Bob Dylan at 80: See his life and career in photos

Happy birthday, Bob Dylan! The legendary singer-songwriter turns 80 on May 24, 2021. In honor of his milestone birthday, is taking a look back at his amazing career. Keep reading to take a stroll down memory lane…

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Bob Dylan was born Robert Allen Zimmerman on May 24, 1941, in Duluth, Minnesota. By the time he was in high school, he had a serious interest in music, forming bands and performing in school talent shows. He went on to attend college at the University of Minnesota but dropped out in 1960 and headed to New York City to take his music more seriously. It ended up working out — he was signed to Columbia Records by 1961. He’s seen here in a 1961 portrait taken in NYC.

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After getting signed, Bob Dylan got to work recording his first album. “Bob Dylan,” which was released in March 1962, featured a mix of folk, blues and gospel sounds. Though it wasn’t a big hit commercially, the musician — seen here laying down tracks for his debut album in New York City in November 1961 — made some moves that same year that would change the trajectory of his career. He legally changed his name to Bob Dylan and started working with a manager, Albert Grossman.

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Here’s a picture teasing a performance that never came to be! In May 1963, while promoting the release of his second album, “The Freewheelin’ Bob Dylan,” Bob was scheduled to appear on the “Ed Sullivan Show.” He’s seen here during rehearsals singing “Talkin’ John Birch Paranoid Blues,” but he never ended up performing on the show. He was asked to do a different song and refused, opting to leave instead. 

Though Bob Dylan walked off the set of “The Ed Sullivan Show,” he still found success with the release of his second album. His talent attracted the attention of fellow musicians, like Joan Baez, who not only started to perform with him but became a romantic interest. The couple, who were active in the civil rights movement, are seen here performing together at the Newport Folk Festival in July 1963.

On the heels of his civil rights advocacy, Bob Dylan’s next album had a different tone. “Another Side of Bob Dylan,” which came out in August 1964, began to signal his transition from folk songwriter to a more mainstream rock and pop star. He’s seen here in an interview the same year.

In March 1965, Bob Dylan released “Bringing It All Back Home,” which marked his first time recording with electric instruments. As he made this foray into a more pop sound, he started rubbing elbows with stars like Sonny Bono and Cher, who he’s seen with here that same year.

By 1965, Bob Dylan’s relationship with Joan Baez was coming to an end, coinciding with his 1965 U.K. tour that kicked off in April. Despite their romance flaming out, the two still worked together in the future, touring together in 1975 and 1984. 

Live and electric! At the Newport Folk Festival in Rhode Island in July 1965, Bob Dylan played a Fender Stratocaster electric guitar for the first time on stage. The reaction was mixed, with some people in the audience actually booing, reportedly due to fans feeling disappointed by his new direction.

July 1965 saw Bob Dylan’s best showing on the charts yet when his song “Like a Rolling Stone” hit the No. 2 spot. It became the lead single off of his next album, “Highway 61 Revisited,” which had a much more rock feel. The project (Bob’s seen here recording it in Columbia’s New York City studios) would go on to be considered one of the greatest albums of all time, according to Rolling Stone. 

1965 marked a major turning point in Bob Dylan’s personal life as well — he got married. The musician wed former model Sara Lownds that November. They would go on to welcome four children together: Jesse, Anna, Samuel and Jakob (who grew up to lead the popular ’90s band The Wallflowers). Bob and Sara — who divorced in 1977 — are seen here at London’s Heathrow Airport in 1969. Years later in 1986, Bob secretly married backup singer Carolyn Dennis, with whom he’d quietly welcomed daughter Desiree Dennis-Dylan months earlier. They divorced in 1992. The world only learned about their romance and child upon the publication of the biography “Down the Highway: The Life of Bob Dylan” by Howard Sounes in 2001.

After getting into a motorcycle accident in 1966, Bob Dylan took a break from touring. He spent the next few years writing and recording, waited two years to return to the stage. He’s seen here performing with Tom Petty in 1968. 

In June 1970, Bob Dylan received an honorary Doctorate of Music degree from Princeton University. He’s seen here with American civil rights activist Coretta Scott King, Martin Luther King Jr.’s widow, who also received an honorary degree from Princeton that year.

