Neil Peart, the 67-year-old drummer and lyricist for progressive rock band Rush, died on Tuesday, Jan. 7, in Santa Monica, according to Rolling Stone. Neil’s death was due to brain cancer, which he had been quietly battling for three years, according to Elliot Mintz, a spokesperson for the Peart family (and a representative for the band confirmed Neil’s passing to Rolling Stone.) The Canadian musician — known for his technical proficiency, a unique performance style, and one of the biggest drum rigs in rock history – was highly regarded as the greatest drummers of all time. As the rock world recovers from the loss of this icon, here are the details about the man dubbed “the most air-drummed-to drummer of all time.”
1. He joined Rush in 1974. Neil Ellwood Peart was born on the outskirts of Hamilton, Ontario, Canada, in 1952. He developed a love for drumming early on as a teen. After a brief stint in England (where he discovered the writings of Ayn Rand, which have been cited as influences on some of Rush’s most beloved albums, like Fly By Night and 2112, according to AllMusic.com) Neil returned to Canada in the early ‘70s. He discovered that Rush was in search of a drummer. After an audition, he got the job. For the next forty years, Neil — alongside bassist/vocalist Geddy Lee and guitarist Alex Lifeson — Rush would become one of the premier prog-rock bands. They would find commercial success with songs like “Limelight,” “Tom Sawyer,” “Closer To The Heart,” “Fly By Night” and “New World Man.” They’d sell millions of albums, sell out countless tours and become highly-regarded by classic rock fans everywhere.
2. He was inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall Of Fame in 2013. For the longest time, it looked as if Rush would never be inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame. The band first became eligible for induction in 1998, and it was nearly 20 years before they got their moment in the sun. “We’ve been saying for a long time — years — that this wasn’t a big deal,” Peart said during their acceptance speech, per The Globe And Mail. “Turns out, it kind of is.”
3. Neil was well respected by his fans and peers. Neil’s drumming paid homage to his hero, the late Keith Moon of The Who. Considered a virtuoso who elevated drumming, he was precise, flamboyant, and extravagant. Over the forty years he spent behind the kit, Neil developed a reputation of being ‘the greatest of all time. “Neil is the most air-drummed-to drummer of all time,” Stewart Copeland, the former drummer for The Police, said in 2015, per Rolling Stone. “Neil pushes that band, which has a lot of musicality, a lot of ideas crammed into every eight bars — but he keeps the throb, which is the important thing. And he can do that while doing all kinds of cool sh-t.”
In addition to contributing to Rush’s lyrics, Neil penned several memoirs, including Ghost Rider: Travels on the Healing Road, which addressed the deaths of his first wife and daughter. He also collaborated with science fiction author Kevin J Anderson to develop a novelization of Rush’s 2012 album, Clockwork Angels.
Neil Peart September 12, 1952 – January 7, 2020 pic.twitter.com/NivX2RhiB8
— Rush (@rushtheband) January 10, 2020
4. He first retired from the band in 1997 … Neil stepped away from Rush in the late 1990s following a pair of heartbreaking tragedies. On Aug. 10, 1997, Neil’s 19-year-old daughter Selena died in a sing-car accident on a long drive to her university in Toronto. Five months later, Selena’s mother (and Neil’s common-law wife of 23 years) Jackie was diagnosed with terminal cancer. She sadly succumbed quickly to the disease, and Neil told his bandmates to consider him retired. After a few years away from the band, Neil rejoined Rush by 2001.
5. …before retiring again in 2015. Rush embarked on the “R40 Tour” in 2015, celebrating the 40th anniversary of Neil’s membership in the band. It would also turn out to be Rush’s last tour, with Alex Lifeson saying that his psoriatic arthritis and Neil chronic tendonitis making it too painful to go on large-scale tours anymore. While Alex left the door open for smaller tours, Neil hung up his drumsticks for good. “Lately Olivia has been introducing me to new friends at school as ‘My dad– He’s a retired drummer,’ ” he told Drumhead Magazine in 2015 (via Jambase.) “True to say–funny to hear. And it does not pain me to realize that, like all athletes, there comes a time to… take yourself out of the game. I would rather set it aside then face the predicament described in our song ‘Losing It’ (‘Sadder still to watch it die, than never to have known it’).”
Neil is survived by his wife, Carrie, whom he married in 2000, and his daughter Olivia.