Gord Downie, the lead singer of the seminal Canadian alt-rock band The Tragically Hip, died last night following a long struggle with brain cancer. In an article written after Downie’s illness was revealed last year, the BBC called The Tragically Hip “the most Canadian band in the world,” and the assessment seems not unfair. The final stop on what proved to be the band’s final stint of shows last year, The Man Machine Poem Tour, was a huge broadcast event in Canada, syndicated by the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation across television, radio and streaming platforms.
Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau was in attendance at that concert, clad in a Tragically Hip tee, and paid tribute to the band in a television interview, calling the band “anchored in Canada.” This year, Downie, who has been active recording music and doing philanthropic work despite his battle with cancer, spoke in Canada’s Parliament Hill on behalf of indigenous youth, and Trudeau took the stage to thank and praise Downie afterwards.
Today, Trudeau has voiced his support for his “friend” Downie again in a tearful public speech, and also released a statement about his passing, calling Downie “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 also praised Downie’s activism, stating that “his commitment and passion will continue to motivate Canadians for years to come.” He said he had “dr[awn] inspiration and strength” from Downie’s commitment for social issues at the end of his life.
Watch Trudeau’s interview and read his full public statement below.
Here is the Prime Minister’s emotional reaction to the death of Gord Downie. I’ve never seen Justin Trudeau this raw. #cdnpoli #ripGord pic.twitter.com/flj2A5AS0d
— Rosa Hwang (@journorosa) October 18, 2017
For almost five decades, Gord Downie uncovered and told the stories of Canada. 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.
The Tragically Hip’s music invited us to explore places we had never been – from Mistaken Point to Churchill – and helped us understand each other, while capturing the complexity and vastness of the place we call home.
Gord’s command of language was profound. He 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.
In the wake of his diagnosis, Gord only fought harder for what he believed in: social justice, environmentalism, and reconciliation with Indigenous Peoples. Before passing, he shined his light on the story of 12-year-old Chanie Wenjack who died from hunger and exposure after trying to find his way home from a residential school. For his work raising awareness of Indigenous issues, he was inducted as a member of the Order of Canada in 2017.
Gord did not rest from working for the issues he cared about, and his commitment and passion will continue to motivate Canadians for years to come.
On behalf of all Canadians, Sophie and I offer our deepest condolences to Gord’s family, friends, bandmates and crew members, and his many, many fans. He will be sorely missed.