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