Neil Peart, drummer of Rush, has died

He was considered one of the greatest rock drummers of his generation.

He was considered one of the greatest rock drummers of his generation

Musician Neil Peart of the band Rush performs at the Nokia Theatre on May 6, 2008, in Los Angeles, Calif. (Jesse Grant/Getty Images)

Neil Peart, the celebrated drummer of Canadian prog rock band Rush, has died following a battle with brain cancer. He was 67. 

Peart was the most acclaimed rock drummer of his generation, the logical continuation of a style of rock drumming that started with Keith Moon from the Who, where drums are used as much to fill space as to keep time.

"It is with broken hearts and the deepest sadness that we must share the terriblenews that on Tuesday our friend, soul brouther and bandmate of over 45 years, Neil, has lost his incredibly brave three-and-a-half-year battle with brain cancer (glioblastoma)," Peart's Rush bandmates said in a statement late on Jan. 10.

With Rush, Peart released 18 albums, from Fly by Night (1975) to Clockwork Angels (2012), and the band's sound evolved significantly during these 37 years, from a blues/hard rock outfit to a prog rock band putting out complex compositions and adapting electronic instruments along the way.

Peart served as the band's primary lyricist and his penchant for sci-fi-inspired lyrics made for an eclectic style that was divisive for critics, but earned the band a cult following. 

Despite his acclaim, Peart changed course mid-career and started studying jazz, taking drumming lessons with Freddy Gruber in 1994. He changed his stick grip and later occasionally improvised his solos — a remarkable evolution for one so firmly established at the top of his field.

Peart was born in Hamilton on Sept. 12, 1952, and grew up in St. Catharines. He studied piano as a child, but when his parents bought him a pair of drumsticks and a practice drum for his 13th birthday, and sent him for lessons, his fate was sealed.

During his teens he played with a number of bands and toured Ontario. At 18, he moved to London, England, to advance his drumming career, but returned to Canada after 18 months.

It was upon his return that he auditioned for Toronto-based Rush, whose original drummer had left the group. Peart was accepted into the band on July 29, 1974, just weeks before Rush's first U.S. tour.

Family tragedy and retirement in 2015

In 1997, soon after Rush wrapped up its Test for Echo Tour, Peart's first daughter Selena Taylor was killed in a car accident at the age of 19. Ten months later, his wife of 23 years, Jacqueline Taylor, died from cancer. Following these events, the band took a six year break and didn't return till 2002's Vapor Trails. Also in 2002, Peart released a book through ECW Press titled Ghost Rider: Travels on the Healing Road where he opened up about his grief. (In total, Peart wrote and published seven books.) Peart later married photographer Carrie Nuttall and in 2009, they welcomed daughter, Olivia Louise Peart. 

Rush went on to release three more albums after that, concluding with 2012's Clockwork Angels, which Rolling Stone noted was regarded as "the band's best since Neil Peart's late-Nineties sabbatical."

From left, Rush members Alex Lifeson, Neil Peart, and Geddy Lee pose at the 28th Rock and Roll Hall of Fame Induction Ceremony at Nokia Theatre on April 18, 2013, in Los Angeles, Calif. (Jason Merritt/Getty Images)

The band continued touring all the way up to 2015, but by the end of that year, Peart announced that he was retiring. Alex Lifeson noted in an interview with the Canadian Press that Peart was dealing with chronic tendonitis and shoulder problems that were affecting his ability to perform live. In 2018, Lee confirmed that Peart had retired, not just from the band but from drumming in general. "He's living his life," Lee told SiriusXM. "Which is fine — Alex [Lifeson] and I are cool with it. We're all still total pals." 

Peart was made an Officer of the Order of Canada in 1996 and was inducted, along with his Rush bandmates, into the Canadian Songwriters Hall of Fame in 2010 and the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2013.


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