Beloved Canadian alternative rock band The Tragically Hip announced earlier today that lead singer Gord Downie, born in Amherstview, Ontario, and raised in Kingston, husband of Laura, and father of four, has been diagnosed with terminal brain cancer. The band plans to release its 13th studio album, Man Machine Poem, on June 16, 2016, and embark on its final tour. The announcement struck millions of Canadians, especially those who grew up on the band’s music, with a jolt of grief. The Tragically Hip is highly decorated with 14 JUNO Awards of 43 nominations and has sold millions of records. Gord Downie has also released music as a soloist.
During a morning press conference, the head of neurology at Sunnybrook Health Sciences Centre in Toronto, Dr. James Perry, told reporters that Downie has glioblastoma, an aggressive form of brain cancer. He said that it sits in an area that makes it treatable but is not curable. Perry said Gord experienced symptoms in December, 2015, when he had a seizure that placed him in Emergency. A scan revealed a tumour on the left side of his brain that would be impossible to completely remove. Physicians were able to excise most of it, and Downie has undergone 30 radiation treatments since. Chemotherapy, i.e. medication treatment, ended a month ago.
Forming in 1984 while in high school, The Tragically Hip saw most of its singles success in the 1990s. “Little Bones” was the group’s first big hit, #11 in 1991, and made the year-end Top 100. In total, the band scored 17 Top 40 hits through the 90s, the lone chart-topper being “Ahead By a Century” in 1996. With the Canadian charts being sketchy from 2000 to 2007, the success of the The Hip’s singles is hard to ascertain between the RPM and Billboard eras, but we do know that “It’s a Good Life” was popular in 2002. The band landed two songs on the Billboard Canadian Hot 100. “Love Is a First” made it to #22 on March 11, 2009, spending 18 weeks on the chart and “At Transformation” spent 15 weeks peaking at #63 on May 30, 2012.
Two of the Tragically Hip’s 12 studio albums achieved diamond certification for sales of 1 million units: 1989’s Up to Here, the group’s debut album, and 1992’s Fully Completely. A downtown Kingston street was named after the group in 2010, Tragically Hip Way. The band is loved for its incorporating much Canadiana, including history, culture, and geography, in its lyrics. In the beautiful song “Bobcaygeon” which won the JUNO Award for Single of the Year in Y2K, The Hip not only immortalized the small Ontario town but also referenced the Christie Pits riot of 1933, ignited from tensions between the blue-collar Jewish community and anti-semitic Swastika clubs in the context of The Great Depression following a baseball game in Toronto. We have embedded the music video below. Thoughts and prayers are with dear Gord Downie and his family.