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Loudon Wainwright III came to fame when his novelty song “Dead Skunk” became a Top 20 hit in 1972. He had studied acting at Carnegie-Mellon University but dropped out in 1967 to partake in the Summer of Love in San Francisco. He wrote his first song, “Edgar,” in 1968 about a lobsterman in Rhode Island.
He was soon signed to Atlantic Records by producer Nesuhi Ertegun and then was lured by Clive Davis to Columbia Records, which released “Dead Skunk.” Wainwright’s songs have since been recorded by Bonnie Raitt, Johnny Cash, Earl Scruggs, Kate and Anna McGarrigle, his son Rufus Wainwright, and Mose Allison, among others. In 2011, the songs were commemorated in a comprehensive five-disc retrospective, 40 Odd Years.
With songwriter-producer Joe Henry, Wainwright cowrote the soundtrack for Judd Apatow’s hit movie Knocked Up. He also wrote music for the British theatrical adaptation of the Carl Hiaasen novel Lucky You and composed topical songs for NPR’s Morning Edition and All Things Considered and ABC’s Nightline. An accomplished actor, Wainwright has appeared in films directed by Martin Scorsese, Hal Ashby, Christopher Guest, Tim Burton, Cameron Crowe, Judd Apatow, and Steven Soderbergh.
Wainwright has also starred on television in MASH and Undeclared and on Broadway in Pump Boys and Dinettes. Most recently, he appeared in Soderbergh’s film Mosaic and has been performing a one-man theatrical show, Surviving Twin, which combines his songs and the writings of his late father, a former Life magazine columnist. Initially developed as part of University of North Carolina’s Playmakers series, Surviving Twin focuses on fatherhood—both being a father and having one—and explores the issues of birth, self-identity, loss, mortality, fashion, and pet ownership.
In my head, Loudon Wainwright is Bono.
—Judd Apatow to Rolling Stone Magazine
Wainwright has sung with equal amounts of piercing insight and wicked humor.
—Los Angeles Times