The year was 2014. Roslyn Polard was walking in Sir Winston Churchill Square in Edmonton, Canada when she came across a homeless man. Wearing sweatpants and an old jacket, sporting shaggy hair and a scraggy beard, the man sat playing a bright red upright piano with such soul and intensity that the music resounded through the busy traffic-ridden streets. The song he played, titled The Beginning, was supposedly his own composition.
Soon, the video of the “Piano Man” uploaded by Polard (above) reached almost 12 million people across the world, earning him enough accolades to help finance the purchase of a brand new piano, which found its home in the same facility that the Piano Man lived, and recently died, in.
According to The Washington Post, Arcand died of unknown causes at 46 in a supportive housing facility for the homeless in Edmonton. His cousin Chris Yellowbird told The Washington Post that playing music on the piano, a skill Arcand picked up on his own, was his escape from his hard life.
Arcand grew up in foster homes since he was four. He discovered the piano at one of these homes, and, as he told the CBC, “It was as though we were meant for each other.”
However, Arcand’s life held a trough of tragedies waiting for him. He first lost his father in 1991, then his wife and daughter in a car accident. He ended up homeless, living on the streets, and often found himself seeking solace in drugs and alcoholism.
The viral video of him could have been his big break – it offered him a glimmer of hope for his future. Unfortunately, Arcand found himself lost in a vicious cycle of despair. He was found broken a year-and-a-half later by a reporter of the Aboriginal Peoples Television Network. “I don’t know what to do anymore,” Arcand told the reporter hopelessly, saying that his music was “a broken dream” that could’ve been.
Arcand’s family, reports The Washington Post, will be holding a traditional burial, as well as a big feast to celebrate him. They will light a sacred fire that will burn through the night, and listen to his music, which you can watch and hear in the videos below: