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Tragically Hip frontman Gord Downie dies at 53

Oct 20,2017
Gord Downie, who made himself part of Canada’s national identity with songs about hockey and small towns as lead singer and songwriter of iconic rock band The Tragically Hip, has died at age 53 after a battle with brain cancer.

A statement on the band’s website said he died Tuesday night “with his beloved children and family close by.” The statement did not give a cause of death, though he had been diagnosed with brain cancer.

Since The Tragically Hip’s first album in 1987, the band has provided a soundtrack for the lives of many Canadians. “Ahead by a Century” and “Bobcaygeon” are among the best known.

While Canadian musicians Drake, the Weeknd and Justin Bieber have made waves internationally, the Tragically Hip built a huge following of die-hard homegrown fans.

An emotional Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau wept in Parliament while talking about Downie on national television in a statement to reporters.

“We are less as a country without Gord Downie in it. We all knew it was coming but we hoped it wasn’t,” said Trudeau, his voice breaking. “I thought I was going to make it through this but I’m not. It hurts.”

Trudeau also said in a written statement that “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.”

“He loved every hidden corner, every aspect of this country that he celebrated his whole life,” Trudeau said in Ottawa.

Downie was diagnosed with glioblastoma, an aggressive and incurable brain cancer, in December 2015. When the band made the news public the following May, expressions of sorrow poured in from across the country.

That same day, the band said it would mount a Canadian tour despite Downie’s cancer. Tickets for the 2016 summer tour sold out almost immediately, culminating in a national broadcast of the band’s final tour stop at Kingston, Ontario.

Downie later said that he needed six teleprompters during the concert series so he would not forget lyrics. But through it all, Downie remained the consummate showman, rocking out on stage in distinctive leather suits.

“Gord knew this day was coming - his response was to spend his 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 Downie family said in a statement.

During his final show, Downie called out to Trudeau, who attended the concert, to help fix problems in Canada’s aboriginal communities.

A few months after that concert, Downie released a solo album with an accompanying graphic novel and animated film inspired by the tragedy of state-funded church schools that Canadian aboriginal children were forced to attend from the 19th century until the 1970s.

He said his “Secret Path” project was aimed at Canada’s decades-long government policy of requiring aboriginal children to attend residential schools, where physical and sexual abuse was often rampant.

While at university, he met Paul Langlois, Rob Baker, Gord Sinclair and Johnny Fray, and they formed The Tragically Hip, which started out as a cover band.

Downie is survived by his wife and four children. AP