An iconic Canadian rock band that has spent decades entertaining fans around the world says its lead singer has been diagnosed with terminal brain cancer.
In a statement posted on the group’s website this morning, the Tragically Hip announced Gord Downie was diagnosed in December.
An update on Downie’s condition took place at the Sunnybrook Health Sciences Centre in Toronto late Tuesday morning.
Dr. James Perry, head of Neurology at Sunnybrook, announced Downie has Glioblastoma and has undergone six weeks of radiation treatment and chemotherapy.
“It’s unfortunately not a curable tumour,” Dr. Perry told reporters at a packed news conference carried live on Am980.
“Other notable people have had this tumour. Recently Ted Kennedy, Joe Biden’s son. Unfortunately even with the greatest connections and money there’s no way to buy your way out of this. It’s too early right now in Gord’s trajectory to understand what his prognosis might be. Because when it comes down to individuals we only have statistics and statistics just don’t tell the picture.”
In the face of the news, the band has decided to launch a summer tour saying it’s the right thing to do for the group and for Downie. Dr. Perry says Downie has been cleared to perform but medical contingencies will be available in case of any emergencies.
“I don’t anticipate that there will be any though, he’s doing very well. They’ve started rehearsing. I was lucky enough to see a few of those and they’re very good.”
The tumour was discovered after Downie went to an emergency room following a seizure, which resulted in imaging that showed the tumour.
Taz of the Taz Show on FM96 spoke with AM980 about the news of Downie’s diagnosis on Tuesday. He said he’d heard rumours the frontman was unwell, but the confirmation was still difficult to come to terms with.
“I was surprised with how emotional I got when I had to read the news that Gord was battling brain cancer and that this was going to be the last tour,” Taz said noting the profound impact Downie’s work and that of The Hip have had on Canadian music and culture in general.
“Gord Downie is like the Canadian rock and roll icon. The way he takes things that resonate with us Canadians, and works them into his songs, he makes them so moving, so poetic. I really can’t think of anyone else like him.”
The connection Downie and The Hip have forged with their fans is an enduring one, said Taz.
“It’s almost like the cult of The Tragically Hip…I think everybody is a Tragically Hip fan. If you grew up in Canada, you’ve gone to see The Hip, you’ve sung a long with a Hip song in your car,” he said.
“It’s almost like generation to generation it doesn’t matter how old you are, you know The Tragically Hip and you love the music that the band has released over the years.”
And while the news of Downie’s condition is devastating, Taz said the announcement of a tour does provide a bit of solace.
“I guess the bright side is as fans, as Canadians, we have one last chance to see him perform live,” he said. “I think back to the last year, a lot of the rock and roll icons who have left us, we haven’t had that opportunity.”
Meanwhile, Brad Jones of Jones Entertainment Group says the band is among the best in Canada and that Downie’s performance draw massive crowds.
“I think the proof is in their ticket sales that they’ve had for the first 25 years filling out arenas and festivals,” he said. “I know from our personal experience at Rock the Park in 2009, to this day they hold the biggest crowd we’ve ever had at Rock the Park, we had over 13,000 people packed in Harris Park. It was absolutely craziness and I think that’s an absolute tribute to the way Gord is as the mainstay of that band.”
Tributes and messages of support for Downie have blanketed Twitter and Facebook from musicians, politicians, and Canadians alike.
Gord Downie is a true original who has been writing Canada’s soundtrack for more than 30 years. #Courage
— Justin Trudeau (@JustinTrudeau) May 24, 2016
Woke up today to terrible news about a friend. Words fail me right now, so I'll just leave you with this: https://t.co/sBFEbQPJMq
— Bob McKenzie (@TSNBobMcKenzie) May 24, 2016
Thinking about the incredible Gord Downie and sending him and his family all of our love.
— Blue Rodeo (@BlueRodeo) May 24, 2016
— Matt Stajan (@MattStajan18) May 24, 2016
Further details about the tour are expected to be released on Wednesday.