Published Jan 07, 2021Today marks one year since the passing of Rush drummer and primary lyricist Neil Peart, and friends and family, including bandmates Geddy Lee and Alex Lifeson, have reflected on the legendary artist's final years in a new interview.
A detailed feature from Rolling Stone shares how Peart had begun settling into family life after playing his final show with Rush in August 2015, living with his wife of 20 years, Carrie Nuttall, and daughter Olivia in Santa Monica, CA.
If Peart was not at work on personal projects, he was volunteering at Olivia's school during the day and cooking for the family in the evenings. "He was living his life exactly the way he wanted for the first time in decades, probably," Nuttall told Rolling Stone. "It was a very sweet, content time…and then the gods, or whatever you want to call it, snatched it all away."
Nuttall explained how she first noticed changes in Peart's behaviour in June 2016, as the artist struggled to complete crossword puzzles and would "[make] mistakes with his words" in the months that followed. Following an MRI and surgery, Peart was diagnosed with glioblastoma.
Peart would email Lee and Lifeson with the news weeks afterwards. "Neil asked us not to discuss it with anyone," Lifeson explained. "He just wanted to be in control of it. The last thing in the world he would want is people sitting on his sidewalk or driveway singing 'Closer to the Heart' or something. That was a great fear of his. He didn't want that attention at all. And it was definitely difficult to lie to people or to sidestep or deflect somehow. It was really difficult."
Lee added, "He didn't want to waste his remaining time talking about shit like that. He wanted to have fun with us. And he wanted to talk about real things right up to the very end."
Peart's bandmates expressed that he handled his illness with a "strength and stoicism" familiar to those closest to him.
"He was a tough man," Lee shared. "He was nothing if not stoic, that man…He was pissed off, obviously. But he had to accept so much horrible shit. He got very good at accepting shitty news. And he was okay with it. He was going to do his best to stick around as long as he could, for the sake of his family. And he did unbelievably well…He accepted his fate, certainly more gracefully than I would."
Nuttall shared that Peart mourned "for the future he was not going to have and for everything he would miss out on with Olivia, and with me, and with life itself. If anyone lived life to the fullest, it was Neil. And there was still much he wanted to do. When everyone says, 'Oh, he was so stoic and accepted his fate,' and all that? Yes, he did. But it also broke his heart."
Lee and Lifeson shared that Peart had spent time revisiting the Rush catalog. "Knowing Neil the way I do," Lee explained, "and knowing that he knew how much time he had left, I think it was a natural thing for him to review the work of his life. And he was finding himself very proud of how he had spent a big chunk of his life. And he wanted to share that with Alex and I. Whenever we saw him, he wanted to talk about that. He wanted us to know that he was proud."
While he did not play drums following Rush's final show, Peart encouraged daughter Olivia to pick up the sticks by setting up a drum kit in his living room, as his parents had done for him.
"Neil immediately said, 'She has it,'" Nuttall said. "She did inherit what he had. And of course, that thrilled him… He made a huge effort not to make her feel intimidated by him — he didn't sit there and stare at her having her lesson. He would be out of sight, but he'd be listening."
You can read the entire Rolling Stone feature here.
In December, Peart's first-ever Rush drum kit sold for half a million dollars at an auction.