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Rush’s Geddy Lee on Neil Peart’s Final Years: We Had to Be “Dishonest” to Remain “Loyal” to Our Drummer

The band kept silent to protect Peart's privacy following his cancer diagnosis

rush neil peart illness private
Rush (photo courtesy of the artist)
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    In a new interview, Rush members Geddy Lee and Alex Lifeson opened up about the death of drummer Neil Peart and the circumstances surrounding the band prior to his passing in January 2020.

    Lee and Lifeson spoke with Canadian talk program House of Strombo, discussing numerous topics such as the 40th anniversary of Rush’s seminal album Moving Pictures. When host George Stroumboulopoulos brought up the final years of the band, Lee revealed that Peart wanted to keep his cancer diagnosis a secret, which forced the band to protect his privacy by keeping fans in the dark.

    “[Neil] didn’t want anyone to know [about his illness],” Lee said (as transcribed by Blabbermouth). “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.”

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    During that span, Lee and Lifeson did not comment on Peart’s health situation, with Lee admitting that they had to be “dishonest” to protect the drummer’s privacy. Then, when Neil eventually passed away after a private three-year battle with glioblastoma — an aggressive form of brain cancer — the band suddenly had to publicly grieve.

    “What his family had to live through was really difficult,” 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 f**k 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.”

    Prior to finding out about Peart’s cancer diagnosis, Lee was disappointed with the way things essentially ended for Rush. “Let’s be honest: it was frustrating to end when we ended. I was frustrated, because I worked so hard on that [40th anniversary] 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. 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.”

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    Lifeson added, “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. 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.”

    In past interviews, Lifeson has said Rush will never play again without Peart. The guitarist has since formed the new project Envy of None, who just released their debut album.

    Meanwhile, the Rush merchandising camp remains active with the recent launch of the Moving Pictures anniversary box set and a new Rush-themed pinball machine.

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    Watch the new interview with Geddy Lee and Alex Lifeson below, followed by Consequence’s Round Table discussion of Moving Pictures featuring drummers Mike Portnoy, Charlie Benante, Arejay Hale, and Matt Halpern.

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