Neil Peart, the legendary drummer of Rush, has died, according to an announcement from the band. He was 67. The cause of death, according to a spokesperson, was brain cancer. Peart passed on Tuesday, January 7th, in Santa Monica.
Widely considered one of the most innovative drummers in rock history, Peart was famous for his state-of-the-art drum kits — more than 40 different drums were not out of the norm — precise playing style and onstage showmanship. He joined Rush in 1974, after the band’s cofounders, bassist/singer Geddy Lee and guitarist Alex Lifeson, had released one self-titled album.
The addition of Peart, whose technical chops and use of melodic percussion instruments — vibes, glockenspiels, chimes and later synthesized percussion — vastly expanded the band’s musical palette, and he soon assumed the role of the band’s lyricist as well; he was famously influenced by science-fiction and particularly Ayn Rand, author of “The Fountainhead” and “Atlas Shrugged.” The band embarked on a series of increasingly elaborate albums whose lyrics and storylines were as sophisticated as their growing musical ambitions. “Necromancer,” a conceptual song on their 1975 album “Caress of Steel,” paved the way for the full-blown 1976 concept album “2112,” a dystopian tale about a future society without music.
Over the next 15 years, Rush admirably declined to become a heritage act and continually challenged themselves and overhauled their sound, dropping the hard rock and high vocals that marked their early material and pursuing more keyboard-based arrangements and different musical styles. While their commercial popularity declined after the early 1980s they remained a hard-working and extremely popular live act with a deeply dedicated fan base that regularly filled arenas.
In 1997, tragedy struck when Peart’s daughter Selena was killed in a car accident, and his wife Jacqueline died from cancer just 10 months later. The band took a nearly four year hiatus while Peart healed by traveling some 55,000 miles across North and Central America on his motorcycle by himself. He chronicled his cathartic journey in his 2002 book, “Ghost Rider: Travels of the Healing Road.” Peart remarried in 2000 and the band resumed recording and touring the following year.
On top of being Rush’s drummer and lyricist, Peart was a prolific writer with several non-fiction books to his credit including “The Masked Rider: Cycling in West Africa,” “Traveling Music: Playing Back the Soundtrack to My Life and Times.”
Neil Ellwood Peart was born in Hamilton, Ontario on September 12, 1952. While his first exposure to music was via childhood piano lessons, which didn’t have much of an impact on him, Peart had a hankering for drumming on various objects around the house. He first picked up drumming at the age of 13. “I got a pair of sticks, a practice pad, and lessons,” he said in 2012, adding that his parents told him, “Once you show that you’re going to stick with it for a year, then we’ll get drums.’ Fair enough.”
When he turned 18, Peart left Canada to pursue a music career in England, which didn’t pan out. Eighteen months later he returned home to join his father selling tractor parts. Peart played in local bands before landing with an up and coming Toronto band called Rush. His first gig with the band was on July 29, 1974 at the Pittsburgh Civic Arena opening for Uriah Heep and Manfred Man.
Over 30 years and 18 albums later, Rush’s final show took place at the Forum in Los Angeles back on August 1, 2015. At the end of Rush’s final concert, Peart stood on his drum riser and snapped a few photos before joining bandmates Lee and Lifeson for what would be the band’s final bow. Some of Peart’s star-studded fans in attendance that night include Red Hot Chili Peppers’ Chad Smith, Tool’s Daney Carey, Foo Fighters’ Taylor Hawkins, The Doors’ guitarist Robby Krieger and Jack Black.
According to the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA), Rush’s album sales put them behind The Beatles and The Rolling Stones for the most consecutive gold or platinum certifications by a rock band. In the U.S., Rush album sales topped 25 million units. Worldwide, the band has moved over 40 million units of their 19 studio albums and live recordings, including the classics “Exit Stage Left,” “A Show of Hands,” “Different Stages” and “Rush in Rio,” which all chronicle the band’s incredible and evolving live shows over the years.
Their best-selling album is 1981’s “Moving Pictures,” on which the hits “Tom Sawyer” and “Limelight,” as well as fan favorites like “Red Barchetta” and the instrumental “YYZ,” appeared.
Rush was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2013 by Dave Grohl and Taylor Hawkins. During the event, the usually quiet Peart said, “The highest purpose of art is to inspire, what else can you do for anyone but inspire them? It’s gratifying to think of us having inspired these youngsters to pick up a pair of drum sticks, a guitar and a rhyming dictionary and torment their parents as we tormented ours.”
Peart is survived by his wife, Carrie Nuttal, and daughter Olivia.