NEIL PEART's Sister Opens Up About His Death: 'We Had Three And A Half Years To Prepare, So We Knew It Was Coming'
August 26, 2023
Neil Peart's sister Nancy Peart Burkholder has opened up about the passing of the RUSH drummer more than three and a half years ago, saying that she and the rest of her family had "three and a half years to prepare" for his death.
Peart died on January 7, 2020 in Santa Monica, California after a three-year battle with glioblastoma, an aggressive form of brain cancer. He was 67 years old.
RUSH announced Peart's passing three days later, setting off shockwaves and an outpouring of grief from fans and musicians all over the world.
Nancy reflected on her brother's death in a brand new interview with "Etcetera With Kelly Barrett". Asked if she and the rest of the family was prepared for Neil's passing, she said (as transcribed by BLABBERMOUTH.NET): "We had three and a half years to prepare, so we knew it was coming. And then once it happened, we had that week of radio silence where we couldn't tell anybody. And then we got — I think we had 10 minutes notice before it was going live to the world. So we had 10 minutes to tell everyone that we hadn't told in three and a half years that, 'Sorry, we lied. Everything's not okay.' So, yeah, it was a really hard — that week was the hardest week that we went through because we knew and couldn't share it."
Kelly then asked Nancy if fans and other people were respectful of the family's privacy at that time, as the surviving members of RUSH had asked them to be in a statement announcing Neil's death.
"Oh, our messages were blowing up," Nancy said. "My daughter finally turned her phone off. She's also a musician. She's in the [music] world. And she actually wrote a song that week called 'Radio Silence' because we were under radio silence. It played at 'A Night For Neil' [memorial event which was held in October 2022 at Meridian Centre in St. Catharines, Ontario, Canada]. It was incredible. So, yeah, it was a very surreal week. But that 10 minutes was, like… I can't even remember who I called in that 10 minutes. Everybody I knew, well, I had to message them all at once, 'cause we knew we had 10 minutes. And then just as one of my best friends got my message, it was on the radio. And then all of them, of course, were getting called because their families all know the connection and that — the same thing — had 45 years with him, technically. So, yeah, it was a shock that went around the world, that's for sure."
Last year, Peart's RUSH bandmate Geddy Lee revealed that the drummer wanted to keep his cancer diagnosis a secret prior to his death.
"[Peart] didn't want anyone to know [about his illness]," Lee said on Canadian talk show "House Of Strombo". "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."
Lee went on to say that he and RUSH guitarist Alex Lifeson had to be "dishonest" to fans in order to protect Peart's privacy.
"What his family had to live through was really difficult, so it was a lot of back-and-forth," he said. "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."
He continued: "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."
Elsewhere in the "House Of Strombo" interview, Lee and Lifeson expressed their disappointment in how things essentially ended for RUSH, prior to finding out about Peart's cancer diagnosis.
"Let's be honest, it was frustrating to end when we ended," Lee said. "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."
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."
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