Mike Portnoy, a longtime friend of Neil Peart‘s, says that he was aware for quite a while that the late RUSH drummer was battling brain cancer. “Yeah, I’ve known for about two years now and was held to secrecy,” the former DREAM THEATER drummer said during an appearance earlier today (Monday, January 13) on SiriusXM‘s “Trunk Nation”. “It was something that he and everybody in his camp, obviously, went to great lengths to keep private and keep secret. And that was Neil — he was a very, very private guy.
“Even though I’ve known for this amount of time and I kind of have had time to psychologically prepare for [his passing] knowing that it was inevitably coming, it didn’t make it any less shocking; it just took the wind out of me when I heard it on Friday. [For] the whole rest of the world that didn’t know about this, this must [have come] completely out of nowhere — I can’t imagine how shocking it must be.”
Asked when the last contact was that he had with Peart, Mike said: “I saved all of the e-mails he sent me, and last night I went reading through a whole bunch of ’em and I broke down crying — it really hit me hard last night; I had a big, big cry reading some of these e-mails from him.
“You’ve read his books, you’re read his tour programs, you’ve read his blogs on his web site, and that’s the way he wrote even in his e-mails,” he continued. “So whenever I would get an e-mail from him, it was very, very lengthy, very thorough, went into a lot of details of whatever he was going through.
“But in answer to your question, the last e-mail I got from him was a little over a year ago,” he said. “He sent me a holiday e-mail with a photo of him in a Santa Claus hat, and some photos with his daughter, Olivia, who’s been growing up. He would always send me photos of them dressed up for the holidays or reading books together and things like that.
“I feel so much gratitude and I was just so lucky and fortunate to have had that kind of relationship with him, because I know how few people did,” Mike added. “So it’s such an honor for me to have had that relationship with him the last 15 years or so.
“The last time I saw him was when I saw the farewell tour [in 2015] — I went and saw the show up in Boston, and I brought my son Max to see the show. And knowing that they were retiring, I knew it was possibly the last time we’d see him play — obviously, not thinking this was gonna happen. So that was the last time I saw him. And he was, as always, so generous and let Max come up and play his kit and gave Max some signed heads and sticks and opened up his dressing room to us. So that was the last time I physically saw him. And then there were two e-mails after that.”
According to Portnoy, the last three days have been “surreal” as he has had to come to terms with the loss of his friend and and one of his biggest musical influences. ” I’ve just been in a horrible fog for the last couple of days,” he said. “I’ve been doing a lot of interviews for radio tributes like this and other things like that. So it’s been nice to keep talking about Neil and remembering him and posting about him online. But it hurts, man. This one’s a big one — for me, personally. I haven’t felt like this since maybe John Lennon or John Bonham or Frank Zappa. It hits on that level as a fan, as it does for millions of RUSH fans around the world. But this has a whole new level for me as well, because I didn’t know John Lennon or John Bonman or Frank Zappa, but Neil I did know and had a relationship with. So there’s that whole level as well, which just makes it just horrible. It’s just been a rough, rough weekend.”
In addition to SONS OF APOLLO — whose sophomore album “MMXX” will be released on January 17 — Portnoy is currently a member of five other bands — TRANSATLANTIC; THE NEAL MORSE BAND; all-star metal collective METAL ALLEGIANCE; pop/prog supergroup FLYING COLORS; and THE WINERY DOGS.
When Peart‘s death was first made public on January 10, the remaining members of RUSH — guitarist Alex Lifeson and bassist/vocalist Geddy Lee — revealed in a statement that he had been diagnosed with the disease three and a half years earlier, just a few months after the band completed its final tour.