Neil Peart, drummer and lyricist for Rush and one of the most legendary instrumentalists in rock history, died in California on Tuesday after a battle with brain cancer. CBC News first reported the news Friday (Jan. 10), citing information from Peart’s publicist. He was 67.
The band released a statement via Twitter on Friday confirming the news, writing: “It is with broken hearts and the deepest sadness that we must share the terrible news that on Tuesday our friend, soul brother and band mate of over 45 years, Neil, has lost his incredibly brave three and a half year battle with brain cancer (Glioblastoma). We ask that friends, fans, and media alike understandably respect the family’s need for privacy and peace at this extremely painful and difficult time. Those wishing to express their condolences can choose a cancer research group or charity of their choice and make a donation in Neil’s name.
“Rest in peace brother,” the statement concludes.
Neil Peart September 12, 1952 – January 7, 2020 pic.twitter.com/NivX2RhiB8
— Rush (@rushtheband) January 10, 2020
Born in Hamilton, Ontario, in 1952, Peart became infatuated with music at an early age and started playing the drums after his parents bought him a pair of drum sticks for his 13th birthday. After moving to the U.K. at 18 to make it as a professional musician, he returned to Canada, where in 1974 he auditioned for singer/bassist Geddy Lee and guitarist Alex Lifeson to replace John Rutsey as drummer for the band Rush.
After a rocky audition, the duo decided to give Peart a chance, and the new trio started playing live gigs just weeks later. Though Lee had written the lyrics on the group’s first album with Rutsey, he happily ceded the role to Peart, whose songwriting focus was heavily influenced by his studies of objectivist Ayn Rand while he had lived in England. Peart’s drumming style, both manic and intricate, would also help come to define the band’s virtuosic prog-rock sound.
The trio would record five albums over the next half-decade, spanning from 1975’s Fly by Night to 1978’s Hemispheres, building the band’s cult reputation at home and abroad. The most successful of these efforts was 1976’s 2112, whose 20-minute opening title suite took up the record’s entire first side and set new standards for classical composition in late-’70s arena rock. It made the top five on the Canadian albums chart and was ultimately certified triple-platinum by the RIAA in the U.S.
Rush’s most successful period would come early in the next decade, though, with the release of 1980’s Permanent Waves and 1981’s Moving Pictures — the latter giving the group their first chart-topping album in their home country. The two sets sold well and together spawned classic rock standards like “The Spirit of Radio,” “Limelight” and “Tom Sawyer,” emphasizing both the group’s highly melodic and anthemic songwriting and their peerless instrumentation, including Peart’s iconic drum fills in “Sawyer” and the oft-imitated instrumental “YYZ.”
The trio’s mainstream appeal dwindled over the course of the ’80s and into the following decades, but they soldiered on as international road warriors, regularly selling out arenas and stadiums across the globe and staying together up until Peart’s retirement in 2015. Though critical acclaim largely eluded them in their own time, the band essentially outlived their critics, and in 2012 Rush were finally invited into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame — inducted by Nirvana drummer and Foo Fighters frontman Dave Grohl, one of the group’s countless mainstream modern-day acolytes.
Today, Peart is simply considered one of the best drummers in rock history. A 2014 list from Modern Drummer listed him at No. 3 in their all-time rankings, calling him “inarguably been the most visible, most popular symbol of the modern drummer” and stating that “his body of work over the past forty years… reveals a staggering breadth and depth of percussive exploration both deadly serious and whimsically good-humored.” Even in larger pop culture, Peart remains a go-to reference point for drumming virtuosity at its highest level, as seen through references in TV shows like Freaks and Geeks, Archer and Family Guy.