The Stars Look Down: Neil Peart, dead at 67

When I first saw the headline reporting Neil Peart’s death, I was hoping it was “fake news”, but when CBC and others were listed as sources, I accepted it.

Peart was always a private man who kept his personal life out of the media.  When his first child died in 1997 and first wife in 1998, he asked for privacy and spent years away. I’m really not surprised that he never publicly revealed his diagnosis.  I wonder how long he knew and if he was in contact with Gord Downie during his last days.

Neil Peart, drummer and primary lyricist for Rush, dead at 67

Neil Peart, the virtuoso drummer of iconic Canadian band Rush who was revered by fans and fellow musicians as one of the greatest drummers of all time, has died at age 67.

The influential musician and lyricist died Tuesday in Santa Monica, Calif., after having been diagnosed with brain cancer, according to a statement issued Friday by family spokesperson Elliot Mintz.

His death was confirmed by Meg Symsyk, a media spokesperson for the progressive rock trio comprising Peart, Geddy Lee and Alex Lifeson.

“It is with broken hearts and the deepest sadness that we must share the terrible news that on Tuesday our friend, soul brother and bandmate of over 45 years, Neil, has lost his incredibly brave three-and-a-half-year battle with brain cancer,” his bandmates said in a statement.

They also called for privacy for Peart’s family and urged fans wanting to express their condolences to make a donation in his name to a cancer research group or charity of their choice.

“Rest in peace, brother.”

I thought I would be more upset than I am, but as I get older, I’ve gotten more philosophical and accepting of the inevitable. I’m just glad for what was.

Remember in the 1970s when being openly gay or queer (never mind being Transgender) was “shocking”?  Any time a celebrity came out, it was a message to young people everywhere, “You’re not weird or wrong.  There are other people like you.”

Peart, and Rush as a whole, were the same for me in the 1970s and 1980s: They said the things I felt, held the same points of view.  They told me I wasn’t the only one in the world, that there were others who felt the same way.  And it made living in a world of oppression just a little bit easier.  I will always be grateful to him.

Some songs are below the fold.

“Everyday Glory”, about finding the strength to carry on and carry yourself in the face of adversity.  Thank you, Neil Peart.

“Though we know that time has wings, we’re the ones who have to fly.”

“Subdivisions” spoke to so many young people.  Rush were the outsiders in high school, not the “cool kids”.  (Geddy Lee’s parents both survived nazi death camps, Alex Zivojinovich’s parents were Serbian refugees from the nazis.  Small wonder they gravitated to each other as teens.)  They understood, and said what millions felt.

“Detached and subdivided in the mass production zone.

Nowhere is the dreamer or the misfit so alone.”

Little boxes made of ticky tacky.

“Sweet Miracle” was on 2002’s Vapour Trails, their first album back after Neil Peart’s family had died.  This song is clearly about his feelings towards those events.

“I wasn’t walking on water / I was standing on a reef

When the tide came in / Swept beneath the surface

Lost without a trace / No hope at all


I wasn’t walking with angels/ I was talking to myself

Rising up to the surface / Raging against the night

Starless night


I wasn’t praying for magic / I was hiding in plain sight

Rising up from the surface / To fly into the light

Oh, sweet miracle of life”

“In The End” was about coming home from a tour, but it’s a fitting end to Peart’s life.

“I can see what you mean / It just takes me longer

I can feel what you feel / It just makes you stronger

You can take me for a little while / You can take me, you can make me smile

In the end”

“Limelight”, Peart’s response to becoming a “star” and his response to the phoniness of media celebrity.

Would I have liked to have met Peart?  No, not unless I had become his next door neighbor or he introduced himself to me.  He was always reticent about meeting “fans”, and I wouldn’t have wanted to violate his space.  And I’m perfectly okay with that.

“Cast in this unlikely role / Ill-equipped to act

With insufficient tact

One must put up barriers / To keep oneself intact


Living in a fish eye lens / Caught in the camera eye

I have no heart to lie

I can’t pretend a stranger / Is a long-awaited friend”


  1. hemidactylus says

    I was just getting out of work and my friend had texted me the news. I sat there stunned trying to process. So many years. So many albums. So many concerts. I recall his double tragedy in late 90s. I first saw them live in 82. I envy those who saw them in late 70s in their full-on scifi phase with long virtuoso songs. On way home listened to this (but ESL version) IMO their best song ever (but live):

    And then “La Villa Strangiato”. That one really teared me up emotionally. Of all the musicians who have passed away over the years this hit me the hardest.

    Saw the Twitter RIPs from KISS, Thomas Lang, Metallica, Sebastian Bach, Billy Corgan, Mike Portnoy and others. Sad day.

    • says

      One report said Peart had the brain cancer diagnosis three and half years ago. Maybe arthritis wasn’t the reason he retired from playing, he wanted his last years in quiet retirement with his family, and both Lee and Lifeson knew. Who could begrudge him that?

      Peart isn’t the only musician I’ve enjoyed who walked away. Freddie Mercury shut himself in during his last months until the day before his death and announcement of HIV/AIDS. John Deacon retired from the public a few years after Freddie died and the “Made In Heaven” album. Poison Ivy Rorschach of The Cramps stopped playing and performing ten years ago after Lux Interior died.

      It galls me that some fans act like they’re entitled to be entertained, or they have some right to criticize anyone who walks away from fame. Not everyone will be Lemmy Kilminster performing until just a few weeks before his death, and I don’t want to hear that another musician died on stage, like Mark Sandman of Morphine.

      I’m just grateful for what was.

  2. hemidactylus says

    Me too Intransitive. Very grateful. An other impact Neil’s death had on me after trying to process is the math I did between his age and mine. Neither of us is really long for this world. Two more decades for me I hope. Given how my parents departed, and Peart, I really wonder my last days fate.

    The last tour I saw was Clockwork Angels. I have most if not all their catalog on my phone and CDs. If you don’t mind my friend got a good laugh from this movie clip from *I Love You, Man*:

    Their humor. I recall a tour where they had clothes dryers on stage. They played a specially crafted *South Park* clip. *SCTV* connections.

    Yeah I mourn, but in a happy for his contribution to my life way. But sad too.