Rush‘s Geddy Lee and Alex Lifeson opened up about the lengthy cancer battle of their late bandmate Neil Peart. An expansive Rolling Stone feature details the drummer and lyricist’s diagnosis of glioblastoma, a form of brain cancer — and the surviving members’ own emotional journey during Peart’s three-and-a-half-year illness.
According to the piece, Peart first suspected a health concern in June 2016 — 10 months into his musical retirement, following the last date of Rush’s final tour, R40 Live. He started struggling to complete The New York Times Sunday crossword puzzle, a longtime ritual, and two months later he reportedly found himself “making mistakes with his words.”
After visiting a doctor, having an MRI and enduring surgery, he was diagnosed with glioblastoma, which has an average survival time of 12 to 18 months. He defied that projection, living until Jan. 7, 2020.
Lifeson told Rolling Stone that, on his birthday, he received a rare FaceTime call from Peart before the drummer’s surgery.
“It was so unusual to get a call from him, because he was never comfortable on the phone,” the guitarist said. “You’d get these beautiful emails from him. But he wasn’t that crazy about talking to anybody. I was in shock. But I could tell there was something weird. I thought maybe it was a difficulty with a connection or something. But he just didn’t seem like he normally was. And I kept thinking about it afterwards.”
Roughly two weeks later, Peart revealed his diagnosis to his longtime bandmates through email. “He basically blurted it out,” Lee said. “‘I have a brain tumor. I’m not joking.’ ” Lifeson recalled seeing the message while on the golf course, adding, “I think I started crying right there.”
Lifeson noted that Peart requested they keep his health issues private. “He just wanted to be in control of it,” the guitarist said. “The last thing in the world he would want is people sitting on his sidewalk or driveway singing ‘Closer to the Heart’ or something. That was a great fear of his. He didn’t want that attention at all. And it was definitely difficult to lie to people or to sidestep or deflect somehow. It was really difficult.”
The piece describes an “uncertainty” throughout Peart’s cancer battle, including an early period of remission before the illness returned. And despite the progression of Peart’s condition, friends dismissed to Rolling Stone rumors that the drummer had been confined to a wheelchair and unable to speak.
Lee remembered Peart as being cheerful in his later days, avoiding the subject of illness and reveling in old stories with his bandmates during their visits.
“He didn’t want to waste his remaining time talking about shit like that,” the bassist said. “He wanted to have fun with us. And he wanted to talk about real things right up to the very end.”