Gord Downie, frontman of the alt-rock band the Tragically Hip, died Tuesday at age 53 from terminal brace cancer.
His family said in a statement: “Last night, Gord quietly passed away with his beloved children and family close by. 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.”
“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.”
Downie revealed he had brain cancer in May 2016 after being diagnosed five months earlier. The illness didn’t slow him down. The Tragically Hip toured Canada that summer after releasing the album Man Machine Poem. Their final show was held in Downie’s hometown, Kingston, Ontario, at the Rogers K-Rock Centre. Prime Minister Justin Trudeau attended the concert, and the event was broadcast live across the Canada. Fans attended viewing parties to celebrate the rocker’s legacy.
Trudeau said about his passing: “We are less as a country without Gord Downie in it.” He called Downie an icon and a friend who loved his country and wanted to make it better: “He knew as great as we were, we needed to be better than we are.”
Downie’s oncologist Dr. James Perry, head of neurology at Sunnybrook Health, served as the star’s touring physician. He told CBC Music in 2016 that Downie really wanted to do one last tour and didn’t want to renege on his commitment to the band and their fans: “It was very brave and part of that is realizing that as much as he’s done for Canada — music, legacy, influence — this is perhaps even a bigger opportunity to change things.”
Downie formed the Tragically Hip in 1984 with friends Bobby Baker, Paul Langlois, Gord Sinclair and Johnny Fay. Their name was inspired by a skit from the film “Elephant Parts.” They signed a record contract with MCA and dropped their self-titled EP in 1987. The band’s sound transformed in the ‘90s and ‘00s. It was common for Downie to interrupt a song with ad-libbed stories, and some of these performances became new songs, such as “Nautical Disaster” and “Ahead by a Century.” Downie often talked about Canadian history in his music, referencing Toronto Maple Leafs star Bill Barilko in “Fifty Mission Cap” and the 1933 Christie Pits riot in “Bobcaygeon.”
The Tragically Hip released 14 studio albums over 30 years, most of which were certified Platinum, reports Rolling Stone. They hold the record for earning the most number of Juno Awards for a band—16. Beloved by their countrymen, the Tragically Hip have been featured on postage stamps, and earlier this year they were granted the Order of Canada, one of the country’s highest civilian honours.
Downie also advocated for the reconciliation of Canada’s indigenous people. One of his finals projects was called “Secret Path,” which told the story of Chanie Wenjack, a 12-year-old boy who ran away from school in 1966 in Kenora, Ontario, and died of exposure and hunger.
Downie leaves behind four children with his estranged wife, Laura Leigh Usher.