Time to act! Bob Dylan appeared in the 1973 film “Pat Garrett and Billy the Kid” as Alias. He also provided music for the movie. Though it was a flop at the box office, one of its songs wasn’t — “Knockin’ on Heaven’s Door” became one of the singer’s most popular tracks ever. 

In November 1976, Bob Dylan performed at the Band’s last concert, which was recorded at the Winterland Ballroom in San Francisco for the 1978 documentary “The Last Waltz.” He appeared alongside other big names like Eric Clapton, Joni Mitchell and (pictured) Van Morrison and Robbie Robertson.

After the demise of his marriage in 1977, Bob Dylan hit the road again for a world tour in 1978. (He’s seen here on stage at the Picnic festival in England that May.) Some of the concerts from the trek were released as a live album entitled “Bob Dylan at Budokan.” 

Reunited! Bob Dylan and former flame Joan Baez got back together, professionally, in 1984 for a stadium tour with Carlos Santana. They even took to the stage together twice during its run in Hamburg and Munich while in Germany. They’re seen here at a press conference in Hamburg.

In January 1988, Bob Dylan was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. He was in very good company that year, as he was inducted alongside The Beatles (he’s seen here performing with George Harrison during the Hall of Fame celebration), The Beach Boys, The Supremes and The Drifters. 

1991 marked the year Bob Dylan received a Grammy lifetime achievement award. (He’s seen here performing in Spain later that same year.) The event went down in infamy, as he gave a bizarre speech that included a reference to a Bible verse and included a lot of pauses and giggles. (Bob, who was born into a Jewish family, had converted to evangelical Christianity in the late ’70s.) He also purported to quote his father, but actually quoted a famous Rabbi, Samson Raphael Hirsch. 

Then-President Bill Clinton gave Bob Dylan a Kennedy Center Honor in December 1997. He was presented with the award alongside Lauren Bacall, Charlton Heston, Jessye Norman and Edward Villella that year. 

In 1998, Bob Dylan took home the prestigious album of the year Grammy for “Time Out of Mind.” (As of 2021, he had 10 Grammy Awards in 38 nominations to his name.) The album is considered one of the legend’s best ever. His appearance at the award show also included a performance of his song “Love Sick” — which was unforgettable for a very unexpected reason…

Bob Dylan’s performance of “Love Sick” during the 1998 Grammys telecast in New York City was usurped by protester/performance artist “Soy Bomb” (real name: Michael Portnoy), who rushed the stage and had to be removed by security, making for one of the strangest Grammy performance moments in history. 

In 2001, Bob Dylan won a best original song Oscar and Golden Globe Award for “Things Have Changed” from the film “Wonder Boys.” Since he was on tour in Australia at the time of the Academy Awards that year, he performed the song with his band while Down Under — it was slotted into the telecast back in the States — and accepted his Oscar, which was presented by Jennifer Lopez, via a live video link.

Bob Dylan received an honorary Doctor of Music degree from Scotland’s University of St. Andrews in June 2004. It was the second honorary degree he’d ever accepted — and it came more than 30 years after he accepted one from Princeton University.

Bob Dylan published his autobiography, “Chronicles: Volume One,” in October 2004. It was on The New York Times’ non-fiction best seller list by December. He’s seen here performing the same year.

Bob Dylan performed alongside Mumford and Sons and The Avett Brothers at the 2011 Grammys, singing a medley of tunes including “The Cave,” “Head Full of Doubt/Road Full of Promise” and “Maggie’s Farm.” 

Then-President Barack Obama gave Bob Dylan the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2012. There were 13 recipients that year (Madeleine Albright, John Glenn and Toni Morrison were among the other honorees). 

Bob Dylan was named the Grammys’ MusiCares Person of the Year at the annual gala in February 2015. Former President Jimmy Carter and then-National Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences president Neil Portnow presented him with the honor. 

2016 saw Bob Dylan awarded one of the most prestigious accolades the world — the Nobel Prize in Literature. Though he didn’t appear in person in Stockholm, Sweden, to accept the honor that December, he did travel there in April 2017 to accept it during a private ceremony. He’s seen here performing on “Late Show with David Letterman” a year before he won the Nobel Prize.

In December 2020, Bob Dylan made headlines when he sold his full publishing catalog to Universal Music Publishing Group. The sale reportedly earned him more than $300 million. He’s seen here performing in 2019 about a year before he inked the deal.

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