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(Credit: Matt Becker)

Music

Neil Peart didn't want Rush fans to know he had cancer

@TylerGolsen

When Neil Peart passed away in January of 2020, most of Rush’s intensely loyal fan base learned about his brain cancer diagnosis for the first time. Rush had been unofficially retired between 2015 and 2018, when guitarist Alex Lifeson acknowledged that the band would not continue. It would only be two years later that fans would learn the major reason why.

Now, in a recent interview with television host George Stroumboulopoulos on the YouTube series House of Strombo, Lifeson and bassist Geddy Lee opened up about the years of keeping Peart’s glioblastoma diagnosis a secret.

“[Neil] didn’t want anyone to know,” Lee says regarding Peart’s diagnosis. “He just didn’t. He wanted to keep it in the house. And we did. And that was hard. I can’t tell you it was easy, ’cause it was not easy. And it was ongoing. His diagnosis was… he was given 18 months at the most, and it went on three and a half years. And so that was a constant flow of us going to see him, giving him support.”

“What his family had to live through was really difficult,” Lee continued. “So it was a lot of back-and-forth. And when you’re in that state, it’s very hard to function normally, because you can’t talk to anybody about it, ’cause no one’s supposed to know. And so people hear rumblings and they bring things up to you, and you deflect it. And so that feels, on one hand, it feels dishonest, but on the other hand you’re being loyal to your friend. So fuck the dishonesty part. That wins. I would say that was the most difficult time for us to move forward, during that whole thing, because we were in this bubble of grief sort of walking towards an inevitable and terrible conclusion.”

Both members expressed frustration that Rush ended when they did, but ultimately felt that they owed it to Peart to follow through with his desire to stop. “I thought we were all playing really, really well, and I probably could have continued to do another 30 shows, and I think Geddy felt the same way,” Lifeson shared. “But it was becoming really difficult for Neil to play at that level, and unless he could play a hundred percent at that level, he really didn’t wanna do any more shows … And it was hard for him — a three-hour show playing the way he played. It’s a miracle that he was even able to play.”

“Let’s be honest: it was frustrating to end when we ended. I was frustrated, because I worked so hard on that tour in terms of design and putting it all together and the whole concept of going backwards, a chronology that exposes itself or exploits itself while going back in time. And so I was really proud of it,” Lee added. “I wanted to take it to Europe to play for the European fans, I wanted to take it to South America, and that wasn’t gonna happen.”

Rush are currently promoting the 40th anniversary of their seminal 1981 album Moving Pictures. Lifeson has also recently released the debut album of his new project Envy of None.

See the full interview with Lee and Lifeson down below.