Gord Downie (1964-2017)
February 6, 1964 – October 18, 2017
Canadian rock legend and frontman of The Tragically Hip, Gord Downie, has passed away after a long battle with terminal brain cancer according to multiple sources. He was 53.
Born in Kingston, Ontario, Downie grew up in the Kingston suburbs where he would befriend future bandmates Rob Baker, Johnny Fay, Davis Manning, and Gord Sinclair. Together the group would form The Tragically Hip in 1983 while attending Kingston Collegiate and Vocational Institute. The band started out performing cover songs in bars before being discovered after a show in Toronto. In 1986, Paul Langlois joined the band the same year Davis Manning Left.
As a member of the Tragically Hip, Downie helped the band rise to prominence in Canada as the band’s lead singer and principal songwriter. He was beloved by many Canadian fans for his stories and myths about life in Canada incorporated into songs as well as his wild antics and rants on stage.
While the band never achieved the same level success outside of Canada, the group was commercially successful and the recipient of numerous awards. Together, the band released 14 studio albums with multiple albums going platinum in Canada. Some the bands most beloved songs include “Ahead By A Century” (1996), “Bobcaygeon” (1998), “Wheat Kings” (1992), “Fiddlers Green” (1991), “Courage” (1992), “Poets” (1998), “Grace Too” (1994).
In 2001, Downie started a solo career pursuing other projects while still a member of the band. As a solo artist, he released six albums and several poetry and prose books. Downie was also an environmentalist and heavily involved in many movements. As a board member of Lake Ontario Waterkeeper, Downie was passionate about a cause to prevent a cement company from burning tires for fuel. He was also a part of the Swim Drink Fish Music club. The group unites artists and environmentalists to raise money for Waterkeeper organizations in Canada.
Philanthropy was also an important aspect of Downie’s life, especially helping support Canada’s indigenous people. In October 2016 alongside the Wenjack family, the families announced the founding of the Gord Downie and Chanie Wenjack Fund to support reconciliation between Indigenous and non-Indigenous peoples. Chanie Wenjack was a young boy who died trying to escape a residential school. In December of 2016, Downie was honored with an eagle feather at the Assembly of First Nations.
On May 24, 2016, Downie and the Tragically Hip announced that he had been diagnosed with a terminal brain tumor. The summer of 2016, the band toured across Canada to support their most recent album Man Machine Poem (2016). The final show of the tour was at Rogers K-Rock Centre in the band’s hometown of Kingston. The sold-out event saw thousands pack the arena, thousands more line the streets outside, and 11.7 million watch the concert as it was streamed online and on television by The Canadian Broadcasting Corporation.
Downie was married once in his life to Laura Leigh Usher. The pair separated sometime before he was diagnosed with cancer. Together the couple has four children that Downie is survived by.
Following the news of his death, celebrities took to Twitter to express their condolences.
Canada's identity & culture are richer for Gord Downie's work.
— Justin Trudeau (@JustinTrudeau) October 18, 2017
Heartbroken today. Few Canadians touched this country like Gord Downie. Thank you for everything you gave us. My deepest condolences. pic.twitter.com/00DdU6IVZn
— Doug Gilmour (@DougGilmour93) October 18, 2017