Gord Downie, the lead singer of beloved Canadian alternative rock group the Tragically Hip, died Tuesday after a prolonged battle with cancer
Downie was diagnosed with incurable brain cancer in May 2016 and died on the evening of October 17 according to a statement from his family.
In the statement, Downie’s family said “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.”
The statement continued: “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.”
While they were beloved in Canada, the Tragically Hip struggled to break through in America. Driven by Downie’s distinctive voice and unforced skill with songwriting, the Hip’s melodic but raw rock songs were inescapable parts of Canadian life from the late ’80s on and fiercely embraced by college radio listeners in the state.
Their 1989 breakthrough Up to Here heralded a new Northern talent with blues driven, swaggering singles like “New Orleans is Sinking.” They refined their jagged guitar blues melodic rock on 1991’s Road Apples, but started turning away from the bar room blues sound with 1992’s Fully Completely, which saw Downie’s style evolve from the snarling smirk of his first two albums, revealing a vulnerable but still immediate vocal style.
By the mid ’90s, the Hip stripped down and refined their sound; the spare, haunting masterpiece Day for Night was the result. While retaining the rocking edge of their early work, the minimal and moody sound charted new sonic territory for the band. They’d continue to explore that space with new textures and emotional explorations up until their 13th album, 2016’s Man Machine Poem, recorded just prior to Downie’s cancer diagnosis (they reportedly recorded four albums worth of material after the diagnosis).
While the band’s sound never stopped developing over their decades-long career and 13 albums, the band’s chemistry remained constant. The band formed while the members were high school students in Ontario. Until Downie’s death, the lineup held steady from its formation. That’s a rare and lucky continuity—a fact noted in Downie’s family’s statement on his death.
“As a musician, he lived “the life” for over 30 years, lucky to do most of it with his high school buddies,” his family wrote.
Canadian celebrities and politicians, including Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, took to social media to send out condolences in the wake of Downie’s death.
RIP Gord Downie. 🇨🇦
— Seth Rogen (@Sethrogen) October 18, 2017
There will never be another one like you, Gord. Rest in peace my friend.
— Justin Trudeau (@JustinTrudeau) October 18, 2017
In a tearful public statement, Trudeau added that “We are less as a country without Gord Downie in it.”