One of Canada’s most recognizable voices is fading. Gord Downie, the lead singer of the Tragically Hip, has been diagnosed with terminal brain cancer at the age of 52, CBC News reports. Downie and the rest of the Hip have been dealing with the news for the last several months, but plans are on for a summer tour.
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“This feels like the right thing to do now, for Gord, and for all of us,” said the Juno-winning band, which has been together for more than 30 years, according to the Globe and Mail. The Juno Awards are the Canadian equivalent of the Grammys.
Downie is a father of four who has also plied his hand, on occasion, in the acting realm. In a twist that may be viewed as ironic by some, Downie played a cancer survivor who encounters Joshua Jackson’s character Ben in One Week.
This is not the first time, however, that Downie has had the spectre of cancer over his life. In 2012, his wife, Laura, received a breast cancer diagnosis, and as now, his bandmates rallied around him and his family. He channeled his talents as one of Canada’s premier lyricists during that difficult time and the album Now for Plan A was the result.
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It is perhaps Downie’s stage presence that makes the Tragically Hip one of Canada’s most memorable and enduring bands. CBC News reports that one performance from Downie can result in a flurry of dance moves.
“One performance and yet it yields, easily, 100 or more separate dance moves; such is the spontaneous genius of one of the most captivating frontmen in Canadian music,” CBC’s Jesse Kinos-Goodin wrote in 2013.
Indeed, that could perhaps be the reason for the omnipresent handkerchief on Downie’s microphone any time he takes the stage. Between the stage lights, the natural athleticism Downie features in each of his shows and his natural enthusiastic energy, Downie needs a handkerchief if anything to simply clear his vision of sweat between songs.
Regardless of the reason, there is so much to Gord Downie that it would be difficult if not impossible to envision the Tragically Hip without him. It would seem that Downie himself has always viewed those moments performing with the band as pure moments of “transcendence,” as he said.
“Enjoy those one-night moments. We’ll only be here tonight, this bunch of us in this room,” he told the Hour in 2006.
The Tragically Hip and Downie are coming out with their 13th studio album this summer, Man Machine Poem, and while the anticipation for the album runs high, news of Downie’s terminal cancer diagnosis will no doubt push sales for both the album and their upcoming concert through the roof. Although the Hip’s concerts are always well-attended and sometimes raucous, their concerts are almost always packed with those who have loved Downie and the band for years.
News of Gord Downie’s terminal cancer diagnosis being kept under wraps since December 2015 seems shocking, but if one considers that Downie is a Canadian celebrity who has never lived his private life publicly in front of a slew of cameras, it should come as no surprise that he and other members of the Tragically Hip were able to keep news of his cancer diagnosis a secret for so long.
The band appeared to acknowledge the challenge of keeping the news private in a message on their website.
“In privacy along with his family, and through all of this, we’ve been standing by him,” the message says.
As is usually the case with cancer, Downie is not suffering alone. His family is affected. His bandmates are affected, too. The band also acknowledged the fight that Downie has waged so far against cancer.
“Obviously, he’s endured a lot of difficult times, and he has been fighting hard,” the message said.
Downie is not alone in that fight. Cancer fighter Stacey Lepage noted of the battle against cancer in her blog, writing, “It is the courage of warriors. It is the grit of dirt farmers…It is the strength to face an uncertain future.”
While Downie, the Tragically Hip, and their fiercely loyal fan base may not know what to expect in the coming months of Downie’s ongoing cancer battle, it is sure to be a heck of a fight.
[Photo by Aaron Harris/CP, AP Images]