HALTON HILLS, Ontario, March 7 (UPI) -- Stompin' Tom Connors, the country-folk musician who went from kitschy to Canadian cultural icon, has died of natural causes, a family spokesman said. He was 77.
Connors, who died Wednesday among family and friends in Halton Hills, Ontario, was known for his songs extolling Canada's natural beauty and its working-class inhabitants, the Toronto Star reported.
Though Connors was a four-pack-a-day smoker, close friend Brian Edwards told the newspaper "it wasn't the cigarettes that got him."
Connors, whose health had declined noticeably recently, posted a personal message on his website stompintom.com this week alerting his fans his time was growing short.
"Hello friends, I want all my fans, past, present, or future, to know that without you, there would have not been any Stompin' Tom," he wrote.
"It was a long hard bumpy road, but this great country kept me inspired with its beauty, character, and spirit, driving me to keep marching on and devoted to sing about its people and places that make Canada the greatest country in the world.
"I must now pass the torch, to all of you, to help keep the Maple Leaf flying high, and be the Patriot Canada needs now and in the future."
The Canadian Broadcasting Corp. reported Member of Parliament Charlie Angus, also a musician, noted there was a time Connors wasn't highly regarded by some in the music industry.
"We have to remember that he was ridiculed for many years by the Canadian music establishment," Angus said. "They thought his music was embarrassing. They thought he was kitschy, because he sang about Canada. That was taboo. We were a cultural colony at the time and Tom fought against it."
Angus said Connors' songs, like "Fire in the Mine," spoke volumes.
"It just was a chilling song, because my grandfather worked at that mine." Angus said. "It was a song about our people and what happened to us ... . He wrote those songs for people that made them feel like they came from someplace that mattered."
Connors recorded more than 60 albums and wrote thousands of songs, his spokesman said.
Fellow Canadian singer k.d. lang called Connors "uncompromisingly Canadian."
"We owe him our pride and respect," she said in a post on her Facebook page.