Neil Peart, the iconic, influential drummer of the enduring progressive-rock trio Rush, has died at age 67, on Jan. 7, 2020, in Santa Monica, California, after having been diagnosed with brain cancer.
The drummer and primary lyricist of Rush, his band with bassist/vocalist Geddy Lee and guitarist Alex Lifeson, Peart received numerous awards for his musical performances, including an induction into the Modern Drummer Hall of Fame in 1983, making him the youngest ever to receive that honour.
Along with his bandmates, Peart was made an Officer of the Order of Canada in 1996 – the first rock band to be so honoured, as a group. Peart was also co-inducted into the Canadian Songwriter Hall of Fame along with Lifeson and Lee. And in 2013, after 40 years together, Rush was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.
As a drummer who inspired everyone from The Rheostatics’ Dave Clark to Nirvana’s Dave Grohl, Peart was widely celebrated among the worldwide drumming community for his exacting technical proficiency, and the overwhelming power and stamina of his incendiary live performances. Moving from his initial hard-rock style in the spirit of The Who’s Keith Moon and Led Zeppelin’s John Bonham, to incorporate more swinging jazz elements, reminiscent of Gene Krupa and Buddy Rich, Peart developed a well-earned reputation as one of the greatest drummers of the classic-rock era, and well beyond. Modern Drummer voted him the Best Rock Drummer of the Year no less than nine times – the last two in 2006 and 2008.
As a lyricist, Peart spent his early days with Rush focused on realms of fantasy, science fiction, mythology, and philosophy. Moving forward, in songs like “2112,” Peart concentrated on the struggle of an individual against the collectivist forces of a totalitarian state. From the mid-‘80s onward, he objectively addressed more social, emotional, and humanitarian issues, using symbols and metaphors. Rush fans worldwide have always considered his words thoughtful and intelligent.
After a few fruitless years pursuing music in England, Peart returned home and joined the then-local band Rush in the summer of 1974. He replaced original drummer John Rutsey just two weeks before the group’s first tour of the U.S., where he played his first gig in front of more than 11,000 people.
In 1997, Peart faced great tragedy as his first daughter and then-only child, 19-year-old Selena Taylor, was killed in a single-car accident on Highway 401 near Brighton, Ontario. His common-law wife of 23 years, Jacqueline Taylor, succumbed to cancer only 10 months later, in 1998.
Devastated, Peart took a long sabbatical to mourn and reflect, and travelled extensively throughout North America on his motorcycle, covering a total 88,000 km. After his trip, Peart returned to the band, and wrote a book, Ghost Rider: Travels on the Healing Road, documenting both his physical and emotional journeys. Peart ended up writing and publishing six more non-fiction books focused on his travels and personal stories.
Peart is survived by his current wife, photographer Carrie Nuttall, and daughter Olivia, both of whom he lived with in Santa Monica, California, in his later years, and by his bandmates Geddy Lee and Alex Lifeson. The Canadian Songwriters Hall of Fame extends our deepest condolences to them all. We mourn the loss of this legendary musician and songwriter – as do his extended family, friends, Rush fans, music lovers, and no doubt the thousands of drummers worldwide who were inspired by his work.