Life as a rock mom: Deryck Whibley's mother on what it's like raising a rock star
Even before his life unhinged, Gordon worried about Whibley's rock 'n' roll lifestyle.
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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 period of 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.
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."
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