10/18/2017 15:08 EDT | Updated 10/18/2017 16:01 EDT

'They Inspire Everything': Gord Downie Shielded His Children From The Spotlight

But what the late singer revealed in personal anecdotes is heartbreaking.

Gord Downie of The Tragically Hip performs onstage during their 'Man Machine Poem Tour' at Rogers Arena on July 24, 2016 in Vancouver.
Andrew Chin/Getty Images
Gord Downie of The Tragically Hip performs onstage during their 'Man Machine Poem Tour' at Rogers Arena on July 24, 2016 in Vancouver.

Tragically Hip frontman and Canadian icon Gord Downie lived his life in the spotlight as a musician, as an advocate for Indigenous issues, and as a champion for brain cancer research all while steadfastly shielding his four children from the public eye.

Downie, 53, died Tuesday night of glioblastoma, an aggressive brain cancer. His children were by his side, according to a statement released by The Tragically Hip.

Other than the fact that he had four of them, fans knew little about Downie's children a rarity for such a well-known public figure. Only very occasionally would Downie share a personal anecdote about his family life.

In 2010, he told the Globe and Mail that he would regale his children with tales from the road.

"You know, I've been hit with a Greb boot in the face and I've been spat on," he said. "And my kids light up when they hear these stories. It really takes their minds off their troubles."

Downie's children inspired him

The singer was uncharacteristically open about his family in a 2010 interview about their influences on his music. At the time, his children ranged in age from four to 14.

"They inspire everything," Downie told the Canadian Press. "Everything I do, everything I eat, everything I don't eat.

"You settle into the fact that you let these kids affect you in their great and positive ways, and that can only affect your work in great and positive ways."

Kevin Light / Reuters
Tragically Hip lead singer Gord Downie performs with band members Paul Langlois, Gord Sinclair, Johnny Fay and Rob Baker to kick off the band's latest "Man Machine Poem" tour in light of Downie's brain cancer diagnosis, in Victoria, B.C., July 22, 2016.

Downie's daughter left her mark on one particular song on his solo album "The Grand Bounce," he said. He'd recorded his daughter "tinkling away at the piano" and used the track in the song "Pinned."

"She was appalled that I'd done that," Downie told the Canadian Press. "And I liked it. I kept it with me."

A musical family

In Oct. 2016, a few months after his whirlwind final tour, Downie revealed that his son Louie had a panic attack when he first learned about his father's seizures, one of the symptoms that led to Downie's diagnosis. In that same interview, readers learned that Louie, who was 16 at the time, wanted to be a drummer.

Mark Horton/WireImage
Gord Downie of The Tragically Hip performs at the RBC Royal Bank Bluesfest on July 17, 2015 in Ottawa.

Louie had just played his first gig with his band, and Downie was his roadie.

"That was exciting for me to see," Downie told The Globe and Mail.

Heartbreaking memory loss

Downie was diagnosed with terminal brain cancer in 2015. The next year, in an interview with Peter Mansbridge, he spoke about how his illness and treatment had affected his memory.

His treatment which had involved surgeries, radiation and chemotherapy had left him sometimes unable to remember the names of his own children, he said.

The Tragically Hip (Rob Baker, Gord Sinclair, Johnny Fay, Paul Langlois, Gord Downie) in April, 1999. (Photo by Anthony Pidgeon/Redferns)

"My memories, which used to be my forte, and now I can't remember hardly anything," he told Mansbridge.

"I have Peter written on my hand. I have things written, a few things written on my hands. And I say that, just to be up front. 'Cause I might call you Doug."

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