6 February 1964
17 October 2017 (aged 53)
Gordon Edgar Downie CM (6 February 1964 – 17 October 2017) was a Canadian rock musician, writer, and occasional actor. He was the lead singer and lyricist for the Canadian rock band The Tragically Hip. He released six solo albums: Coke Machine Glow (2001), Battle of the Nudes (2003), The Grand Bounce (2010), And the Conquering Sun with The Sadies (2014), Secret Path (2016), and Introduce Yerself (2017).
Gordon Downie (known widely as Gord Downie) grew up in a suburb of Kingston, Ontario, where he befriended the musicians who would become The Tragically Hip, while attending the downtown Kingston high school Kingston Collegiate and Vocational Institute. Downie formed the Tragically Hip with Rob Baker, Johnny Fay, Davis Manning, and Gord Sinclair in 1983. Saxophone player Davis Manning left the band and guitarist Paul Langlois joined in 1986. Originally, the band started off playing cover songs in bars and quickly became famous once MCA Records president Bruce Dickinson saw them performing at the Horseshoe Tavern in Toronto and offered them a record deal. This much-loved Canadian band has won over many fans through the incorporation of Downie’s stories and myths about life in Canada in his songs, and his wild antics and rantings on stage.
In 2001, Downie diverted from the band and started his solo career with the release of his album Coke Machine Glow. Along with this release he published his first poetry and prose book named after his solo album. He went on to release his solo album, Battle of the Nudes, in 2003. After making three more albums with the Tragically Hip, he made The Grand Bounce in 2010, which is credited to Gord Downie and the Country of Miracles. His backing band on all of those albums consisted of the indie rock band The Dinner Is Ruined, along with Josh Finlayson of Skydiggers and singer-songwriter Julie Doiron, although they were credited as The Goddamned Band on Coke Machine Glow and as Country of Miracles on the later two albums.
Downie collaborated with fellow Canadian and international artists. His most famous Canadian collaborations are with Richard Terfry (better known as Buck 65), Dallas Green of City and Colour and Alexisonfire, the Sadies and Fucked Up. These collaborations do not include the musicians who have helped Downie to create his solo albums.
Terfry collaborated with Downie on the song Whispers of the Waves off the album 20 Odd Years. Terfry composed the track and with the help of Charles Austen, his co-writer, decided Downie's vocals would be the best fit for their song.
In his solo project City and Colour, Green had Downie sing on the track Sleeping Sickness off City and Colour's hit album Bring Me Your Love. The album debuted at number 11 of the Top Heatseekers chart in March 2008.
In 2014, Downie released an album with the Sadies called And the Conquering Sun. He commented on working with the Sadies, saying, "I enjoy getting together with those guys; it's a whole other universe. They're writing all the music and I'm writing all the lyrics and we're coming up with some neat stuff. You do it for the company but I'm genuinely shocked by the themes and things you touch based on the music you're singing to. That's really compelling to me." The album consists of ten songs.
Downie had cameo appearances in Men with Brooms, in which the Tragically Hip play a curling team. Downie also made a cameo appearance in the 2008 indie drama Nothing Really Matters, directed by Jean-Marc Piché. Downie also appears in the Trailer Park Boys movie The Big Dirty, in which he and Alex Lifeson play a pair of police officers. More recently, he and other members of the band can be seen in the episode of Trailer Park Boys entitled "Say Goodnight to the Bad Guys", in which he is harassed while eating a bologna sandwich at a singles dance. Downie was also featured in the sitcom Corner Gas in the episode "Rock On!" in which the Tragically Hip are shown as a local band practising in the main character's garage. Colin James is also featured in the same episode. Downie also appeared in Michael McGowan's 2008 film, One Week. A documentary film, "Long Time Running," about the Tragically Hip's summer 2016 cross-Canada farewell concert tour, premiered at The Toronto International Film Festival in September, 2017.
