Neil Peart, legendary drummer and lyricist for Rush, died Tuesday in California after a battle with glioblastoma, the most aggressive brain cancer. He was 67.
Peart was inspired to become a drummer after watching the movie The Gene Krupa Story, as he told NPR’s Morning Edition in 2015. “Drumming completely eclipsed my life from age 13, when I started drum lessons,” said Peart, who was born Sept. 12, 1952, in Hamilton, Ontario, Canada.
“Everything disappeared,” he said. “I’d done well in school up until that time. I was fairly adjusted socially up until that time. And I became completely monomania, obsessed all through my teens. Nothing else existed anymore.”
Peart auditioned in 1974 for Geddy Lee and Alex Lifeson to replace John Rutsey as drummer for Rush. “I remember thinking, ‘God, he’s not nearly cool enough to be in this band,’” Lifeson said in the 2010 documentary Beyond the Lighted Stage. “And then he started playing, and he pounded the crap out of those drums. He played like Keith Moon and John Bonham at the same time.”
A few weeks later, the trio began playing live gigs. Though Lee had written the lyrics on the group’s first album with Rutsey, he ceded the role to Peart, whose songwriting focus was heavily influenced by his studies of objectivist Ayn Rand. Peart’s drumming style, both manic and intricate, would define the band’s virtuosic prog-rock sound.
Rush recorded five albums during the next half-decade, spanning from 1975’s Fly by Night to 1978’s Hemispheres. The most successful was 1976’s 2112, which made the top five on the Canadian albums chart and was ultimately certified triple-platinum in the U.S.
The band’s most successful period would come early in the next decade, though, with the release of 1980’s Permanent Waves and 1981’s Moving Pictures, spawning classic rock standards like The Spirit of Radio, Limelight, and Tom Sawyer. These albums emphasized the group’s melodic and anthemic songwriting and their peerless instrumentation, including Peart’s iconic drum fills in Sawyer and the instrumental YYZ. With Peart, the band recorded 18 albums between 1975 and 2018.
“A big influence on me was John Steinbeck’s The Acts of King Arthur and His Noble Knights, which he never finished in his lifetime,” Peart told Rolling Stone in 2015. “It opens with a little preface that said, ‘Some people there are …’ I said, why? Strange turn of phrase. But he had obviously deliberately chosen it. And some of those formal phrasings were because I was very much driven by rhythm of words – and still am. A line will strike me just because of its drumming rhythm.”
The band was inducted into the Canadian Music Hall of Fame in 1994 and the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2013. Two years later, Rush completed their final tour, after Peart decided to spend more time with his wife, photographer Carrie Nuttall, and their daughter Olivia. Peart never played again.
There was some question as to whether Rush were actually done touring. Lee didn’t sound ready to stop, but he and Lifeson both insisted that there could be no Rush without Peart. “He hasn’t just retired from Rush, he’s retired from drumming,” Lee said in 2018. “He’s not drumming anymore, and he’s living his life – which is fine. Alex and I are cool with it. We’re all still total pals.”