SOCAN mourns the loss of Gord Downie

Photo: Gordon Hawkins
October 18, 2017

SOCAN is sad to report that Gord Downie, the iconic frontman and lyricist for one of Canada’s most legendary and enduring bands, The Tragically Hip, has passed away at 53 after a long, public and courageous battle with brain cancer. He died peacefully, surrounded by family in hospital, on the night of Oct. 17, 2017.

“Gord Downie was a towering presence in Canadian music,” said Eric Baptiste. “His kind and gentle spirit entered into his music with every verse and chorus that he created, and he is emblematic of all that is good about Canada. His friends and family at SOCAN will miss him greatly, and we will continue to honour his legend as a songwriter.”

Since his diagnosis on May 24, 2016, Downie had worked feverishly, against all odds, in a flurry of artistic activity. He mounted a final tour across Canada with The Tragically Hip, in support of their 14th studio album, Man Machine Poem. The tour included a CBC-TV live, commercial-free broadcast, on Aug. 20, 2016, of the final date, at the Rogers K-Rock Centre in Downie’s hometown of Kingston, ON – attended by prime minister Justin Trudeau, and watched by 11.7 million people (roughly one-third of the Canadian population).

Downie also participated in a film of the tour, and his process of coping with cancer, Long Time Running, which debuted last month at the 2017 edition of the Toronto International Film Festival, and will be broadcast nationally, commercial-free, at 8:00 p.m. ET on CTV, on Oct. 20, 2017. And he released his fifth solo album, Secret Path, and co-created an accompanying graphic novel and animated TV special (both with Jim Lemire), based on the true story of Chanie Wenjack – an Indigenous youth who died after escaping from a residential school. This was only part of Downie’s broader devotion to advocating for Canada’s First Nations peoples. A 23-song Gord Downie solo double-album, Introduce Yerself, will be released on Oct. 27, 2017.

A statement released today by Downie’s family says:

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… 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… We would like to thank all the kind folks at KGH [Kingston General Hospital] and Sunnybrook [hospital], Gord’s bandmates, management team, friends and fans. Thank you for all the help and support over the past two years. Thank you everyone for all the respect, admiration and love you have given Gord throughout the years — those tender offerings touched his heart and he takes them with him now as he walks among the stars.

A unique, brilliant lyricist, Downie’s poetic, masterful songs with The Tragically Hip – co-written with his bandmates and fellow SOCAN members, guitarist Paul Langlois, guitarist Rob Baker, bassist Gord Sinclair, and drummer Johnny Fay – were among the most definitive Canadian rock anthems, and he was an inspiration to legions of fans across the country. Downie’s classic songs with “The Hip” – like "Little Bones," "Courage," "Bobcaygeon'" and "Ahead by a Century," to name only a few – have been woven into the fabric of Canadian identity for a generation of listeners.

Founded in 1983, the band was signed to MCA Records after one of their typically incendiary live gigs at the Horseshoe Tavern. Since then, nine Tragically Hip albums have reached No. 1 on the Canadian charts, and they’ve received a great many Canadian music awards, including 16 JUNOs and three SOCAN Awards, including our National Achievement Award in 1997. The band earned a star on Canada's Walk of Fame in 2002, were inducted into the Canadian Music Hall of Fame in 2005, and earned a Governor General's Performing Arts Award in 2008. In 2016, Downie and The Tragically Hip were inducted into the Order of Canada for “their contribution to Canadian music and for their support of various social and environmental causes.”

At this difficult time, SOCAN extends its most heartfelt condolences to Downie’s family, bandmates, everyone on his team, his friends, and fans across the country and around the world.