Laurie Buffett McGuane opens up to PEOPLE about the loss of her beloved older brother
As the singer-songwriter, who died on Sept. 1 at age 76, dealt with a rare and aggressive form of skin cancer called Merkel cell carcinoma, Laurie Buffett McGuane, his younger sister, was told she also had cancer.
“Jimmy and I were diagnosed with cancer about the same time,” Laurie, 74, tells PEOPLE. “It was four years ago and Jimmy was actually diagnosed first. When Jimmy found out [I had cancer] he brought the whole family and the dogs to Montana to be with me.”
Laurie — who had pancreatic cancer — says her and her brother’s diagnoses came around the time that the COVID pandemic was in full swing, meaning the family had to take their quality time outside, where they’d eat meals together.
Though she underwent surgery at Duke University and sought treatment in Montana and is now cancer-free, Laurie says she and her late brother, whom she called Bubba, leaned on each other during the difficult time.
“Jimmy and I became closer because of our cancers. We talked before and after our scans,” she recalls. “We shared a club that nobody wants to join. I am thunderstruck that Jimmy didn’t make it.”
Laurie — whom the family affectionately calls Lala — adds that the “Margaritaville” singer was very much a source of inspiration as she underwent treatment, and helped push her to continue living life as normally as she could.
“I rode my horse during my treatments and tried to continue with my life the same way Jimmy has done,” says Laurie, who is married to author Tom McGuane.
Buffett kept his cancer battle private, but had been forced in recent months to cancel shows due to illness — something Laurie says devastated him, as she knew just how important to Buffett his Parrothead fans were.
“Jimmy wanted to perform the shows that he had to cancel,” she says. “He brought joy to so many. I am very emotional now. 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.”
Laurie and Buffett, along with their sister Lucy (or Lulu), were raised in Alabama. Even as a youngster, Buffett had a nurturing spirit; Laurie recalls 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 that she’d have it when she came home from the hospital.
Laurie can still recall Buffett’s early days as a musician, playing in New Orleans dive bars, and holding onto faith that he’d someday make it big.
“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.”
She adds that she and Lulu were among the family members by Buffett’s side when he died, and that the siblings shared childhood memories with the star in his final days.
After his death, Laurie shared an old childhood photo to Instagram, writing: “Lulu and I were just with Bubba. 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.”
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