Rob Ford, who catapulted into the international spotlight after admitting he smoked crack cocaine while mayor of Toronto, has died. He was 46.
He died Tuesday at Mount Sinai Hospital in Toronto, according to family spokesman Dan Jacobs. He had been in palliative care for the past few days. In 2014, he was diagnosed with liposarcoma, a rare type of cancer, and received chemotherapy.
Ford, who was elected mayor of Canada’s biggest city in October 2010, billed himself as a populist, vowing to stop the “gravy train” at City Hall. His bombastic style and scandal-plagued mayoralty drew critics; his defense of taxpayers against downtown “elites” drew fierce loyalty from the working-class neighborhoods he championed.
“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,” Toronto Mayor John Tory said in an emailed statement. “He was, above all else, a profoundly human guy whose presence in our city will be missed.”
He became mired in controversy soon after taking office. Ford was photographed reading a newspaper while driving on a highway, accused of groping a female city councilor and was sued for conflict of interest in connection with soliciting donations for his charity, the Rob Ford Football Foundation. He later won the case on appeal.
What made him infamous was video of him inhaling from what appeared to be a crack pipe. Reporters at the Toronto Star newspaper and website Gawker.com reported in May 2013 that they had viewed an image of the mayor sitting on a chair in a room, top buttons of his white shirt undone, inhaling the drug.
Ford vehemently denied the allegations until several months later when Toronto police said they had found a video. In November of that year, amid calls for him to resign, he finally confessed to smoking crack cocaine. At a City Hall press conference, he said he likely smoked the drug during one of his “drunken stupors.”
The admission renewed calls for Ford to step down and turned him into a target for comedians. Jimmy Kimmel and Jon Stewart were among U.S. TV talk-show hosts who poked fun at Ford, with Kimmel even hosting the mayor on his program.
Ford was also found to have offered about $3,800 and a car to a gang member for the drug video, propositioned a female staff member for sex and guzzled a 12-ounce bottle of vodka before driving off in his car, according to court documents.
No charges were brought against him. Throughout the probe and his many apologies, Ford refused to step down. When Toronto’s city council voted to take away most of his budget and mayoral power after his admitted drug use, Ford compared himself to Kuwait being invaded by former Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein.
He finally agreed to a stint in rehab for alcohol abuse in mid-2014 after a second video surfaced, with screen shots on the front page of the Globe and Mail newspaper that allegedly showed Ford smoking from a copper pipe in his sister’s basement.
Robert Bruce Ford was born May 28, 1969, in Etobicoke, in Toronto’s west end. He attended Carleton University in Ottawa to study political science, according to the Toronto Star, leaving in 1990 before graduating to return to Toronto and a sales job with the family business.
The Fords were a political family. His father, Doug Ford Sr., was a Progressive Conservative member of the Ontario legislature in the mid-1990s while his brother, Doug Ford, served as a city councilor before stepping in to run for mayor after Rob Ford’s cancer diagnosis.
Rob Ford spent 10 years as a city councilor for Etobicoke, and helped run the family business his father started, Deco Labels & Tags.
The family counted as a friend the late federal Finance Minister Jim Flaherty, who once teared up on TV after Ford admitted his substance-abuse problems.
While Ford’s loud style rubbed many the wrong way, he could sometimes be endearing, dancing and clapping with abandon as a gospel choir sang on the floor of City Hall or posing for selfies with revelers at street festivals in Toronto.
He wasn’t afraid to laugh at his own expense. After telling mayoral contender Olivia Chow at a debate that he was a “silent partner” at the family business, John Tory, another contender at the time, quipped, “that would be a first.” Ford laughed uproariously.
During his time in office, Toronto underwent one of its biggest building booms, with hundreds of new condominium towers constructed. The metropolis overtook Chicago in March 2013 to become the fourth-biggest city in North America.
As part of his agenda of saving “money for the taxpayer,” Ford outsourced half the city’s residential waste collection to the private sector and pushed to cut council budgets. He eliminated a vehicle registration fee to turn back the “war on the car.” He also tried to “cut the waist” on himself, consistently missing his weight loss goal.
His inability to build consensus about how to tackle Toronto’s transportation issues helped foster a city with one of the world’s longest rush-hour wait times. Ford promised to “bore, bore, bore” for subways rather than agree to traffic-clogging light rail but never detailed how the city would pay for the new transportation.
In September 2014, after complaining for three months of stomach pain, Ford was admitted to a hospital where doctors discovered an abdominal tumor. He withdrew from the mayoral campaign Sept. 12 due to his health and his brother Doug filed to run instead, losing to Tory.
He is survived by his wife, Renata, and their two children, Stephanie and Douglas.