Sunday, January 12, 2020

This Wasn't Supposed to Happen: Some Thoughts About the Death of Neil Peart

The first time I met Neil Peart, it was mid-1974. I was working at WMMS in Cleveland, where I had helped to launch the band's career in the US by getting "Working Man" on the air. I had first been sent the Canadian import version of their album by a record promoter friend of mine named Bob Roper, and that song resonated with the WMMS audience immediately.  John Rutsey was the drummer at that time, but he had health problems, and the other members (and their management) realized they needed to make a change. Neil was chosen because he was not only an excellent drummer but a talented lyricist. The next time Rush came to Cleveland, Neil was with them.

Back then, I was still sort of the "big sister" to the band; I helped them to get signed to a US record label, I called other stations to encourage them to play "Working Man" too (it was one of our most requested songs), and when they first performed in Cleveland, I was there to cheer them on. Naturally, because Neil was the "new guy," he wanted to meet me-- not because I was in any way influential, but because I already had established a relationship with Alex and Geddy, and he wanted to know more about me. So, I invited him to visit me and he did.  He came to my apartment and we talked for several hours. As it turned out, we had a love of literature in common-- in fact, I lent him my copy of Shakespeare's "King Lear," which had special meaning for both of us. 

We kept in touch sporadically. In April 1975, he sent me a postcard (which I still have) to let me know he was alive and well, touring was going great, and the band's new album was "pretty well written and will be recorded in July." Neil was always a very private person, and I did not expect that we would keep in touch with any regularity. In fact, as time passed, we only saw each other now and then, usually when I want backstage at a Rush concert. And because he never liked doing the endless "meet and greet" events where band-members shook hands with fans, I ended up seeing Geddy and Alex much more than I did Neil. But whenever I saw them, I always made sure they sent Neil my love.

Whether I saw him in person or not, Neil remained a presence in my life-- through his amazing lyrics, and through the privilege of watching him play. He was such a gifted drummer, and widely admired by his fellow musicians in other bands.  And I kept up with his life-- the tragic loss of his wife and daughter, his time away from the band, his eventual return... And then, one night in September 2010, when I had come to see the band perform in Boston, out of nowhere, he asked to see me. We hugged, like two old friends, and then we chatted about politics, about philosophy, about family, and yes, about "King Lear"-- he still had the copy of the play he had borrowed from me, and as I posted to social media at the time, I was very moved to find he still had it, and it still meant something to him.

And as he and I were saying goodbye, we were standing out in the hall and he remarked upon the lesson he took from "King Lear"-- that it's not enough to say you love someone; you have to show it. And he remarked upon second chances-- that he hadn't been there enough for his daughter Selena (he loved her, but by his own admission, he was on the road a lot); but he absolutely was going to be there for his daughter Olivia. It was a promise he kept.

I was not surprised when Neil decided to retire. I knew he had tendonitis. I knew he was in more pain than he let on. And while fans were, of course, disappointed, being a "retired drummer" gave him the chance to spend more time with his wife and daughter.  I kept in contact with him through his closest friend Craig, and I was so glad to hear he was content and enjoying his life.

And then it changed. A private person till the end, Neil shared with very few people that he had cancer. Even many reporters who had covered Rush over the years had no idea. When we all found out he had died, it was such a shock that few of us knew what to say. I am still finding it difficult to put into words what I feel about this tragic loss, but let me try:

Neil Peart was an honorable, ethical human being. Despite being one of the music industry's greatest drummers, he was never arrogant. He treated drumming, and song-writing, as art forms, and he elevated both. He loved being a musician, and his lyrics resonated with so many fans.  Neil was also a charitable person-- but when he gave (which he often did), he never wanted to call attention to himself.  He lived his life his way, never afraid to be himself, encouraging others to be themselves too. He left a large body of incredible music, that will live on. And he left years of wonderful memories that his millions of fans will never forget.  To think of a world without Neil in it breaks my heart. But I consider myself fortunate to have known him. May he rest in peace.



