By: Krizia Ramos Gord Downie, the frontman for one of Canada’s most admired rock bands, the Tragically Hip, died on Tuesday night at the age of 53.
Surrounded by loved ones at the time of his death, a statement was published on the band’s website from his family that read, “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.”
Downie was diagnosed with Glioblastoma, an incurable brain cancer which Canadians learned of in May 2016. The Tragically Hip announced that they would do a final summer tour. The last stop in the band’s hometown, Kingston, Ont. was broadcast live on Aug. 20, 2016.
Downie was born in Kingston on Feb. 6, 1964. Like most average Canadians, Downie was a big hockey fan. His godfather was Boston Bruins coach Harry Sinden which made him a hard-core Bruins fan and he even played goalie for his B-level team, which won a provincial championship.
Aside from hockey, music was his passion. Before forming The Tragically Hip, Downie was in a punk band in high school performing covers, until The Tragically Hip was formed in 1983 at Queen’s University. The name came from a sketch called “Elephant Parts,” a long-form music video by former Monkees member Michael Nesmith.
After releasing their first EP in 1987, they recorded their most popular album Up to Here that was released in 1989, making them a household name. However, after winning their first Juno for Most Promising Group and their next three albums going diamond and multi-platinum, the band didn’t do so well in the U.S. They made their first appearance on Saturday Night Live in 1995 but compared to selling out large arenas in Canada, they played smaller venues south of the border and album sales weren’t as high.
If Downie is to be remembered for one thing, it is being a songwriter. He liked to include Canadian references in his songs. He would sing about things that happened in the news or Canada’s treatment of First Nations peoples. In June 2017, Downie received the Order of Canada, the highest honour for a civilian. With the Hip, the band won 16 Junos. Another major accomplishment was being inducted into Canada’s Walk of Fame and Music Walk of Fame.
Throughout his career, he released four solo albums starting with his first solo album titled Coke Machine Glow in 2001.
Fans, politicians, athletes and fellow musicians are remembering Downie as a national icon. NHL players tweeted their thoughts, and rapper Drake took to Instagram to pay tribute. In a statement, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said “…He was the frontman of one of Canada’s most iconic bands, a rock star, artist, and poet whose evocative lyrics came to define a country…He will be sorely missed.”