Entertainment

Gord Downie on cancer diagnosis: ‘I am resigned to the direction this is heading’

By Steve Tilley, Special to Postmedia Network

Gord Downie. (Craig Robertson/Postmedia Network)

Gord Downie. (Craig Robertson/Postmedia Network)

Gord Downie is fighting for time.

The Tragically Hip frontman is speaking publicly for the first time about his battle with terminal brain cancer, which he revealed to shocked Canadians in May before kicking off an emotional summer concert tour with his bandmates.

In an interview with CBC’s Peter Mansbridge set to air Thursday night on The National, Downie tells Mansbridge that he has the veteran journalist’s name written on his hand in order to remember it.

“And I say that, just to be up front, ’cause I might call you Doug,” says a subdued Downie, in a snippet of the interview posted to CBC.ca. He admits he even has trouble recalling his own kids’ names at times, a side effect of the cancer’s attack on his brain.

The charismatic and irrepressible singer, who used a teleprompter to help him remember song lyrics during the band’s recent Man Machine Poem tour, tells Mansbridge, “My memory used to be my forte, and now I can’t remember hardly anything.”

Downie was diagnosed last December with glioblastoma, a rare and particularly aggressive form of brain cancer for which there is no cure. In July and August, Downie and bandmates Gord Sinclair, Paul Langlois, Johnny Fay and Rob Baker undertook a 10-city, cross-Canada tour, during which Downie displayed an incredible amount of on-stage energy at each sold-out show.

Following the concert tour, Downie has been working on The Secret Path, a solo album and accompanying graphic novel inspired by Chanie Wenjack, a 12-year-old Ojibway boy who died in 1966 while in the care of Canada’s controversial residential schools system.

When Mansbridge asks Downie if he’s fighting what’s in front of him, the singer – who has undergone surgeries, chemotherapy and radiation therapy to slow the cancer’s progression – says yes. “For sure. I can get more time,” Downie says. “More time if I try this, I can get more time.”

But he admits that he is resigned to the eventual outcome of his disease.

“I am resigned to the direction this is heading, yes. I am. I really am,” Downie says.

“Because I can see it, and feel it, doing some… not doing some good, but it’s… creating something. An opportunity, I guess, and they don’t come around too often.”

STilley@postmedia.com