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Legendary Vancouver drummer Rocket Norton has died

The Vancouver music icon fought cancer for the past two years
Drummer Rocket Norton, seen here in a photo shared to a 2023 GoFundMe campaign, had been behind two big fundraising concerts since his cancer diagnosis. He died on April 5, 2024 at age 73.

Iconic Vancouver rock musician Rocket Norton has died. 

Best known for his Rocket Norton Band and their hit single "Summer in the City," the drummer had a long musical career dating back to the 1960s in Vancouver.

Recently, Norton (born Gary Wanstall) had been behind a series of fundraising concerts called "Fuck Cancer," launched in the wake of his own terminal cancer diagnosis.

Norton passed away on April 5, according to his former manager, Bill Allman. He was 73.

In 2023, Norton spoke to V.I.A. about his musical legacy, his cancer diagnosis, and his fundraising efforts. 

"I rallied the troops; I brought a whole bunch of my rock star friends together and we put on a concert," he recalled of the first "Fuck Cancer" show in 2022. "We raised $322,090.50 and every penny of that went to the BC Cancer Foundation."

The show's name, explained Norton, is a battle cry. "A person that has cancer or a person who knows someone who has cancer understands what that means, and you can't say it any better," he said.

Norton shared that he was undergoing a costly experimental cancer treatment that was not covered by medical insurance.

"I may be a rock and roll drummer, but I'm a pensioner too," Norton told V.I.A. last year.

To date, Norton helped bring in over $600,000 for the BC Cancer Foundation. 

Norton was born in Chilliwack in 1950 and grew up in the Vancouver neighbourhoods of Kerrisdale and Kitsilano. As a teen, Norton adopted his stage name and became a founding member of the band Seeds of Time. A decade later he formed the Rocket Norton Band, and went on to rejoin some former Seeds bandmates to form Prism.

His musical Visions: Mission Andromeda "was the first musical production in the world ever to perform live in sync with the computer laser light show," with sell-out shows at the Vancouver Planetarium, according to a media release. Later, the music was performed with the Vancouver Symphony Orchestra in concert.

Norton shifted into more behind-the-scenes work, becoming music director at CKVU-TV. He produced a Beatles tribute band for Expo 86 that went on to perform for years to come. The producer of many shows and special musical events, in 1994, Norton became the General Manager of the Vogue Theatre on Granville Street and transformed it from a dark movie theatre into a viable concert hall for music and theatrical plays.

He had continued to compose as well as produce, and recently wrote a book. Norton was honoured with a star on Granville Street by the BC Entertainment Hall fo Fame in 2023, followed by a star in Toronto on Canada's Walk of Fame. For the Walk of Fame celebration in Toronto, Norton took to the stage to lead the crowd in a defiant and expletive-charged chant against cancer.

Fans looking to honour Norton's life and work are asked to consider donating to the BC Cancer Foundation.

Norton is survived by his wife, Brenda ("Bee"), stepson Cale, and grandchildren Nathan and Brooklyn.

With files from Maria Diment and the Canadian Press