Canada's Tragically Hip singer Gord Downie dies at 53

 18 Oct 2017 - 18:57

Canada's Tragically Hip singer Gord Downie dies at 53
Tragically Hip singer Gord Downie takes part in an honouring ceremony at the Assembly of First Nations Special Chiefs Assembly in Gatineau, Quebec, Canada on December 6, 2016. Reuters/Chris Wattie

AFP

Ottawa:  Rock poet and Tragically Hip frontman Gord Downie, whose evocative lyrics helped define Canada, has died at age 53.

Downie was diagnosed with terminal brain cancer after suffering a seizure during a walk in his hometown of Kingston, Ontario in December 2015.

According to a statement from his bandmates, he passed away on Tuesday evening surrounded by his family.

"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," said the statement.

"He loved this country with everything he had... He loved every hidden corner, every aspect of this country," an emotional Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said, tears streaming down his face.

"He wanted to make it better. He wanted us to be better than we were," Trudeau said of the man he called a friend. "We are less a country without Gord Downie in it."

After three decades of making music with his former high school mates, Downie's doctors made public his condition in May 2016, saying he had rebounded after undergoing surgery and chemotherapy but that the cancer was "incurable," prompting an outpouring of support.

On the same day, the Tragically Hip announced a farewell tour. Downey's final concert in August was broadcast live across Canada.

The alternative rock band broke out in the 1990s with hits such as "New Orleans is Sinking," "Blow at High Dough" and "38 Years Old."

Its discography sold more than eight million copies, appealing to partiers and intellectuals alike.

Downie's lyrics -- steeped in Canadiana -- explored the poor treatment of indigenous peoples, environmental causes and the plight of the wrongfully convicted.

Bringing people 'closer in'

"I haven't written too many political lyrics," he said in a Canadian Press interview in 2014. "Nor have I written any pro-Canada lyrics, any kind of jingoistic, nationalistic cant... That stuff doesn't interest me and I don't even know if I could write that if I tried because I don't really feel it.

"Social causes are quite obvious. Music brings people together. So my function in anything I do is to help bring people closer in."

In 2005, The Tragically Hip was inducted into the Canadian Music Hall of Fame and four years ago was featured on a Canadian stamp.

On Wednesday, tributes poured in, including from actors Seth Rogan and Ryan Reynolds. "Swift rebirth Gord Downie," singer K.D. Lang said in a Twitter message.

The Ontario legislature held a moment of silence for Downie, while Assembly of First Nations National Chief Perry Bellegarde recalled a ceremony last year in which Downie was given the Lakota name Wicapi Omani, or Walks Among the Stars.

"Today, he begins a new journey among the stars, but his music, his art, his work and his memory will always be with us," Bellegarde said.

"His music is an essential part of the soundtrack of Canada," said Toronto mayor John Tory.

Downie's final solo album "Introduce Yerself" is scheduled to be released posthumously on October 27.