Rob Ford, the pugnacious, populist former mayor of Toronto whose career crashed in a drug-driven, obscenity-laced debacle, died Tuesday after fighting cancer, his family said. He was 46.
Elected in 2010, Ford rode into office on a backlash against urban elites. He cast an image sharply at odds with Canada’s reputation for sedate, unpretentious politics. His tenure as mayor of the country’s largest city was marred by revelations about his drinking problems and illegal drug use. He was repeatedly videotaped and photographed while intoxicated in public.
Nevertheless, after losing that office he was later elected by a landslide to a City Council seat, a job he held until his death.
One after another, his statements and actions became nightly fodder for TV comedians and an embarrassment to many of the suburbanites he championed. Among the more notable:
- Knocking over a 63-year-old female city councilor while rushing to the defense of his brother, Councilor Doug Ford, who was insulting spectators in the council chamber.
- Threatening “murder” in a profane, incoherent rant captured by video.
- Swearing and slurring his words, calling the police chief a derogatory name and trying to imitate a Jamaican accent in a different video.
The international spotlight fell on Ford in May 2013, when Toronto Star and the U.S. website Gawker reported the existence of a video that appeared to show the mayor inhaling from a crack pipe. He denied the existence of the video but later backtracked when police said they had obtained it. Although he became the subject of a police investigation, Ford was never charged with a crime.
“Yes, I have smoked crack cocaine,” Ford told reporters after he stepped off an elevator. “But, no, do I? Am I an addict? No. Have I tried it? Probably in one of my drunken stupors, probably approximately about a year ago.”
Despite immense pressure, Ford refused to resign. The City Council stripped Ford of most of his powers but lacked the authority to force him out of office because he wasn’t convicted of a crime.
Ford announced he was entering rehab in April 2014 after newspaper reports detailed three different nights in which the mayor was extremely intoxicated. One report cited a video that appeared to show him again smoking a crack pipe.
As he sought his second term mayor in 2014, Ford was diagnosed with a rare cancer just two months before the election date. Malignant liposarcoma in his abdomen forced him to do what months of scandals could not — drop his bid for re-election. He underwent a series of aggressive chemotherapy treatments.
Still, Ford opted to seek his old City Council seat. It was in the same suburban district where he launched his political career and where his everyman style and conservative fiscal policies first gained a faithful following that became known as Ford Nation. He won his old seat in a landslide. His brother Doug replaced him on the ballot for mayor but lost.
“With heavy hearts and profound sadness, the Ford family announces the passing of their beloved son, brother, husband, and father, Councillor Rob Ford, earlier today at the age of 46,” a statement from his family said Tuesday. “A dedicated man of the people, Councillor Ford spent his life serving the citizens of Toronto.”
Current Toronto Mayor John Tory said in a statement: “He was a man who spoke his mind and who ran for office because of the deeply felt convictions that he had,” Tory said. “I know there are many who were affected by his gregarious nature and approach to public service.”
Ford is survived by his wife and two children, Stephanie and Doug.