurie Buffett McGuane and her husband, author Tom McGuane, open up to PEOPLE in this week’s issue about saying goodbye to the legendary musician, who died on Sept. 1 at age 76.

Both Laurie, 74, and Tom, 83, spent time with Buffett in recent months, and recall that his playful attitude never faded in spite of his illness.

“He was always high-spirited, fun-loving, hard working and creative,” says Tom, a friend of Buffett’s for more than 50 years. “It is remarkable to be able to say that he remained the same during the last month of his life. His sense of humor was fully intact. God bless him for keeping himself that way.”

<p>J.P. Piter</p> Jimmy Buffett

J.P. Piter

Jimmy Buffett

Laurie, meanwhile, says she and their sister Lucy were by their brother’s side when he died, and the trio had spent time reminiscing on their childhood in Alabama, much to his delight.

“We shared memories of our childhood with Jimmy during his last days,” she says. “We would repeat stories, and Jimmy would laugh and nod his head to let us know that he remembered. I have never seen Jimmy depressed ever. Not even at the end. We all like to joke and laugh and that was very much Jimmy.”

Related: Jimmy Buffett's Sister Reveals They Faced Cancer at the Same Time: 'Thunderstruck He Didn't Make It' (Exclusive)

Bringing a smile to the faces of all who knew him was just par for the course for Buffett, whom Laurie says was devastated when he had to cancel shows due to illness.

“He brought joy to so many. I am very emotional now,” she says. “When Jimmy was in the world, I felt safe. Even though I have Tom, it will be a whole new thing for me to be without my brother Jimmy.”

<p>Lucy Buffett/Instagram</p> Laura, Jimmy and Lucy Buffett

Lucy Buffett/Instagram

Laura, Jimmy and Lucy Buffett

Both Buffett and Tom will appear in a new film about Key West in the early 1970s called All That Is Sacred, which premiered this weekend at the Telluride Film Festival in Colorado. Tom attended, and Buffett was supposed to go with him.

Instead, Tom was solo, though he wrote his longtime pal a letter just before he died.

“I told him that, ‘What you did in your career has a long future, but you may not be there for the applause,’” he says, adding that a funeral for the star will likely come next month.

Jimmy Buffett PEOPLE cover
Jimmy Buffett PEOPLE cover

Recalling memories from her childhood, Laurie says her brother’s nurturing spirit remains top of mind, like the time she broke her leg in eighth grade, and Buffett made a special trip to the grocery store to buy her chocolate milk so she’d have it when she came home from the hospital.

She also praises his drive when it came to his career goals.

“Jimmy always had a dream that he pursued until the end,” she says. “He did a lot of things in between, but hit Key West when he was pretty unknown, and never gave up, up until crowds began coming to listen to him perform. He was a phenomenal person.”

<p>Lucien Capehart/Getty</p> Kenny Chesney, Jimmy Buffet and Mac McAnally performing in February 2011

Lucien Capehart/Getty

Kenny Chesney, Jimmy Buffet and Mac McAnally performing in February 2011

After Buffett’s death, Laurie shared an old childhood photo to Instagram, writing: “Lulu [sister Lucy] and I were just with Bubba [Buffett’s nickname]. We talked about our childhood where only siblings can relate. I told him I’ve known him longer than anyone on the planet. He smiled with those twinkling blue eyes and squeezed my hand.”

The family — which also includes Buffett's wife Jane, daughters Savannah and Delaney and son Cameron — announced his death in a statement shared to social media that accompanied a photo of him sitting on a boat.

“Jimmy passed away peacefully on the night of September 1st surrounded by his family, friends, music and dogs,” the statement read. “He lived his life like a song till the very last breath and will be missed beyond measure by so many.”

For more on Jimmy Buffett, pick up the latest issue of PEOPLE, on newsstands everywhere Friday.

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