Gord Downie opens up about his terminal cancer, advanced memory loss
Gord Downie has opened up about his terminal brain cancer for the first time, saying he’s “resigned” to his fate.
In an interview with the CBC, The Tragically Hip lead singer was candid about his prognosis and how he feels, his upcoming Secret Path project and his desire to start a dialogue about indigenous issues in Canada.
“I am resigned to the direction this is heading, yes I am,” said the 52-year-old Downie. “I really am, and because I can see it and feel it doing some … not doing some good, but it’s creating, it’s creating something.”
“I’m doing good. I say that on purpose — ‘I’m doing good!’ — because I am,” he continued. “Everything sort of seems to make sense. I am learning how to do it, because I’ve never done it before. And it’s tricky. But I have beautiful friends … I’ve been so lucky, living here in Toronto, being in the business I’m in. I’m a very lucky guy.”
Downie was diagnosed with glioblastoma — the most common and aggressive type of tumour to start in the brain — in December after suffering a seizure. Surgery removed the bulk of the tumour, while six weeks of radiation and chemotherapy completed in early spring of 2016 reduced it even further. Downie says he’s not in pain at all, and doesn’t think he will be with the glioblastoma.
“I think I got lucky with this,” he said. “If it has to be terminal, then I got a good … I didn’t get hit by a train. It’s giving me this long kind of way to do some of these things that I’ve always wanted to do. I’m grateful. It’s so strange how things happen. We’d gone to Kingston and spent six days, months, helping get our dad ‘to the door.’ And the next day, we’re walking home, my mom and my sisters and my brothers, from lunch in Kingston. And I just [mimics fainting]. It’s like, wow. Passed out and to the hospital. And then, figuring it out.”
Thursday’s CBC interview was meant to promote Downie’s Secret Path, which is a solo album, graphic novel and film dedicated to 12-year-old Ojibway boy Chanie (Charlie) Wenjack, who died from hunger and exposure trying to escape from a residential school near Kenora, Ont.
“I never knew Chanie, the child his teachers misnamed Charlie, but I will always love him,” wrote Downie in a statement about his project.
READ MORE: Who was Chanie Wenjack? The First Nations child behind Gord Downie’s new solo album
Wenjack’s frozen body was found in 1966 along the railroad tracks near Kenora, a week after he ran away from school.
Downie revealed in the interview that he’s been experiencing severe memory loss, sometimes even forgetting the names of his children; he says memorization used to be his “forte.”
“Now I can’t remember hardly anything,” he said to interviewer Peter 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.”
He also got into the indigenous residential school issue, which is near-and-dear to his heart.
“We’ve got to really help out our friends up North,” he said, referring to the indigenous communities of Canada. “You people living up North can’t be gotten to. Literally, physically. I’m so sorry. We can think about how little we think about up there. But it’s unbelievable. And yet the resilience, their ability to survive that. But there’s still, like they say, there’s seven generations to go. These things don’t just get fixed now, up there. There’s a lot of places not getting better, like we would expect. “Well, everything gets better.” [It’s actually] getting a little bit worse. So now we have the chance to build something that will allow us down here and them up there to realize that makes us a country.”
“The last 150 years aren’t as much worth celebrating as we think,” he continued, pointing out Canada’s 150th birthday next July. “But the new 150 years can be years of building an actual nation. Imagine if they were part of us and we them, how incredibly cool it would make us? That’s what’s missing as we celebrate doughnuts and hockey. Over and over and over and over again.”
Downie is set to play solo shows in Ottawa on Oct. 18 at the National Arts Centre, and in Toronto on Oct. 21 at Roy Thomson Hall, with proceeds going to The Gord Downie Secret Path Fund for Truth and Reconciliation via The National Centre for Truth and Reconciliation (NCTR) at The University of Manitoba.
Secret Path is Downie’s fifth solo album. In January 2001, the singer released Coke Machine Glow, followed by Battle of the Nudes in 2003. In 2010, The Grand Bounce was released followed by Gord Downie, The Sadies, And The Conquering Sun in 2014.
Downie will also be taking the stage for special performances at WE Day Toronto and WE Day Family on October 19, 2016 at the Air Canada Centre.Follow @CJancelewicz
© 2016 Global News, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc.