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Gord Downie, the Tragically Hip frontman who united a country with his commanding stage presence, his passion for advocacy, his perseverance in the face of his mortality, and his Canadiana-laced lyrics, has died.
He was 53.
Downie died on Tuesday night surrounded by his children and family, according to a statement posted on thehip.com.
“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, often sealing it with a kiss… on the lips,” the statement said.
Downie was born in Amherstview, Ontario, a suburb of Kingston, on February 6, 1964. He attended the Kingston Collegiate and Vocational Institute, where he and four friends formed the Tragically Hip in 1983.
In May 2016, the band revealed that Downie had been diagnosed with an aggressive and terminal form of brain cancer. The band shared the “tough news” with fans on their website and Facebook page, stating that Downie had been diagnosed in December of 2015, and that “he’s endured a lot of difficult times, and he has been fighting hard” ever since. The Tragically Hip then announced what was assumed to be a farewell concert tour that coincided with the release of their 14th studio album, Man Machine Poem. The final concert, in Kingston on August 20, 2016, was broadcast by the CBC and was one of the most watched television events in Canadian history.
In the aftermath of the band’s farewell tour, Downie released his fifth solo album The Secret Path, which told the story of 12-year-old Chanie Wenjack, who died of exposure after escaping a residential school. The album was paired with a graphic novel, an animated film and the creation of the Gord Downie & Chanie Wenjack Fund, which aims to foster reconciliation.
Downie spent his final months speaking out in support of Indigenous people, declaring: “Canada is not Canada. We are not the country we think we are.”
His work on in raising awareness around Indigenous issues led him to be honoured at an emotional Assembly of First Nations ceremony in December 2016, where he was given the Lakota spirit name, “He who walks with the stars.”
Of course, his legacy will always be most closely associated with the Tragically Hip.
The Hip won 16 Juno awards (the most of any band) and received countless other honours, including the prestigious Order of Canada. The group also has a Canadian Music Hall of Fame induction, a Governor General's Performing Arts Award, an honorary fellowship with the Royal Conservatory of Music and a star on Canada's Walk of Fame. The band even has its own postage stamp and a street named after it, Tragically Hip Way, in Kingston, Ontario.