Gord Downie, frontman of the Canadian rock group The Tragically Hip, has died after a hard-fought battle with brain cancer. He was 53.
Born “Gordon” Downie, he grew up in a suburb of Kingston, Ontario, where he became friends with a group of musicians who later went on to form a band in 1983. He would continue to make music with The Tragically Hip, until 2001 when he diverted from the group to pursue a career as a solo artist. During this time he also published a book of poems, under the same title, Coke Machine Glow.
Over the years, Downie has collaborated with many fellow Canadian musicians, including alternative rapper Buck 65, City and Colour, Alexisonfire, The Sadies, and Fucked Up. He also had several cameos in film and was an environmental activist serving as a board member of the Lake Ontario Waterkeeper.
Back in May of 2016, Downie was diagnosed with glioblastoma, a form of terminal brain cancer. In response, the band announced that after about 30 years of performing as “The Hip,” the band would return for one final tour.
“This feels like the right thing to do now, for Gord, and for all of us. What we in The Hip receive, each time we play together is a connection; with each other; with music and it’s magic; and during the shows, a special connection with all of you, our incredible fans. So, we’re going to dig deep and try to make this our best tour yet.”
Following the release of their 2016 studio album, Man Machine Poem, the band toured all across Canada, performing 15 different shows, between July to August. A portion of the proceeds made from the tour were donated to the Sunnybrook Foundation, a fundraising arm of the Sunny Brook Health Sciences Centre in Toronto.
During their tour, which saw the highest demand for ticket sales since the 1990’s, some of the performances were recorded and used as part of the documentary film Long Time Running, directed by Jennifer Baichwal and Nicholas de Pencier, which premiered at the 2017 Toronto International Film Festival in July.
Sadly, one month before his passing, Downie also had announced that he just finished up recording his sixth and final solo album, Introduce Yerself, which was scheduled to be released on October 27th.
According to a recent statement on the band’s website, posted earlier today, Gord passed away on October 17th, surrounded by family and loved ones.
“Gord knew this day was coming – his response was to spend this precious time as he always had – making music, making memories and expressing deep gratitude to his family and friends for a life well lived, often sealing it with a kiss… on the lips. Gord said he had lived many lives. As a musician, he lived ‘the life’ for over 30 years, lucky to do most of it with his high school buddies. At home, he worked just as tirelessly at being a good father, son, brother, husband, and friend. No one worked harder on every part of their life than Gord. No one,” the Downie Family said in the statement online. “We would like to thank all the kind folks at KGH and Sunnybrook, Gord’s bandmates, management team, friends, and fans. Thank you for all the help and support over the past two years. Thank you, everyone, for all the respect, admiration and love you have given Gord throughout the years – those tender offerings touched his heart and he takes them with him now as he walks among the stars.”
Following the announcement Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau issued a tearful message to Parliament, stating that “we are less of a country without him.” He also went online give his condolences to family members and to honor Downie for the impact he had on Canadian life.
“For almost five decades, Gord Downie uncovered and told the stories of Canada. He was the frontman of one of Canada’s most iconic bands, a rock star, artist, and poet whose evocative lyrics came to define a country,” Trudeau said in an official statement. “In the wake of his diagnosis, Gord only fought harder for what he believed in: social justice, environmentalism, and reconciliation with Indigenous Peoples. Before passing, he shined his light on the story of 12-year-old Chanie Wenjack who died from hunger and exposure after trying to find his way home from a residential school. For his work raising awareness of Indigenous issues, he was inducted as a member of the Order of Canada in 2017. Gord did not rest from working for the issues he cared about, and his commitment and passion will continue to motivate Canadians for years to come. On behalf of all Canadians, Sophie and I offer our deepest condolences to Gord’s family, friends, bandmates and crew members, and his many, many fans. He will be sorely missed.”
Fellow Ontario-native and Rush frontman, Getty Lee, spoke with CBC Music in a recent interview about how it did not matter where The Tragically Hip were from, that they were “simply just a great band.”
“I don’t know that I consider them uniquely Canadian, but they’re certainly one of the greatest bands ever produced in this country,” Getty Lee said in his interview. “Their sound is sort of born, to me, out of folk and blues amplified and the voice of Gord Downie and his poetry has given it a very, very unique tone and I’ve always found it very affecting.”
In response to the news of Downie’s death, several celebrities and musicians tweeted their condolences.
you are ahead by a century
— k-os (@kosinception) May 24, 2016
— Will Arnett™ (@arnettwill) May 24, 2016
— Matt Stajan (@MattStajan18) May 24, 2016
— Sloan (@Sloanmusic) May 24, 2016
A Canadian Icon.
Rest in peace, Gord. pic.twitter.com/cLHgyhhSr7
— Toronto Raptors (@Raptors) October 18, 2017