The Tragically Hip’s Gord Downie, musician, poet, philanthropist and national Canadian treasure, succumbed to brain cancer Tuesday night (Oct. 17), “with his beloved his children and family close by,” a family statement read. He was 53.
“It’s hard,” Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said in a televised statement from Parliament Hill in Ottawa about his friend, with tears falling as he spoke of the beloved musician. “We miss him,” he said in French. “We will miss him. He will inspire us always, to love this country even more, and love this country better. It is a moment that we need to celebrate. We need to celebrate his life, celebrate his passion, celebrate his music and poetry, and always keep him in us.” Trudeau continued in English, adding, “we are less as a country without Gord Downie in it. We all knew it was coming, but we hoped it wasn’t. I thought I was going make it through this, but I’m not. It hurts.”
Full statement on the death of the Tragically Hip’s Gord Downie: https://t.co/FiHhj9Spee
— Justin Trudeau (@JustinTrudeau) October 18, 2017
The singer, who fronted one of the country’s biggest and most impactful rock bands with sales of more than 8 million units, wrote poetic thoughtful lyrics that dug into Canadian culture and required some of us to get out the dictionary or look up people and places.
We sang along to songs referencing Bill Barilko (Toronto Maple Leafs star), Bobcaygeon (a community in Eastern Ontario), Millhaven maximum security prison or the Golden Rim Motor Inn (a quirky hotel in the Rocky Mountains of British Columbia). The line “drop a caribou” [from “Long Time Running”] was slang for making a phone call — the animal appears on the Canadian quarter.
Downie, who received the Order of Canada in June, was an unofficial ambassador to the country, the leader of a band that best represented Canada and the nation’s media have been providing wall-to-wall coverage of his death all morning as if mourning a head of state.
Since revealing his diagnosis publicly in May 2016, Downie went full force, creatively and physically: he pushed himself (his doctor advising and monitoring his health) to embark on a farewell tour with The Tragically Hip — with bandmates guitarists Paul Langlois and Rob Baker, bassist Gord Sinclair, drummer Johnny Fay — to promote their latest album, Man Machine Poem (recorded before knowledge of his cancer), and embrace the profound love Canadians of all ages had for him. The Tragically Hip had been going strong more than 30 years.
He sweetly started kissing his friends, family and bandmates on the lips, holding their faces between his hands, as seen frequently onstage both with The Hip and when he performed his solo shows for Secret Path. That multi-disciplinary passion project sought to bring attention to reconciliation by spotlighting the death of an Anishinaabe boy, Chanie Wenjack, 50 years ago who ran away from a residential school.
The story told of the shameful period in Canada’s history not taught in schools and he created The Gord Downie & Chanie Wenjack Fund, with brother Mike Downie, to continue to right the wrongs and bring together “white” Canadians with the Indigenous Peoples. A special entitled Gord Downie’s Secret Path in Concert will make its broadcast premiere on CBC TV and stream here on Oct. 22 at 9 p.m. Downie first bought attention to the issue in a big way at the final concert by The Hip, in their hometown of Kingston, Aug. 20, 2016, which was broadcast to millions and attended by Prime Minister Trudeau.
An emotional documentary chronicling the tour, Long Time Running, premiered at the Toronto International Film Festival in mid-September; it was attended by his bandmates but not Downie. (CTV has announced it will air the film in a commercial-free world television premiere this Friday at 8 p.m. ET. The 95-minute film was previously scheduled to debut in November.) Not two weeks later, a new solo album, Introduce Yerself — recorded in January and February 2016 over two grueling four-day sessions — was announced. The set was produced by Broken Social Scene’s Kevin Drew, who also co-produced Man Machine Poem and Secret Path; the album is out Oct. 27 on Arts & Crafts.
“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,” read the statement from Downie’s family.
“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 Tragically Hip (@thehipdotcom) October 18, 2017