  1. Thank you for sharing. My condolences. He was a master, of music, and of life.

  2. He was so many things, the reaction of the world reflects the impact he made. Really really incredible. Thanks for the blog.

  3. Beautifully written Doc. Tim FromLA

  4. Thank you for that, Donna. I never met Neil, but as a lifelong fan I am crushed. Somehow, just knowing he was out there was enough. Knowing that he's gone... is devastating. My thoughts are with you and the entire big, beautiful Rush family.

  5. Donna. Sharing a big ol' virtual hug with you in our time of loss. The blessings of friendship go both ways between you and Neil. Your reminder of just how genuine an individual he was certainly makes his passing that much more tragic. Although his human form is no longer with us, Pratt will never pass. His music, artistry, writings and humble generosity will live on long beyond our own years. He will be missed, by many. Much love your way my friend. And, again, on behalf of RUSH fans everywhere .. THANK YOU for bringing them into the "Limelight". #rush #neilpeart

  6. And here come the tears again. Beautiful, Donna.

  7. Beautifully stated. I'm glad you had the privilege of knowing him. I'm sure he thought of you in the same way. I feel for his parents. Not many bring them up. But as a parent,I cannot imagine losing a child. It's unnatural. I feel like Neil would agree having gone through it.

  8. what a beautiful tribute, as a Rush fan as well as huge fan basically in awe of this inspiring man, thank many tears, I guess no one is invincible if he wasn't...R.I.P.

  9. Suddenly you were gone
    From all the lives you left your mark upon.....

    Wish I could have met him. I think i would have started out by asking him if he knoew any good drummers..

  10. Thank you Donna for graciously sharing your story with us. A very moving read.

    R.I.P. Mr. Peart. The music world will never be the same.

  11. Thank you for sharing this Donna. The lyrics to Subdivisions still resonate to this 60 year old RUSH fan.

  12. Am I the first to comment on this text? I don't know. Anyway, I as many others feel very sad about all this. I pray for Neil's family and his close friends. May God comfort their hearts. Thank you for sharing your memories with us. God bless you.

  13. Thank you for this, Donna. Your connection with the band is a treasure to all of us, not just your discovery of them, but the ongoing friendship, and your willingness to share it (and so eloquently) with readers. I also appreciate your presence on social media; Twitter can be a dark place, but your interactions always reflect kindness, decency, and critical thinking—Neil would be proud.

  14. I feel like I lost a favorite Uncle, friend and teacher.
    Who gave me “advice” for decades through lyrics of song. Picked me up when I was broken.
    I’m broken again. He left a family here, yet he also had one waiting for him on the other side.
    He’s at peace now... something it will take a while for us to achieve. Beautiful words Donna.
    I conclude by saying, “Blah, blah, blah!”
    Kenny Chiarito

  15. That was beautiful Donna

  16. Beautifully said. I was crying as I was reading it. ❤❤❤

  17. Beautifully said. I was crying while reading it.❤

  18. Thank you for sharing. I cant believe hes gone :(

  19. So very well said. Until my own recent retirement, I was in a Rush tribute band called Distant Signals. We had the awesome privilege and responsibility of being based at Ground Zero; the Cleveland/Pittsburgh area where Rush has so much history. Speaking of privilege, we were honored to have been given an interview via Skype between Donna Halper and our keyboardist Don. It was such an incredible blessing to be part of the Rush family. As the band's vocalist, I was able to sing Neil's words, his stories and parables. Geddy Lee once commented on having to believe in what he was singing, and I connected with those lyrics on a deep level every time I performed. It was an honor and privilege. I owe Neil so much and while he is no longer with us, I will forever have his impact on my life.

  20. In heaven (Clockwork) Angels play the harp. Neil will be granted an exception.

  21. Vinnie C - ClevelandJanuary 12, 2020 at 5:54 PM

    Thank you for sharing Donna - I don't believe any of the millions mourning expected the weight in which this hit us all.

