Gord Downie, the lead singer for The Tragically Hip, has passed away at 53.
Downie discovered he had a form of incurable brain cancer called glioblastoma after suffering a seizure in December 2015.
He died surrounded by his children and family on Tuesday night, according to a statement on the band’s Facebook page:
“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,” ,” says the statement.
“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.”
Gord Downie is one of Canada’s most cherished musical treasures. Growing up in a suburb of Kingston, Ontario, it was here where he met his future The Tragically Hip bandmates and formed the group in early ‘80s. His passionate songwriting and distinctly Canadian stories helped propel the band to great success across the globe. But nobody loves The Tragically Hip more than the group’s home country of Canada.
Taking their name from a line of dialogue in a Michael Nesmith video, Elephant Parts, The Tragically Hip was originally formed by Downie, Rob Baker, Johnny Fay, Gord Sinclair, and Davis Manning. At Manning’s departure in 1986, guitarist Paul Langlois joined and that line-up would remain unchanged for the balance of the group’s career. The Tragically Hip paid their rock’n’roll dues with cover sets in bars and clubs, playing a circuit throughout Southern Ontario. A major label rep heard The Hip’s songs and was inspired to secure rights to their self-titled debut EP but a less-than-smooth rollout caused the group to retake the reins and release the music on their own terms in December 1987, specifically for the Kingston market.
While the EP would now be classed a small but vital success in the band’s path, their renown was nonetheless gathering momentum and radius, selling out ever-larger venues. With a speedily expanding songbook, their debut full-length, Up To Here, was released in 1989. It was now that the band’s impact was felt country-wide on the strength of five singles, en route to becoming The Hip classics “Blow at High Dough”, “New Orleans Is Sinking”, “Boots or Hearts”, “38 Years Old” and “Trickle Down.” The album reached #13 on the Canadian Album Charts and the first two singles hit #1 on the Canadian Content singles charts. It would eventually reach Diamond certification for sales of one million units, a rare feat for Canadian artists to achieve in their own country.
Another two years passed before their second studio album, Road Apples, was released. Featuring tracks like “Little Bones” and “Twist My Arm”, the band was now cemented as a force in the rock and roll world, selling another one million units in Canada. Follow-up Fully Completely would add an additional one million units to the group’s total sales count. With three Diamond-certified albums, The Tragically Hip is only one of five acts to achieve this feat, alongside The Beatles, Celine Dion, Shania Twain, and The Backstreet Boys. With huge singles like “Locked in the Trunk of a Car”, “Courage” (the band’s first Top 10 single on the RPM Canadian charts) and “At the Hundredth Meridian,” The Tragically Hip only continued to rule the airwaves.
Day for Night was then released in 1994, producing six singles, including “Nautical Disaster” and “Grace, Too”. In March 1995, The Hip played both these tracks on Saturday Night Live, thanks in part to fellow Kingston native Dan Aykroyd hosting the show. Trouble at the Henhouse followed in 1996, including what many consider to be The Hip’s most iconic single, “Ahead by a Century”, hitting #1 on the Canadian singles chart. In July 1996, the Hip headlined Edenfest, a three-day festival in Bowmanville, Ontario. The concert sold over 70,000 tickets total and an estimated 20,000 additional people gained access by breaking the security perimeter down.
The group’s 1998 album Phantom Power went on to win the Juno for Best Rock Album and Best Album Design. Single “Bobcaygeon” won the Juno Award for Single of the Year in 2000. The Tragically Hip also had the distinct honour of being the first band to play Toronto’s Air Canada Centre following its completion in 1999.
2000’s Music At Work also won the Juno for Best Rock Album. A year later, Downie released his first solo project, Coke Machine Glow. Each album was paired with a book featuring song lyrics from the album and other poetry. The Tragically Hip released In Violet Light two years later. In 2002, the band made a cameo in the movie Men With Brooms, playing a curling team from Kingston.
The ‘00s saw three more albums from the group: 2004’s In Between Evolution, 2006’s World Container, and 2009’s We Are The Same. The group’s 13th studio album, Now For Plan A, came in 2012, and gained the highest charting on the US charts in the group’s history. Downie also released two more solo albums (2003’s Battle of the Nudes and 2010’s The Grand Bounce) and 2014’s And the Conquering Sun, a collaborative album with The Sadies.
Gord Downie was diagnosed with incurable brain cancer in December of 2015. Shortly after the band went public with the news in May 2016, the group announced they would again tour the country, playing 15 shows across Canada on the Man Machine Poem tour to accompany a new album of the same name – which would be certified gold and longlisted for the Polaris Music Prize.
The Tragically Hip would play their final show in Kingston on August 20. In addition to the sold-out audience inside the venue, over 22,000 people showed up to the square outside of the concert, and approximately 11.7 million tuned in to the simulcast on TV, radio, and online, making it one of the biggest broadcasts in Canadian history.
Two months later, Gord Downie released his fifth studio album, The Secret Path, which was accompanied by a graphic novel and animated television film. The concept album discussed Chanie Wenjack, a young Anishinabbe boy who died while trying to walk home from a residential school during winter in 1966. It won two Juno awards (Adult Alternative Album of the Year and Recording Package of the Year) and was his first solo album to be certified Gold.
Downie announced his sixth studio album, Introduce Yerself, scheduled for release October 27.
He’s beloved by millions, and his lyrics not only captured a consensus on what it means to be Canadian, but will define our identity for years and years to come.
To you Gord, we tip our feather-adorned hat.