John Mann, Spirit of the West frontman, dies at 57


John Mann, the Spirit of the West frontman who refused to surrender the stage without a fight after revealing in 2014 that he’d been diagnosed with early-onset Alzheimer’s disease, lost that fight on Wednesday.

Mann, 57, passed away peacefully in Vancouver “surrounded by family and loving friends until the end,” according to a statement issued by his family, the sad but “inevitable result” of his situation.

“All were reminded of John’s rich legacy,” read the statement. “He was a potent force in music, acting — onstage, in movies and on television — and was world renowned as a songwriter. As well, he was a foresightful activist and charitable figure for several worthwhile organizations. His work will resound long after his untimely passing.

“John was a man of uncommon courage, was a loyal and beloved friend, a gentleman of great social conscience and a soul brimming with creativity and enthusiasm. Most importantly he was a loving father to Harlan and Hattie and a wonderful husband to Jill Daum.”

Mann, who’d already rebounded from a bout with colorectal cancer in 2010, insisted on performing as a solo act and with the influential Spirit of the West — which he co-founded in 1983 and steered to nationwide prominence during the early 1990s with such indelible folk-pop stompers as “Save This House,” “Political” and “Home for a Rest” — as long as he could after receiving his Alzheimer’s diagnosis five years ago.

For awhile, he used an iPad loaded with lyrics to jog his memory during shows and, even as the disease worsened, still showed up onstage to dance alongside his friends and fellow performers at the “Spirit of John” fundraisers convened to raise money the Alzheimer Society Music Project, which gives dementia patients MP3 players full of their favourite music to help alleviate their symptoms.

By last January, however, Mann’s disease had progressed to the point where he was unable to attend the premiere of wife Jill Daum’s play “Forget About Tomorrow” — a theatrical production about a woman living with her husband’s early-onset Alzheimer’s — in Victoria.

“We’ve just gone through a really rough patch with him,” she told The Canadian Press at the time. “But he’s still beautiful Johnny. He’s still snapping his fingers. There’s a lot of love for John in this show.”

Mann contributed two songs to Daum’s play, “Forget to Forget” and “Tom’s Song,” which would prove to be the last he would ever write.

Online tributes from fellow Canadian musicians began to spill in as soon as news of Mann’s passing broke.

“We want to note, with great sadness, the passing of John Mann from Spirit Of The West, a great talent who left an indelible mark on Canadian music,” wrote Toronto indie-rock outfit Lowest of the Low on Twitter. “Rest in peace, fellow traveler.”

“I toured with (Spirit of the West) early on and they are shows that people still come up to me and say they remember. He was a class act, he was so much energy, I was so honoured to have had those moments on the same stage,” Tweeted singer/songwriter Emm Gryner. “Love to the family and friends of the one and only John Mann.”

“We have just heard the news that our friend and mentor John Mann of (Spirit of the West) has left this world and has begun his ascent to the spirit world,” offered the Julian Taylor Band via Twitter. “Rest easy, dear friend. Thank you! May your legacy live on and inspire generations to come.”

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Mann’s bravery and defiance in the face of an incurable illness will be remembered as much as his music, for he never betrayed a note of self-pity at his fate in public.

“I don’t want to spend any more energy trying to hide my symptoms. I don’t want to feel embarrassed,” he said in the statement that revealed his diagnosis in 2014. “I want to accept what has happened and live.”

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