  22. Thank you for sharing from your heart. I can only imagine how difficult this was for you to write. I held on to each word as I read it, and will read it again and again. It is a great source of comfort. It is a blessing that he retired to spend his last years with his precious family, I wish he had more time for them, so very sad.

  23. I first saw Rush when I was in college. I drove to San Antonio to see them. April Wine opened for them. It was a Stone City Attractions concert. Put on by KMAC/KISS. The "godfather of Rock" Joe Anthony was the MC. Rush was great. Saw them 3 more times. Since Neil's death, I've listened to the interviews out there on YouTube. He and Alex and Geddy, so down to earth, real people. Not full of themselves. One thing that stands out that Neil has stated many a time. The music and the band, would inspire people. To me, that is the biggest gift and legacy of Rush and of Neil. Inspiration bears good fruit.

  24. Thank you for sharing this. Profoundly sad.

  25. Thank you Donna. Echoing Vinnie C’s comment above. As a long time fan, but merely a stranger (vs long awaited friend), I’m taken aback with the weight in which this news hit me this weekend. Neil’s words and music have been vibrating on some level of my consciousness for so long.

  26. Donna, that is beautifully said. My heart is broken and his loss is a very real loss for all of us. Still can't believe he is gone.

    "Some are born to move the world..." Yes you were, Neil...yes you were.

  27. Donna, Rush owes you MILLIONS, likely many MILLIONS! Thank YOU for what you've done! Neil is now gone, it will NEVER be the same, but without YOU we likely don't know Rush... Thank You Donna!

  28. Oh Donna, this is so beautifully written. I plan on linking to this post when I write up my feels. Farewell to the King. I'm so glad Rush is a Band tweeted your post, or I would not have found this.

    thank you.

  29. Thank you truly for this read. I need to right now read this

  30. Thank you for sharing Donna. Beautiful relationship. Having met you in person and corresponding over the years. I can see how you two were kindred spirits. I immediately thought of you, and Geddy and Alex when I heard the news. Please know how greatful we fans are for your discovery of Rush and for Neil's genius and talent. I am so happy for all the little skits Neil took part in and joked around with the other boys for our (and their) amusement and for all the "I Love You Man" continuity with Paul Rudd and Jason Segel.

  31. Donna,
    Thank you for sharing your thoughts.

  32. He had the talent to get a cheap seat in the British music industry.I am thankful in integrity he chose defeat only to rise again for the challenge on his terms. Drummer Bill Ward mentioned Red Barchetta. A world under the same sun is now a better vanished time.

  33. Thank you so much Donna what a beautiful
    Tribute to Neil I hope his friends family yourself have the privacy that Neil commands and respects he came back to us when he didn't have too and left a fine body of work for us all to cherish
    Much appreciated from us all in the Uk
    Went birdwatching yesterday and just before dusk a short eared owl flew towards us his spirit lives on and will never diminish

  34. Deep heart felt thanks Donna,

    I like to think it was a life a well as the cards dealt him.

    You summed it up very well in sharing what Neil made us all feel.
    Just an Honest Man working Hard at his passion. Only the World put him on this pedestal. Not of his wishes.
    How fortunate of me to have been exposed to them at an early age and enjoy a Lifetime of their great music. They have helped me through pain, shared in joy and everywhere between. They were MY band and forever will be.
    Thank you for steering them and helping them into the right hands for their careers to flourish.
    Teary eyed in the grieving but understanding in Neil's words not mine all things must pass and i will deal with this loss
    it just may take some time

    "Wave after wave will flow with the tide and bury the world as is does, Tide after tide will flow and recede Leaving life to go on as it was"
    sincere thanks again
    and Sorry for the loss of your friend

  35. Thank you Donna for the both the launch, and this closure.

  36. Thank you Donna. The world is a better place because of Neil, Geddy and Alex and, of course, you. Word fail me now so I'll let the music and lyrics do the talking.

