This Brave Teenager Passed Away From Cancer, But His Amazing Legacy Lives On Through Music
Posted by GreaterGoodness
At age 14, Zach Sobiech was diagnosed with osteosarcoma, a rare form of bone cancer. After the diagnosis, he began writing songs as an outlet. His talent for catchy choruses and bittersweet lyrics won fans around the world and helped him live out some of his greatest ambitions.
Finding Meaning In Music
Zach fought his illness for three years, enduring more than 20 rounds of chemotherapy and 10 surgeries. However, the treatments weren’t enough. In June 2012, doctors told him he had less than a year to live. That’s when Zach began writing music. His mom found the lyrics to his first song, “Clouds,” while cleaning up his room.
The song charts Zach’s coming to terms with his terminal diagnosis as he goes from “down, down, down” to “up, up, up.”
In the documentary film about him, “My Last Days”, Zach explains, “Most people live life kinda in the middle between dream-come-true and you’re-dying.” He adds, “I’m living on two extreme ends. You have really, really good days, and you have really, really bad days.”
Life to the Fullest
Zach posted “Clouds” to YouTube in December 2012. The song’s mixed themes of melancholy and hope connected with millions of listeners, causing it to become a viral sensation. Meanwhile, Zach strove to experience as much of life as he could in the time he had. “I think every teenager out there feels invincible,” he told filmmakers. “It’s not the kind of invincible like Superman. It’s the kind of invincible like “I’ll see you in five months.”
The music of the Minnesotan teenager caught the attention of director Justin Baldoni. With the help of Rainn Wilson’s production company SoulPancake, Baldoni created a documentary film about Zach. The director also assembled a celebrity-filled cover of “Clouds” as a tribute. Shot over Zach’s original recording of the song, the celebrities took turns lip-syncing along, including Bryan Cranston, Ashley Tisdale, Sarah Silverman, Jenna Fischer and Jason Mraz. Zach’s friends and family joined in as well.
Celebrities weren’t Zach’s only fans. On Feb. 16, 2013, Zach got his dream-come-true moment. The young musician performed a sold-out show at the Varsity Theater in Minneapolis. Joined on stage by local musicians Vicci Martinez and Kevin Bowe, along with Zach’s best friend and music collaborator Samantha Brown, the teenager looked the part of an indie rock star, though his expressive voice sounded gentle and almost shy before the crowd. When fans joined in on the chorus, Zach beamed, his in-the-moment joy shining through.
Zach Sobiech celebrated his 18th birthday on May 3, 2013. Just weeks later, on May 20, he passed away. In that brief year before he left, he said, “My closure is being able to get my feelings into these songs so they can have something to remember me by and lean on when I was gone.”
The Song Lives On
As word of Zach’s death spread, the millions of people he touched reached back. “Clouds” swiftly climbed music charts until it reached number one on iTunes, Spotify, and Billboard.
After Zach’s death, artists covered the song in tribute. On May 28, 2014, Kiah Victoria sang the song live at the Kennedy Center in Washington, D.C., backed by Postmodern Jukebox, Playing For Change Band All-Stars and Howard University’s Howard Gospel Choir.
Just months before, Minnesotans staged their own tribute. The local Twin Cities radio station that first played “Clouds” over the airwaves organized a choral cover of the song. On Dec. 5, 2013, KS95 invited 5,000 fans to join together at the Mall of America in Bloomington, Minnesota. Dressed in matching blue T-shirts emblazoned with clouds, the vast crowd sang Zach’s song with lifting voices. It has become an annual tradition drawing thousands of people and raising funds for the Children’s Cancer Research Fund.
The story of Zach’s final year of life touched millions not merely because he was dying, but because he chose to live with verve, immersing himself in the richness of the human experience. “You don’t have to find out you are dying to start living,” he told filmmakers.
Warner Brothers has announced plans to turn Zach’s story into a movie under the working title “Clouds.”
Read more stories about people who share Zach’s passion, from everyday acts of kindness to amazing examples of courage.