A musical icon and one of the most influential Canadians of our time has left us.
Gord Downie, singer and songwriter of iconic Canadian band The Tragically Hip, passed away Tuesday night with his children and family close by at the age of 53. A statement announcing his passing was posted to The Hip’s website this morning:
Downie’s unique stage presence and lyrics that often referenced Canadian culture and history helped him become one of this country’s most recognizable artists of all-time. To many, The Hip were “Canada’s band.” They effectively refused to adapt to grow their audience in America, sticking to the stringently Canadian principles that made them perhaps most successful band in this country.
Downie was diagnosed with terminal brain cancer in December of 2015 and went public with the news in May of 2016.
The Tragically Hip embarked on a cross-country farewell tour in support of their record Man Machine Poem the summer of 2016, which culminated with a show in their hometown of Kingston, Ontario, which was broadcast nationally by CBC. An estimated 11.7 million Canadians tuned into the broadcast.
Downie was appointed to the Order of Canada for his work on Indigenous issues in June of 2017. Even in failing health, the singer and social activist used his celebrity to stand up for the causes he felt were important to this country. Downie was lauded for his efforts to bring attention to Canada’s shameful history of residential schools and to reconciliation causes.
In October of 2016, Downie released The Secret Path, a studio album and graphic novel written by himself and illustrated by Jeff Lemire. CBC also aired an animated feature of The Secret Path, which chronicled the story of Chanie Wenjack, an Anishinaabe boy who died after fleeing a residential school in an attempt to walk 600 km to his home in 1966. Downie released another solo record in September of 2017, a 23-song double LP titled Introduce Yerself.
Over the course of nearly 30 years as a band, The Tragically Hip released 14 studio records, two live albums, and one EP. They proved that Canadian artists didn’t need American validation to be successful at home.
There will never be another Gord Downie.