Gord Downie, lead singer of long-running Canadian rock band The Tragically Hip, died Tuesday night at the age of 53, following a battle with brain cancer. While the group’s impact in the rest of the world was not enormous, they’re a Canadian institution, roughly on a par with Bruce Springsteen in New Jersey or Billy Joel in Long Island.
Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, 45, is a longtime fan of the band and has frequently praised them over the years, and Downie, in particular, for his philanthropic work. On Wednesday morning, he gave a televised, tearful speech about Downie’s death in which he described the singer as “a rock star, artist, and poet whose evocative lyrics came to define a country.” He noted that he found “inspiration and strength” from the singer’s charity and social work.
Trudeau’s full comments appear below.
For almost five decades, Gord Downie uncovered and told the stories of Canada. He was the frontman of one of Canada’s most iconic bands, a rock star, artist, and poet whose evocative lyrics came to define a country.
The Tragically Hip’s music invited us to explore places we had never been — from Mistaken Point to Churchill — and helped us understand each other, while capturing the complexity and vastness of the place we call home.
Gord’s command of language was profound. He painted landscapes with his words, elevating Canadian geography, historical figures and myths. When he spoke, he gave us goosebumps and made us proud to be Canadian. Our identity and culture are richer because of his music, which was always raw and honest — like Gord himself.
In the wake of his diagnosis, Gord only fought harder for what he believed in: social justice, environmentalism, and reconciliation with indigenous peoples. Before passing, he shined his light on the story of 12-year-old Chanie Wenjack, who died from hunger and exposure after trying to find his way home from a residential school. For his work raising awareness of Indigenous issues, he was inducted as a member of the Order of Canada in 2017.
Gord did not rest from working for the issues he cared about, and his commitment and passion will continue to motivate Canadians for years to come.
On behalf of all Canadians, Sophie and I offer our deepest condolences to Gord’s family, friends, bandmates and crew members, and his many, many fans. He will be sorely missed.