Toronto Analysis

Jian Ghomeshi spent years building star brand, but his fall from grace took less than a week

From feminist student council president, to Canadian celebrity, to defendant in a sexual assault trial

Posted: January 30, 2016
Last Updated: January 31, 2016

Former CBC Radio host Jian Ghomeshi, centre, is escorted by police out of court past members of the media in Toronto on Nov. 26, 2014. (Darren Calabrese/Canadian Press)

The name Jean Ghomeshi began appearing in print in campus newspapers in the 1980s.

In the 1990s, it could be found in the liner notes on cassette and CD covers, and in the inky pages of alternative weeklies. By the 2000s, he was going by Jian and the Ghomeshi name could be heard regularly on the CBC.

But in 2016, the name Ghomeshi can be found in court documents, under the heading "defendant."


On Monday, the man the Globe and Mail once referred to as a radio superstar will go on trial in Ontario Court on four counts of sexual assault and one count of overcoming resistance by choking. A second trial scheduled for June will deal with another count of sexual assault.

Ghomeshi's media career started in the mid-1980s and came to a crashing halt on Oct. 26, 2014, when he was fired by CBC.

Whatever the outcome of his trial, the 48-year-old Ghomeshi is unlikely to attain the celebrity status he once enjoyed.

Riding the new wave

Ghomeshi was born in London, England, to Iranian parents on June 9, 1967, and moved to Canada in 1974. The family settled in the suburb of Thornhill, just north of Toronto, where Ghomeshi spent his teen years.

Ghomeshi and bandmate Murray Foster on CBC's music show Switchback, in 1986. (CBC)

His identity as a music and culture-obsessed extrovert took off in 1982, which is why he used that year as a title for a memoir he wrote.

At Thornlea Secondary School he discovered music and a love for David Bowie, Talking Heads and new wave music. He also found his voice, becoming PA announcer for the school. He writes in 1982 about finding his voice with the opposite sex, too, gaining the courage to ask out an "older woman" — one year older than he was at the time.


By 1984, he was playing in a band with friend Murray Foster. Less than two years later, in 1986, Ghomeshi made what is believed to be his first appearance on a CBC-TV show. The denim clad 19-year-old was on the music show Switchback with his new wave band, Tall New Buildings.

"Murray and I have been playing together — playing with each other — for years," Ghomeshi joked during his interview, innuendo that elicited squeals from the teenage crowd.

The band had a minor hit with the Ghomeshi-penned single, Breaking Her Walls.

Crusade for consent

Ghomeshi was in the middle of earning a BA in political science, with a minor in women's studies, when he ran for student union president at York University in Toronto in early 1990.

His platform, which he said was informed by his women's studies minor, included increasing funding for York's Women's Centre and promoting the importance of sexual consent.

Ghomeshi ran for student president at Toronto's York University in 1990 and won. (Excalibur/York University)

He was spurred on by infamous signs that hung from windows of dorm rooms at Queen's University in Kingston, Ont., the previous year that read, "No Means Yes" and "No Means Harder," mocking the consent campaign No Means No.


"Sexism is something student governments should be addressing, now more than ever," he told the Excalibur student newspaper in March 1990.

His feminist campaign helped him beat his nearest rival — the only woman on the ballot — by hundreds of votes.

'King' for a decade

During breaks from campus politics, Ghomeshi continued to dabble in music.

On weekends, he and his friends could be found outside the Bloor Cinema singing a cappella songs.

"These were some of the most fun times we've had, because our growth was so palpable," Ghomeshi told a folk music magazine in 1996. "It was a direct arbiter of how we were received, because people on the street can always walk away."

The music attracted the attention of a producer on CBC's drive-home radio show Later The Same Day and the group was tapped to sing songs about the headlines of the day. One song, about the International Festival of Authors, called My Baby Loves a Bunch of Authors, was later recorded with another Ghomeshi band, Moxy Früvous.


Ghomeshi, second from right, and his band Moxy Früvous. His ex-bandmates would later turn against him after allegations of sexual assault were made public. (Moxy Früvous)

He found success quickly as lead singer of the satirical folk outfit. In 1992, Moxy Früvous recorded King of Spain, which would become a number 1 single in Canada. The video, filmed outside the Bloor Cinema, featured late federal NDP leader Jack Layton, "Honest" Ed Mirvish and pop culture writer Daniel Richler.

A CBC success

By the time Moxy Früvous disbanded in 2001, Ghomeshi had already embarked on new projects. He was dabbling in music management and freelancing music and arts articles, and found success quickly.

The CBC hired him to host Play, a weekly, televised culture show with a studio audience that lasted three seasons before being cancelled due to poor ratings. It was a prelude to the success to come.

In 2007, Ghomeshi would help launch Q, a daily arts show on Radio 1, and it didn't take long for the show to gain a following.

Ghomeshi hosted several Canadian awards shows, like the Giller Prize gala, and attended many red carpet events. (Evan Mitsui/CBC)

A breakthrough moment for the show took place on April 8, 2009, when the guest was actor-musician Billy Bob Thornton, whose band The Boxmasters were playing in Toronto.

Before he came into the studio, Thornton said he told the show's producers not to reference his acting career, but to focus exclusively on his band. Ghomeshi mentioned acting in his introduction, and the interview famously fell apart after that.


In the face of an obviously perturbed Thornton, Ghomeshi stood his ground but remained cool. It turned out to be a shining moment for the host, as the exchange went viral on the internet and made international headlines. Thornton's band was booed at their concert the next night.

Q became syndicated on public radio stations in the U.S. and was a domestic hit for the CBC. Ghomeshi's memoir 1982 was published in 2012. It was a critical and commercial hit, as far as Canadian memoirs go, and he was commissioned by Penguin Books to write a followup.

His career as an author, broadcaster and music manager, however, came to a stunning halt in the fall of 2014.

The Facebook post

On Oct. 26 of that year, Ghomeshi posted a 1,590-word explanation of why he was fired by the CBC that day. It included details about his sexual preferences, including role play, dominance and submission. He also suggested there was a plot to undermine him being carried out by a "jilted ex-lover."

The post was intended to win over public sentiment, and initially, he had supporters.

But in the week following the post, details of allegations against him by three women, almost all pertaining to sexual violence, turned the tide. Ghomeshi's high profile friends, book publisher, promotions firm and even musicians he managed began to distance themselves. His former Moxy Früvous bandmates said they were "sickened" by the allegations.


His Facebook post — and his whole account — was soon deleted.

His nadir would come a month later, when he was charged with five counts of sexual assault. He has pleaded not guilty to the charges. His court appearances have been media circuses, with Ghomeshi surrounded by a crush of photographers, cameramen and reporters going in and out of the courthouse.

After spending 25 years building his celebrity profile, succeeding at almost everything he turned his attention to, Ghomeshi's fall from grace took less than a week.