Rob Ford, former Toronto mayor, dies aged 46
Ashifa Kassam in Toronto and agencies
Wednesday 23 March 2016 05.59 AEDT
Rob Ford, the pugnacious former mayor of Toronto who gained international notoriety after he admitted smoking crack while in office, died on Tuesday after an 18-month battle with cancer. He was 46.
“With heavy hearts and profound sadness, the Ford family announces the passing of their beloved son, brother, husband and father,” his family said in a statement. “A dedicated man of the people, Councillor Ford spent his life serving the citizens of Toronto.”
A divisive figure in the politics of Canada’s largest city, Ford was adored by many who pointed to his common touch and straight talk on slashing spending. Ford was a popular city councillor for 10 years, becoming known for his brash political style and conservative policies, and celebrated for his habit of handing out his home phone number and personally returning constituents’ calls about potholes and broken water pipes.
He became mayor in 2010, tapping into the simmering resentment held by suburban residents of Toronto with promises to end what he described as “the war on the car” and to “stop the gravy train” of government spending.
But in May 2013, Ford became fodder for headlines around the world, after reports emerged of a video showing the politician inhaling from a crack pipe. Ford initially denied the allegations but backtracked when the recording was located by the Toronto police months later.
“Yes, I have smoked crack cocaine,” he told reporters. “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.”
He refused to resign. His statements and actions became nightly fodder for American late-night TV hosts such as David Letterman, Jimmy Kimmel and Jon Stewart.
But his popularity continued. Hundreds of people lined up for bobblehead dolls of the mayor, signed by Ford himself. Ford spent countless hours taking pictures with residents eager to be photographed with an international celebrity while “Ford Nation”, the name given to his most dedicated supporters, continued to grow.
His outlandish behaviour continued, casting an image sharply at odds with Canada’s reputation for sedate, unpretentious politics. He drew gasps when he used crude language on live television to deny telling a staffer he wanted to have oral sex. The father of two school-age children said he was “happily married” and added he “has more than enough to eat at home”.
A barrage of scandals followed: ,another video emerged in which Ford staggered around a room, ranting about killing someone, a third showed him calling the city police chief a derogatory name and attempting a Jamaican accent. Eventually, the city council stripped him of most of his powers and reduced his role to one of figurehead.
Ford was repeatedly videotaped and photographed while intoxicated in public. After a second video emerged in 2014 that appeared to show Ford smoking crack, Ford acknowledged his struggles with addiction and announced he was entering rehab.
In the fall of 2014, Ford was diagnosed with a rare, aggressive form of cancer called liposarcoma. The diagnosis, which came as he was running for a second term as mayor, forced him to withdraw from the race.
Between rounds of chemotherapy, Ford campaigned for his old city council seat, winning it by a landslide. He promised to run again for mayor in 2018, if his health permitted.
Ford declared himself cancer free in September and campaigned alongside Stephen Harper during the federal election campaign, but the former mayor was hospitalised again in October. His brother later said two tumours had been found on his bladder.
In recent days, amid reports of Ford’s worsening health, more than 6,400 people shared their thoughts and prayers for Ford’s recovery on a website set up by his family.
On Tuesday, tributes poured in for the late politician. John Tory, the mayor of Toronto, said the city was reeling from the news. “His time in City Hall included moments of kindness, of generosity to his council colleagues and real efforts to do what he thought was best for Toronto. He was, above all else, a profoundly human guy whose presence in our city will be missed,” Tory said in a statement.
By mid-afternoon, a long queue of Ford supporters had gathered outside Toronto’s city hall, where the flag flew at half-mast, to sign a book of condolences.
Justin Trudeau, the Canadian prime minister, offered his condolences to Ford’s family. “Rob Ford fought cancer with courage and determination,” he wrote on Twitter.
Trudeau’s predecessor, Stephen Harper, also paid tribute to Ford on Twitter. “Rob was a fighter throughout life & dedicated public servant who will be remembered for his courage, love for Toronto & his family,” he tweeted.
The youngest of four children, Rob Ford grew up in the Toronto suburb of Etobicoke, the youngest child of millionaire business owner and former conservative provincial politician Doug Ford Sr. He dropped out of university after a year and worked at the family business.
Ford met his wife, Renata, in high school, and they were married in 2000. One of Renata Ford’s few forays into the media spotlight came in 2008 after a widely reported domestic dispute with her husband. Rob Ford was charged with assault and threatening death, but prosecutors withdrew the charges, citing inconsistencies in Renata Ford’s statements.
Ford is survived by his wife and two children, Stephanie and Douglas.
This report includes material from the Associated Press