Canadian icon Gord Downie, frontman of the Tragically Hip, died late Tuesday night. The 53-year-old was diagnosed with brain cancer last year. Tributes to the musician poured in from around the world, eulogizing Downie’s advocacy for indigenous rights, his commitment to using his platform as a beacon for doing good and his incredible musical legacy.
Downie’s family issued a statement thanking everyone for the love shown to him over the years, saying, “Those tender offerings touched his heart and he takes them with him now as he walks among the stars.”
Canada’s prime minister Justin Trudeau wept as he spoke of Downie, declaring: “We are less as a country.”
Legendary Rock Group Tragically Hip
For many Canadians, Tragically Hip songs provided the soundtrack to their lives.
Tracks like “Bobcaygeon,” “Nautical Disaster” and “Ahead By A Century”—with Downie’s powerful clear voice laid over the rich rock’n’roll thunder of guitarists Paul Langlois and Rob Baker, bassist Gord Sinclair and drummer Johnny Fay—are woven into the national consciousness.
The legendary rock group made its Billboard chart debut in March 1990 with “New Orleans Is Sinking.” The song launched a decades-long career that earned The Hip the nickname “Canada’s band.”
For an in-depth look at Gord Downie and the band’s musical legacy, check out Billboard’s tribute The Tragically Hip by the Numbers: Remembering Frontman Gord Downie.
Gord Downie: Activist And Cannabis Advocate
Downie was an activist for reconciliation and indigenous people’s rights in Canada.
And the Tragically Hip were forward-thinking when it came to cannabis as well—the band announced in May that they would partner with medical marijuana company Newstrike in anticipation of Canada legalizing cannabis for recreational consumption.
They named their new venture Up Cannabis; in a release, the group said it would be “contributing creatively” to Newstrike, calling the Canadian government’s plans for legalization “common-sense policy” and “a change for the best.”
Up Cannabis and Newstrike did not comment at the time on whether the partnership was influenced by Downie’s diagnosis with terminal brain cancer, citing a need to protect his privacy.
A Nationwide Outpouring Of Sorrow And Remembrance
Justin Trudeau is not alone in his grieving the loss of Gord Downie.
“He was a fighter, a hero, in a better place singing and dancing.” his manager Bernie Breen told High Times.
The National Chief of the Assembly of First Nations, Perry Bellegarde, wrote on Twitter: “Our hearts break on news of the passing of Wicapi Omani, ‘Walks Among the Stars,’ Gord Downie an ally & friend.”
Mark Critch of the hit comedy show This Hour Has 22 Minutes expressed his belief that “Gord’s recent work on indigenous issues alone was enough to earn him praise. He turned a terminal illness into a way to amplify the ignored.”
There will never be another one like you, Gord. Rest in peace my friend.
— Justin Trudeau (@JustinTrudeau) October 18, 2017
Our hearts break on news of the passing of Wicapi Omani, “Walks Among the Stars”, Gord Downie an ally & friend. pic.twitter.com/9gPIdX1qrO
— Perry Bellegarde (@perrybellegarde) October 18, 2017
Gord's recent work on indigenous issues alone was enough to earn him praise. He turned a terminal illness into a way to amplify the ignored https://t.co/eC9rFhukS5
— Mark Critch (@markcritch) October 18, 2017
On the Up Cannabis site a statement reads: “We join the millions of Canadians mourning the loss of Gord. His music and words are sublime, channeling both the joys and the challenges of the country we love. He was an unparalleled entertainer and the creator of life’s soundtrack for countless music lovers. But he was so much more: a beloved father, son, brother, husband and friend; a creative partner; a national icon.
His contribution to the richness of our lives will never be forgotten.
May he rest in peace.”
“Music brings people together. Anything I do is to bring people together.” – Tragically Hip’s Gord Downie, 1964-2017