It's one of the worst days for Canadian rock fans ever.
The Tragically Hip, long thought of as one of, if not the country's best band, announced on its website that singer and lyricist Gord Downie has passed away.
He was only 53.
"Last night Gord quietly passed away with his beloved children and family close by," reads the statement posted on www.thehip.com this morning. "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."
After suffering a seizure in December of 2015, Downie was diagnosed with an incurable form of brain cancer called glioblastoma. In a shockingly brave move, the band announced that it would meet the terrible news by embarking on a final tour of Canada, performing many of its greatest hits, but also delving heavily into its latest album, Man Machine Poem, which was released in June of 2016, but had been recorded before the cancer prognosis.
The Man Machine Poem Tour—which included stops at Vancouver's Rogers Arena on June 24 and 26 of 2016—culminated in a show at Kingston's Rogers K-Rock Centre that was broadcast live on the CBC and viewed by millions of adoring fans.
"Gord said he had lived many lives," continues the Tragically Hip's statement on Downie's passing. "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."
As someone who was fortunate to have interviewed him several times, I have first-hand knowledge of Downie's amazing work ethic.
"The thing we're most proud of is just the work," Downie told me in 1996. "You know, where touring begets writing, and writing begets recording, which begets more touring. It's really simple, and it's really our only story. We played 90 shows down in America, and I can probably count the number of bad shows on one hand, where I walked off the stage and thought, 'Well, that was unfulfilling. That was a waste of 48 hours or 24 hours and boy I miss being home.'
"I mean that's ultimately what prompts you to do good work," he added. "You're gonna be away from home, away from the personal life that feeds what you do, that feeds your art. I mean that's what I believe."
In June of this year, Downie made one of his last public appearances when he received an insignia as a member of the Order of Canada at a Rideau Hall event honouring those who've shown leadership on Indigenous issues. He devoted a great deal of time advancing reconciliation with Aboriginal people, collaborating with illustrator Jeff Lemire on a graphic book called Secret Path. It told the tale of an Indigenous boy, Chanie Wenjack, who ran away from his residential school in 1966, only to be found dead on train tracks in Kenora, Ontario.
Today's statement on the Tragically Hip's website ends with a thank you to Downie's medical and management teams, 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.
Love you forever Gord.
The Downie Family"