Alaska News

Hobo Jim, Alaska’s balladeer, dies weeks after announcing terminal cancer diagnosis

James Varsos — a singer-songwriter who performed under the name Hobo Jim — died on Tuesday, less than three weeks after he announced a terminal cancer diagnosis, a friend said.

Varsos, 68, announced on Sept. 18 that he was expected to have three to six months to live. He died Tuesday in his Nashville, Tennessee, home with his wife, said his friend Charlie Weimer.

Varsos is best known for the “Iditarod Trail Song” and made music about miners, loggers, fishermen, mushers and the outdoors. He was named Alaska’s official balladeer.

Varsos drew fans of all ages with his energetic performances and obvious passion for entertaining, Weimer said.

He came to Alaska in 1972 and fell in love with the Kenai Peninsula, ultimately settling in Soldotna, according to news archives. Varsos was an active outdoorsman and a free spirit who was enamored by the Alaska lifestyle, Weimer said. He toured around the state and country, giving audiences Outside a glimpse at life in Alaska before the internet existed.

Varsos experienced an intense pain while performing at this year’s Alaska State Fair that worsened during a performance in Wyoming, he wrote in a Facebook post. He was diagnosed with end-stage cancer after he returned to Tennessee, he wrote.

A GoFundMe had raised around $53,000 by Wednesday afternoon for Varsos’ wife.

I wasn't going to post anything else for a while but I have to say Thank You everyone .The outpouring of love and...

Posted by James Varsos on Friday, September 24, 2021

In the week after his cancer announcement, Varsos wrote that he was thankful for the support from his fans. “I guess I am one of the lucky ones who gets to hear all of this before I go,” he wrote. “But what you don’t realize is that you all have touched my life more. Giving me my energy and supporting me when I was playing and writing songs about things that nobody really wanted to hear about.”

Stories and memories of Varsos’ performances were posted across social media after he died Tuesday.

“He touched a lot of people’s lives, and if you read the comments and just think if you could leave a mark and touch people that way, it’s just a wonderful thing,” Weimer said.

Tess Williams

Tess Williams is a reporter for the Anchorage Daily News, focusing on breaking news. Before joining the ADN in 2019, she was a reporter for the Grand Forks Herald in North Dakota and previously helped cover the Nebraska Legislature for The Associated Press. Contact her at