By Steve Newton
Neil Peart, arguably the world’s greatest rock drummer, has died at age 67.
According to a statement issued today by family spokesperson Elliot Mintz, Peart died Tuesday in Santa Monica, California, after having been diagnosed with brain cancer.
Born in Hamilton and raised in St. Catherines, the Ontario rocker joined Rush guitarist Alex Lifeson and bassist-vocalist Geddy Lee in 1974, replacing original drummer John Rutsey, who only played on the group’s self-titled debut LP.
Peart performed on 18 Rush studio albums, from 1975’s Fly By Night through to 2012’s Clockwork Angels, all the while blowing folks away with his uncanny speed and technical proficiency.
In recent years Peart suffered from severe tendonitis, forcing the band to quit touring. But the last time I saw them, at Rogers Arena in 2015, he was still smokin’. As I wrote in my review, that show kicked off with ‘The Anarchist”, a rollicking number off Clockwork Angels. “Just one song later Peart was pulling off a dynamic mini-solo that was the percussive equivalent of tendonitis getting its unwelcome ass handed to it on a platter.”
Besides drumming, another of Peart’s passions was motorbiking. He wrote books about his travels, and in 2016 his love of biking was featured in the documentary Rush / Time Stand Still. Particularly interesting were the sequences detailing Peart’s determination to carefully map out routes on which to ride hundreds of miles between gigs, rather than flying, even after drumming his butt off for three hours straight.
Over the decades Rush garnered an extremely dedicated worldwide following, with some fans following the group around from city to city during tours. Peart’s astounding drumwork and timeless lyrics had as much to do with the band’s undying success as Lifeson’s guitar talents or Lee’s distinctive vocals, maybe even more.
While his public life was sold-out concerts and platinum records, Peart’s private life was steeped in tragedy. Rush’s 2002 album, Vapor Trails, would never have been made if he hadn’t had the inner strength to overcome the 1997 car-crash loss of his teenage daughter, Selena, and his wife Jackie’s death by cancer mere months later. When I interviewed Geddy Lee in 2002 he said that he was in awe of Peart’s ability to carry on after such grief.
“Listen, it was a very difficult time,” Lee explained. “He’s a very intense guy, and these past few years have been very strange for him, and for us as his friends. So we tried to be the best friends we could be to him, and I’m really happy for him now, knowing that he’s feeling strong and has a positive direction for his life.”
Rush posted the following message on its Facebook page today:
It is with broken hearts and the deepest sadness that we must share the terrible news that on Tuesday our friend, soul brother and band mate of over 45 years, Neil, has lost his incredibly brave three and a half year battle with brain cancer (Glioblastoma). We ask that friends, fans, and media alike understandably respect the family’s need for privacy and peace at this extremely painful and difficult time. Those wishing to express their condolences can choose a cancer research group or charity of their choice and make a donation in Neil Peart’s name.
Rest in peace brother.
Neil Peart September 12, 1952 – January 7, 2020