Gord Downie, singer of The Tragically Hip, died of complications from brain cancer Tuesday night at the age of 53 according to a statement from his family.
“Gordie said he had lived many lives,” his family writes. “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 life than Gord. No one.”
The Tragically Hip — Downie, bassist Gord Sinclair, guitarist Rob Baker and drummer Johnny Fay — was formed in a high school in the Canadian province of Ontario in 1984. Guitarist Paul Langlois joined in 1986 while the group was performing in small venues across Ontario. The Tragically Hip would go on to be one of Canada’s best-known bands, becoming indelible within the country’s pop landscape during its ascent in the 1990s.
In a statement on the news of Downie’s passing, Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau writes that the singer “painted landscapes with his words, elevating Canadian geography, historical figures, and myths. When he spoke, he gave us goosebumps and made us proud to be Canadian. Our identity and culture are richer because of his music, which was always raw and honest — like Gord himself.”
While the band never broke into the upper 50 of the Billboard 200 stateside, it placed seven No. 1 albums on Billboard’s Canadian Albums chart. Of its 13 studio albums, three have been certified diamond (more than 1 million copies sold) and eight certified platinum (more than 100,000 copies sold) in Canada.
While The Hip’s music was inescapable in its home country, Downie seemed to have a knack for recruiting fans from the most unlikely sources.
Damian Abraham, singer of the Canadian hardcore band F***** Up, wrote for Vice that The Tragically Hip’s “songs are stitched into the collective subconscious of this country in a way that can only come from being played constantly on radio, television, and during breaks of play at sports events,” and that after deeper listening, “I was blown away by Gord’s ability to tell stories and convey emotion within the constraints of the song.”
Downie announced his illness in May 2016, after being diagnosed in December 2015. “It is my difficult duty today to tell you that Gord Downie’s brain tumour is incurable,” neuro-oncologist James Perry told a news conference at the time of its announcement. In response to the news, Prime Minister Trudeau tweeted: “Downie is a true original who has been writing Canada’s soundtrack for more than 30 years.”
Shortly afterward, Downie also announced he would be joining The Tragically Hip for what would be its final tour, culminating in a performance in the band’s birthplace of Kingston, Ontario. The concert was streamed across Canada and watched by 11.7 million people, according to The Hollywood Reporter. The tour, and that final show, were documented for the documentary film Long Time Running, which is scheduled to premiere on Netflix on Nov. 26.