Downie was heavily involved in environmental movements, especially issues concerning water rights. He was board member of Lake Ontario Waterkeeper. With Lake Ontario Waterkeeper, Downie helped work on a cause to prevent a cement company from burning tires for fuel. He was also a part of the Swim Drink Fish Music club, a project that unites artists and environmentalists in a music club to raise money for Waterkeeper organizations in Canada.
In February 2012 in Fort Albany, Ontario, Downie and the Tragically Hip played at the Great Moon Gathering, a yearly educational conference that takes place in various communities along Northern Ontario's James Bay coast. Its focus is on youth learning and combining Cree education with the contemporary world. The venue was small and not typical of the band. Author Joseph Boyden, who invited them, said their motivation was to “initiate a guerrilla act of love for a people who are so thoroughly underrepresented but now, somehow, overexposed for only their shortcomings. A guerrilla act of love to show the rest of the country what strength and artistry, grace and humour the Cree possess.” In addition to the Tragically Hip's performance, Downie sang a song with a local band, Northern Revolution. The song "Goodnight Attawapiskat" from the album Now for Plan A was a result of this trip.
The Tragically Hip announced on their website on 24 May 2016 that Downie had been diagnosed with a terminal brain tumour. Doctors at Toronto's Sunnybrook Health Sciences Centre confirmed the same day that it was a glioblastoma, which had responded favourably to radiation and chemotherapy treatment but was not curable.
Downie toured with the band in summer 2016 to support Man Machine Poem, the band's 14th studio album. The tour's final concert was held at the Rogers K-Rock Centre in Kingston, Ontario on 20 August 2016 and was broadcast and streamed live by the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation on television, radio and internet. It was viewed by an estimated 11.7 million people.
In September 2016, Downie announced that he would be releasing a new solo album, Secret Path in October. The album was accompanied by a graphic novel on which he collaborated with Jeff Lemire. He has also performed a few live shows to support the album, with supporting musicians Kevin Drew, Charles Spearin, Dave Hamelin, Kevin Hearn and Josh Finlayson.
On 22 December 2016, Downie was selected as The Canadian Press' Canadian Newsmaker of the Year and was the first entertainer ever selected for the title. On 2 February 2017, Downie joined Blue Rodeo onstage at Massey Hall for a performance of Blue Rodeo's song "Lost Together".
On 2 July 2017, Downie took to Parliament Hill to speak out for Canada's young indigenous people, likening it to the same kind of pain young people suffered in the now defunct residential schools.
In September 2017, Downie announced a new solo double-album titled Introduce Yerself which is slated for release on 27 October 2017.
On 13 October 2016, Downie and his brother Mike, along with the Wenjack family, announced the founding of The Gord Downie and Chanie Wenjack Fund to support reconciliation between Indigenous and non-Indigenous peoples. The Fund is a part of Downie's legacy and commitment to Canada's First Peoples. Chanie Wenjack is a young boy who died trying to escape a residential school, who is at the centre of Downie's Secret Path project. The Gord Downie and Chanie Wenjack Fund operates out of the Toronto Foundation.
At the Assembly of First Nations in Gatineau, Quebec on 6 December 2016, National Chief Perry Bellegarde honoured Downie with an eagle feather, a symbol of the creator above, for his support of the indigenous peoples of Canada. Bellegarde also bestowed on Downie an honorary aboriginal name, Wicapi Omani, which is Lakota for "man who walks among the stars." Downie was appointed to the Order of Canada on 21 June 2017 in recognition of leadership in Indigenous issues.
Downie was married to Laura Leigh Usher, herself a cancer survivor. They have four children. Downie and Usher separated sometime before Downie's cancer diagnosis.
On 19 June 2017, Downie, along with the other members of The Tragically Hip, was appointed a Member of the Order of Canada for "their contribution to Canadian music and for their support of various social and environmental causes".
Downie died, with his family at his side, on 17 October 2017 at the age of 53. Upon hearing the news, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau released a statement.
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