  37. Great tribute, Donna. Been a huge fan since early 80s and have read all his books. It seems like he was an exceptionally grounded person, in addition to being gifted with his music and literary talents and incredible work ethic. Also, thank you for bringing this wonderful band and their music to us in the states. You have the gratitude of all of us fans.

  38. Beautifully written, Donna. Neil was an incredible human being. Wishing his family peace during this difficult time.

  39. Beautiful words for a very special person. Thank you for sharing them, my deepest condolences to you.

  40. Well said, my friend. Forever that star in the sky - in the shape of a maple leaf.

  41. Thank you. I visited the Cleveland and the RRHOF recently and smiled as I thought of you.

  42. Dear Donna, it means a lot to hear it straight from you. I know how much Rush meant to you, as well as the three individuals who comprised the band. I am now a history professor and Neil Peart's writing (lyrical and prose) has had a profound influence on my career. My dissertation was called "Between The Wheels" and I routinely quote Neil's lyrics in my course syllabi. He will be missed, but his legacy lives on. Thanks for being an advocate for Rush as well as autism -- two topics near and dear to my heart. Shalom!

  43. The treasure of a life is a measure of love and respect
    The way you live, the gifts that you give
    In the fullness of time
    It’s the only return that you expect

    Thanks for all Madame Donna. Sometimes a little bit of love can move the world. Love from Quebec city!

  44. Donna,

    Thank you so much for all that you have done, and for your words! We wouldn't know Neil if it wasn't for you.

    I have friends that I've lost to GBM (Glioblastoma Multiform.) I tear up as I think of Neil fighting this horrific monster, and I wish that we would have known. I hope that he knows how much he impacted each of our lives.

    I have a benign brain tumor, it's not cancerous. Mine is a Glioma. If anyone wants to learn more, please look into the American Brain Tumor Association:

    I have a dear friend, Lanette Kirk-Veres. She is a brain tumor survivor. She runs a non profit group that helps people with Brain Tumors:

    If anyone feels led to help other people, or needs information, Lanette is always willing to help. Both the ABTA and Lanette are great places to make donations to, if anyone feels led.

    Some others that passed from GBM:

    Senator Kennedy
    Tony Snow
    David M Bailey

    David M Bailey was an amazing songwriter and musician. His music can be found on many music sites, including Amazon Prime Music. His website is still active, and includes his story.

    If anyone of you needs help, you can reach out to me. Brain Tumors are awful.

  45. What a simple, heartfelt and touching tribute. Its something that I am sure he would have been happy to read.

  46. Donna,
    For the past 4 days I've been grasping at words, thoughts and ideas of how to encapsulate Neil's and Rush's impact on my life - I was able to find spiritual solace in broken times and the lift of conviction during better times. And during this time, when The Professors voice will no longer offer any new wisdom, I thank you for offering the solace I and the rest of the Rush Community desperately needed.
    To all Rush fans and family - I wish for you a moment of peace now and may the Spirit live on through you in all you do.

    - PJ

  47. Thank you so much for sharing this, Donna. While I have recently scoured social media for stories of Neil, it’s A double-edged sword. I want to share the grief but at the same time I want to protect myself from it. Thank you, again, for this heartfelt story. Mike T.

  48. Fair winds and following seas Mr. Peart, Part 2

    Two Friday’s ago, the music industry and fans worldwide were stunned to learn of the passing of Neil Peart, who was the drummer and lyricist for the band Rush. The announcement was issued by the remaining two members, Alex Lifeson & Geddy Lee, at about 16:15 Friday, Jan 10, wherein we learned that Neil had been battling an aggressive form of brain cancer for the last three years and actually “departed the pattern” on Tuesday, Jan 7. Professional musicians and fans flooded social media and Rush blog sites with condolences, memories and empathy for Neil’s wife & ten year old daughter, Alex, Geddy, and all on the Rush staff, many who have all worked together for well over 40 years.

