Jan. 7, 2020: Rush Drummer, Neil Peart, Dies of Brain Cancer

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Neil Peart

Neil Peart, who with Geddy Lee and Alex Lifeson, made Rush one of the most acclaimed bands of the classic rock era, died on Jan. 7, 2020. The band announced the drummer’s passing on Jan. 10 on its social media platforms.

Peart, the band’s drummer and primary lyricist, had announced his retirement from the band in 2015.

Here’s the brief statement:

It is with broken hearts and the deepest sadness that we must share the terrible news that on Tuesday our friend, soul brother and band mate of over 45 years, Neil, has lost his incredibly brave three and a half year battle with brain cancer (Glioblastoma). We ask that friends, fans, and media alike understandably respect the family’s need for privacy and peace at this extremely painful and difficult time. Those wishing to express their condolences can choose a cancer research group or charity of their choice and make a donation in Neil Peart’s name.

Rest in peace brother.

Neil Peart September 12, 1952 – January 7, 2020

On Jan. 17, Lee and Lifeson, offered thanks for the “outpouring of love” that they had received.

“Our most heartfelt thanks go out to family, friends, musicians, writers and fans from around the globe for the incredible outpouring of love and respect for Neil since his passing. These touching tributes help to lessen the pain of this terrible loss and remind us all to celebrate his remarkable life and our connections to it. – Geddy & Alex”

Fellow drumming legend, Carl Palmer, wrote, “He was a great drummer and a gentleman! I was always a Rush fan and he was the perfect drummer for them.”

Related: Music world mourns Peart

Lee, Lifeson and Peart pose from their limo in Upper Darby, PA, in an undated photo (Photo via Insight Editions; used with permission)

Peart auditioned for Lee and Lifeson in 1974, when the pair were looking to replace drummer John Rutsey. He was accepted two weeks before the band’s first U.S. tour, when he was just 21 years old.

Lifeson, Lee, and Peart performed together for the first time to an audience of 11,000, when they opened for Uriah Heep and Manfred Mann at the Civic Arena in Pittsburgh, Pa., on Aug. 14, 1974.

Many would argue that no other band merged hard rock and prog as effectively as Rush did. That showed on their breakthrough 1976 album, 2112, as the Canadian trio fused Lee’s vocals, Peart’s propulsive drum work and Lifeson’s guitar versatility into a distinctive style that served them well for decades.

Watch an epic Peart drum solo

The band’s progressive talents are on full display on 2112’s epic title track, while shorter pieces such as “Tom Sawyer” and “Limelight” (both from the 1981 LP Moving Pictures) have become staples of classic rock radio.


It’s estimated that Rush has sold in excess of 40 million albums worldwide. They were inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2013.

In 2015, Rush went on a 40th anniversary tour. At the time the R40 tour was rumored to be their last tour—an end to Rush’s life on the road together. Ever since the Canadian classic rock trio ended that tour, speculation that it would be their final major live performance outing circulated. A press release from the band at that time admitted that it was “likely” that they would never again embark on a full-scale tour, often citing Peart’s physical condition and family obligations.

As Peart told Drumhead magazine, “The reality is that my style of drumming is largely an athletic undertaking, and it does not pain me to realize that, like all athletes, there comes a time to… take yourself out of the game.”

Lifeson explained that arthritis and other conditions affect Peart’s ability to perform at his best. “His shoulders were hurting, his arms were hurting, his elbows, his feet, everything,” he said. “He didn’t want to play anything less than 100 percent. He was finding it increasingly difficult to hit that mark on this last tour. So, all those things combined, I get it.”

“[My daughter] Olivia has been introducing me to new friends at school as ‘My dad – he’s a retired drummer,’” Neil Peart told Drumhead. “True to say – funny to hear.” He added, “The reality is that my style of drumming is largely an athletic undertaking, 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 much rather set it aside than face the predicament described in our song ‘Losing It.’”

The bittersweet “Losing It” describes an aging dancer and writer who are now facing their twilight years of work.

Related: Rush are included in our feature about 10 great classic rock trios

Peart was born on Sept. 12, 1952, in Ontario, and received a drum kit on his 14th birthday. Upon his death, many would argue that he was in the conversation for being the greatest of all time.

Related: Musicians we lost in 2020

A new book authored by Peart, Silver Surfers, about his rare car collection, is being published posthumously on May 7, 2024. It’s available for pre-order in the U.S. here and in the U.K. here.

Best Classic Bands Staff

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