Rob Ford, the onetime populist mayor of Toronto whose tax-cutting agenda was overshadowed by a tempestuous personal life that made him an international butt of ridicule as he made intemperate comments on racial and sexual matters and who, most notoriously, was caught on tape smoking crack cocaine, died March 22 at a Toronto hospital. He was 46.
His family confirmed the death to news outlets. He had cancer, first diagnosed in 2014.
Mr. Ford, who was a member of a politically prominent, if pugnacious, family, served on the Toronto city council for a decade before being elected mayor in 2010. He won the nonpartisan race by historic margins, calling for tax relief, budget-cutting and a general promise to knock the city’s political elite off its pedestal.
In short order, Mr. Ford was the public face of Toronto. He was confrontational and brash, and his outsize presence, in every sense of the term, became the subject of comment and comedy. The Canadian press called him “the world’s most infamous mayor,” standing in sharp contrast to the country’s long history of sedate, well-mannered leaders.
Because of his conservative policies and personal proclivities, Mr. Ford may have been the only political figure in North America who invited comparisons to Sarah Palin, the former Alaska governor and vice presidential contender, and the late Washington mayor Marion Barry.
Along with his equally ambitious brother, Doug Ford Jr., a city council member, Mr. Ford was a vocal force in Toronto politics, speaking for a constituency of mostly white suburbanites who felt left behind by social change. He mocked what he saw as an elitist agenda that favored bicyclists, immigrants, recycling and other policies he viewed as undermining a traditional way of life.
From the beginning of his embattled term as mayor, Mr. Ford’s actions came under scrutiny. Among other things, he often took time off from work to help coach a high school football team — a particular passion.
Of far deeper concern were his heavy drinking and drug use. He had several arrests in Canada and the United States for drunken driving or for menacing behavior while under the influence. Members of his staff reported that he was sometimes intoxicated during office hours.
“I am not an alcoholic, I am not a drug addict,” Mr. Ford insisted, even as a video showing him smoking crack became public knowledge. He argued that he was the victim of an overzealous news media and a vindictive police chief.
At one point, attempting to rehabilitate his public image, Mr. Ford joined his brother Doug in a weight-loss challenge. He had to abandon the program after falling off an industrial-size scale, spraining his ankle.
The antics surrounding Mr. Ford — whether seen as comical, embarrassing or tragic — seemed endless.
After months of denying that he had a problem with substance abuse, Mr. Ford admitted he had smoked crack during a “drunken stupor.”
He sought to rebuild his reputation as a plain-speaking man of the people and often appeared on sports call-in shows throughout North America to discuss football. He went on ABC’s late-night show “Jimmy Kimmel Live” in 2014 to publicize the strides Toronto had made while he was mayor.
“If you are operating under the impression that local politics are boring, you probably don’t live in Toronto,” Kimmel said, by way of introduction. “Our first guest tonight has tripped, bumped, danced, argued and smoked his way into our national consciousness.”
In his defense, Mr. Ford called himself a “normal, average, hard-working politician that’s real.”
“You are not the average politician, my friend,” Kimmel replied.
Once the crack video surfaced, investigators drew links with Somali drug gangs in Toronto, further darkening Mr. Ford’s reputation. One person shown with the mayor in a photograph was later found killed.
Mr. Ford said he entered a rehab program, but he had frequent relapses and was occasionally seen in an obviously inebriated state.
Other embarrassing episodes surfaced as well, including racially insensitive comments about Asians and Jamaicans, and sexually crude comments about women. During one Toronto council meeting, Mr. Ford charged from his seat, knocking a female council member to the floor.
People in the chamber began chanting, “Shame, shame, shame.’’
In 2013, a majority of Mr. Ford’s council colleagues asked him to take a leave of absence as mayor. To their dismay, political leaders and voters had no formal mechanism to recall him from office. Any effort to do so, Mr. Ford warned, would result in a “rumble in the jungle.”
Eventually the city council took action to reduce his budget and his mayoral authority, deferring many duties to the deputy mayor.
In 2014, when Mr. Ford was planning to run for reelection, he was diagnosed with a form of soft-tissue cancer. Seeking treatment, he withdrew from the mayor’s race and ran instead for the city council, representing his suburban stronghold of Etobicoke. He won with 59 percent of the vote and remained on the council until his death.
His brother Doug replaced him on the ballot for mayor in 2014 but lost to John Tory, a longtime Canadian political figure.
Robert Bruce Ford was born May 28, 1969, in Toronto. His father was a member of the provincial legislature of Ontario and was also the head of a prosperous family printing and labeling business with branches in Canada and the United States.
Mr. Ford attended Carleton University in Ottawa but dropped out to enter the family business.
Survivors include his wife, the former Renata Brejniak; his mother, Ruth Diane Ford; two children; two brothers; and a sister.
After long maintaining an attitude of defiance, Mr. Ford admitted his history of drug use in November 2013.
“I know I have let you down and I cannot do anything else other than apologize,’’ he told the people of Toronto, even while refusing to step aside as mayor. “I was elected to do a job and that’s exactly what I’m going to continue doing.’’