Life as a rock mom

Deryck Whi­b­ley’s mother on what it’s like rais­ing a rock star

The Hamilton Spectator - - A&E - DAVID FRIEND

TORONTO - Michelle Gor­don vividly re­mem­bers an­swer­ing the phone to learn her son — Sum 41 singer Deryck Whi­b­ley — had been hos­pi­tal­ized in se­ri­ous con­di­tion.

Awo­ken in the wee hours of the morn­ing about three years ago, she was urged to get on a plane to Los An­ge­les. Whi­b­ley’s hard par­ty­ing de­stroyed his liver and kid­neys, and the sit­u­a­tion was dire.

“It’s a mother’s worst night­mare when you get a call at 4 a.m. say­ing your child is in the ICU,” Gor­don says from her home in Ajax, Ont., a small town out­side Toronto.

She caught a flight that af­ter­noon still un­cer­tain of his fate.

“I didn’t fully grasp the sever­ity of it un­til we got there,” she says. “They had him in a drug-in­duced coma. And that’s when they told me they didn’t ex­pect him to sur­vive.”

Even be­fore his life un­hinged, Gor­don wor­ried about Whi­b­ley’s rock ’n’ roll life­style. He signed his first record deal at 19 and soon af­ter, Sum 41 was mak­ing head­lines for an­tics like trash­ing ho­tel rooms.

Usu­ally she’d hear about it on the lo­cal news and slip it into the con­ver­sa­tion when he called home.

“He’d just kind of chuckle,” re­mem­bers Gor­don, 54, who raised Whi­b­ley as a sin­gle mother while work­ing as a nurse.

Be­fore Sum 41’s hits “Fat Lip” and “In Too Deep” made the band fa­mous, Gor­don sup­ported her son by bring­ing friends to his sparsely at­tended lo­cal shows.

“I’m just sit­ting there grin­ning from ear to ear — that proud mama mo­ment,” she says. “But at the same time you’re look­ing over at your friends hop­ing they’re not bored.”

When Sum 41 broke out with their 2001 al­bum “All Killer No Filler,” Gor­don would be the mom wear­ing T-shirts em­bla­zoned with the band’s logo.

Back­stage par­ties were a high­light, es­pe­cially when she rubbed el­bows with leg­ends like Iggy Pop.

Once she trav­elled with Sum 41 on a jumbo jet where they com­man­deered the gal­ley — with the help of will­ing flight at­ten­dants — and par­tied all the way to Ja­pan.

“We drank the plane dry and kept get­ting kicked out of first class,” she says.

Those wild days have mostly set­tled.

Whi­b­ley turned away from al­co­hol af­ter his health scare, a de­ci­sion he cred­its his mother for at least partly in­spir­ing.

In an in­ter­view last year, he re­called the mo­ment when the sever­ity of his al­co­holism truly hit him.

“I knew in­stantly when I saw my mom’s face,” the 37-year-old mu­si­cian said. “She’d come all the way from Ajax and was there stand­ing over me.”

His mother doesn’t re­mem­ber that mo­ment specif­i­cally. She was fo­cused on help­ing which­ever way she could — so she moved into his hos­pi­tal room to be his overnight nurse.

Noth­ing seemed cer­tain for her un­til one day, sev­eral weeks into Whi­b­ley’s stay, he started qui­etly singing Frank Si­na­tra. When Gor­don heard the fa­mil­iar tune of one of Whi­b­ley’s favourite singers she knew he was on the mend.

Swear­ing off al­co­hol was an­other chal­lenge en­tirely.

Know­ing it would be tough for her son, Gor­don pledged to quit drink­ing too. It was an act of sol­i­dar­ity in Whi­b­ley’s tran­si­tion.

“I just felt like I would be too big of a hyp­ocrite,” she says. “I pic­tured my­self say­ing, ‘You can do it, stay strong,’ and I’ve got a drink in my hand.”

Watch­ing her son en­dure those days was a chal­lenge, but Gor­don says she was de­lighted when he re­turned to the stage.

“It was an­other proud-par­ent mo­ment to see him go from rock bot­tom to top of the world again in such a short pe­riod of time,” she says. “He’s a fighter.”

Gor­don says while many peo­ple call them­selves Sum 41’s big­gest fan, she’s of­fi­cially claim­ing the ti­tle.

Years ago she be­gan cruis­ing around with the cus­tom li­cence plate “SUM41ROX” to show her sup­port.

She has plenty of con­cert pho­to­graphs and mem­o­ra­bilia on dis­play at home, in­clud­ing plat­inum records and signed gui­tars.

Her en­thu­si­asm wasn’t al­ways en­cour­aged.

“That was some­thing that em­bar­rassed Deryck, es­pe­cially in the early days,” she ad­mits. “Not any­more.”

And no other fan gets a Mother’s Day card signed by the band’s leader.

It doesn’t mat­ter where Whi­b­ley is trav­el­ling, Gor­don says there’s al­ways a phone call from her son to mark the special oc­ca­sion.

A cou­ple of years ago he sent a bou­quet of flow­ers and a greet­ing card with a leather jacket on the front. The card read: “Cool Mom Cool.” She es­pe­cially ap­pre­ci­ated that one.

But like most moms, Gor­don still has a few achieve­ments she’d like to see her son at­tain. Asked what tops her list, she doesn’t hes­i­tate for a mo­ment in men­tion­ing Whi­b­ley’s fu­ture with his wife.

“In my ideal dream world I would be liv­ing in L.A. next door to them,” she laughs. “I want to be a grandma.”

MICHELLE GOR­DON, THE CANA­DIAN PRESS

Sum 41 lead singer Deryck Whi­b­ley with his mother Michelle Gor­don.

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