    In November of 2017, I wrote the weekly themed around Rush, some of which I will echo here, but there are three specific lessons from “The Professor’s” life example, which I’d like to illustrate and how they relate to our company.

    • Professionalism

    The three members of Rush epitomize professionalism, exhibiting exceptional skill, work ethic and grace.

    There is a saying in show business that, “The show’s the thing.” In a recent interview, circa early 2015, Neil reflected that he had commented to Alex that they were all getting older, early 60s at the time, and wondered about the effect if he had a heart attack during the show. Alex jokingly replied, “Have a heart attack if you want but don’t wreak the show!” The shows averaged just north of three hours, with a short intermission at about the one-hour mark, and life on the road isn’t all fun and games that those of outside the business might imagine. Neil was over touring as a lifestyle long ago, and in fact, music was far from the central focus of his life. However, as a professional touring musician, he pressed on, often with a stoicism that would make Marcus Aurelius proud. On various tours he would play thru ear infections, cracked hands, and on the last tour a severe fungal infection on his feet, any of which made playing the drums excruciatingly painful. But he showed up and played.

    And that is the point. As professional instructors, technicians and support staff, when we show up to work, we need to show up, focused and ready to work. Certainly, there are times when we are ill, or dealing with life outside work, that good headwork mandates staying home. But when we are here, we need to be here mentally, distractions set aside, game-face on and ready play the drums… oh, I mean teach, sell, maintain, etc.

    1. Fair winds and following seas Mr. Peart, part 1


      Thank you for the heartfelt story of closure and for being there in the beginning to help launch the bands career. I’ve been a fan nearly all my adult life since, during my second year in college in 1982, I first bought a stack of Rush and Zeppelin LPs, which I still have, from my punk rock neighbor, Debbie Dagger. It was Neil’s lyrics that pulled me in, always kept me engaged, although as I grew older, I came to appreciate Alex and Geddy’s musical genius as much as I did Neil’s lyrical prowess. The first rock concert I ever went to was Rush later that year in northern Ohio. While stationed in Sicily, as a Navy LT, I would jog in the lava fields of Mt. Atena listening to a Rush mix on my portable cassette player. It would be 25 years before I saw the band live again, this time in San Antonio, and then five times after that. The last time was in Irvine, CA on Jul 30 – the next to the last show on the R40 tour – when I final managed to get relatively close 12th row, center stage seats. I also literally flew halfway around the planet for that show from Kabul, Afghanistan to LAX. This brief paragraph barely touches on the depth of importance that the band and their work has meant to me.

      In 2014, I visited a friend, who I flew with professionally, who was only about six months into dealing with the same type of cancer that Neil succumbed to. My friend was so far gone at that time, and I saw that agony his wife was going thru. I can only imagine the stress and pain that Ms. Carrie and young Olivia have had to deal with. They are in all our prayers; of this I am certain.

      I don’t post on social media, but have been so moved this week, that I at least wanted to share my small part of the story. Your blog seemed appropriate. So, thank you also for that.

      At my work, one of the managers sends out a story each Sunday, along with the list of clients for the coming week. I wrote the essay below for this coming Sunday’s corporate email. The only edits I made were to remove the company’s name, and to break it into two parts to fit in the text app.

      Huntersville, NC

  49. Fair winds and following seas Mr. Peart, Part 3

    • Disciplined Practice

    I’ll rehash some of my previous weekly article here. Real skill takes study, practice, effort. Often recognized as the best drummer in the world, bar none, before the band retired in 2015, Neil should know. He often spoke of the 10,000-hour rule – it takes approximately 10,000 hours of practice, effort and study to become a master at any given skill. Before any tour, the band would rehearse for several months; Neil would rehearse for a month prior for the rehearsals! In 1994, when already arguably at the top of his game, he took up lessons with jazz drumming legend and teacher Freddie Grubber, who taught him to be more fluid and organic when at the drum kit. Again in 2007, he took up lessons with Peter Erskine with the aim to be more improvisional rather than compositional during his solos.

