The statement said Peart died in Santa Monica, Calif., from brain cancer, “from which he suffered” for three and a half years. Born in Hamilton, Peart joined Rush in 1974, after the band’s first album, replacing original drummer John Rutsey.
Over a career that spanned four decades, Rush enjoyed considerable success in both the U.S. and Canada. Several of their albums — “2112,’’ “Moving Pictures,’’ “All the World’s a Stage’’ and “Exit ... Stage Left’’ — have sold more than one million copies each in the U.S. alone.
Peart was known for his proficiency at playing an almost impossibly elaborate drum kit, which in addition to the traditional kick, snare, and tom drums could at any given time also include bells, chimes, symbols, gongs and electronic elements.
“Neil Peart was, in fact, one of the greatest drummers the universe has ever seen. He ranks up there with all the best,” said Alan Cross, a broadcaster and music historian. “We have lost one of the most important musicians this country has ever produced.”
Cross said Peart used his diverse collection of percussion instruments in innovative ways that went far beyond merely keeping the beat.
There could be a “very melodic sense of what he was doing, every bit as much as a guitar player,” Cross said. “Nobody sounded like him.”
Knowing that a local band could make it big on the world stage was a major source of inspiration for musicians in the city, said Dave Bidini, a member of the Toronto band the Rheostatics, who grew up listening to Rush in the 1980s.
Bidini, who wrote the 2016 documentary about Rush called “Time Stands Still,” said a turning point for the band came in 1976, when they played Massey Hall for three straight nights.
“That was a big deal in Toronto musical culture, having a band from Toronto achieve that measure of success. There weren’t a lot really before them,” Bidini said.
Rush’s career was particularly impressive, he said, because it was proof bands could achieve commercial success while pursuing their own musical vision. The band’s songs were idiosyncratic, often containing key changes and running far longer than typical pop tunes made for the radio.
“I don’t know if it was fearlessness or stubbornness or whatever, but they were really good at being themselves,” Bidini said.
Although a member of one of the most famous bands Canada ever produced, Peart famously eschewed the spotlight. He was reluctant to indulge in the typical trappings of rock stardom and often avoided meet-and-greets with fans and interviews with the media.
“Even as a kid, I never wanted to be famous; I wanted to be good,” he told the Star in 2015, a few months before Rush embarked on its 40th-anniversary tour, which would be the band’s last.
An avid motorcyclist, while on the road with Rush, Peart would ride to shows on his motorcycle rather than travel with the rest of the band and its entourage.
His travels fuelled one of his passions outside of music — writing. He wrote seven non-fiction books and co-authored a science-fiction novelization of Rush’s 2012 album “Clockwork Angels.”
In his 2002 book “Ghost Rider: Travels on the Healing Road,” Peart recounted the motorcycle trip he took across North America to cope with the grief of losing both his daughter and wife in the span of 10 months.