    We must take the time and effort to know our material, our craft if you will, be that the airplane we instruct on, the program we are using to create something fabulous for the company, the industry we sell in, and so on. For the instructors, aviation is a demanding, unforgiving business; there is no shortcut for putting in the time and effort. The example for our student/client starts with us.

    • The Ripple Effect

    It is probably impossible to say how many drummers around the world Neil inspired to, as Dave Ghrol put it, “pick up two sticks and chase a dream.” The band had an enormous impact on so many professional bands. I personally had a passing fancy with the same but chose to stick with aviation as my professional best and stayed with air drumming at Rush concerts. However, it was Neil’s lyrics that first caught me when I read the liner notes to A Farewell to Kings. The list of books I have read (or a few still sitting waiting to be read) directly because of mention in the liner notes, lyrics, on Neil’s “Bubba’s Book Club” section of his website, or mentioned in his several books range from The Fountainhead, This is Your Brain on Music, Deer Hunting with Jesus, Candide, Absalom; need I go on? My life is richer because of his work. The outpouring of emotion on social media the past weekend was heartfelt and genuine. Many spoke of how Neil’s lyrics or Rush’s music work carried them thru some exceedingly difficult time. Neil often commented that in the end, when one left a concert or finished listening to a song or LP, that they knew care had been taken in the construction of the concert, song or LP.

    Probably none of us will have a direct effect on millions as Neil had. However, none of us knows the long-term effect we have on those we encounter. As we go about out work and life, take care.
    The extra 30 minutes spent with a client may well save his life. The disciplined focus you inspire in another may well be passed on to his first officer later in his career. The effort and care that goes into the courseware, records, sales front desk all have effect that ripples out like pebbles tossed into a pond.

    I think all of us at this company intuitively realize and practice everything I’ve touched on above, but I think it is also good to have an inspirational reminder from time to time.

    Rush’s music, by some accounts, is certainly an acquired taste. However, if you’ve never had the inclination to listen, you might consider doing so. If I had to pick one song to suggest to someone who had never heard Rush, and one that tied in all the above, it would be The Garden, which is the last song on the band’s last LP, Clockwork Angels. I promise your heart and soul will be richer for listening.

    Fair winds and following seas Mr. Peart.

    Thanks for the indulgence and have a great week!

  50. Thank you Donna for finding all of us RUSH; I don't believe they could have found a better friend and supporter than you!

  51. Hi Donna, Lovely blog post, thank you for bringing Rush to us all those years ago. The band have been a part of my live for over 40 years, and I will miss Neil greatly, but am thankful every day for his music and words. You are always a big part of the Rush family, I think I've known who you are and what you did for the band since I was seven! I really appreciate your defence of Neil on Twitter after someone posted rude and invasive comments. Keep rocking, thank you Donna!

  52. Donna, thanks so much for this. You did the world a great service by discovering Rush. Your words are eloquent and inspiring. I've also enjoyed reading some of the other posts on your blog.

    I'm a musician and songwriter, and I've only recently realized just how much an influence Neil has had on me, especially lyrically (but also in the standards I set for myself as a singer and as a harmonica player in multiple genres of music). Many of my songs display a clear lyrical influence from Neil, but especially the one in the link below. Thanks again for your wisdom and hard work on behalf of music and musicians over many years.

    Scott Albert Johnson

  53. Although I never met Mr. Peart, I imagine he died the way he lived, quietly and with dignity. I will forever be sad his physical is gone, but his memory
    Lives forever through music he so eloquently helped create. Long Live Rush and their kind and gentle demeanor.

  54. I saw your interview on WGBH website about Neil Peart. I grew up in Cleveland when "MMS" put Rush on the map. It was so cool! Those were great times. Neil's lyrics really resonate with me. Thanks for the memories and the memorial.

  55. I'm always so grateful that you share your memories of Neil with us, thank you Dr. Halper.