His death comes as a shock, but also explains his push to release one last album, a final coda on his life.
Blackstar, his twenty-fifth and final studio album was released Friday (Jan. 8) on Bowie’s 69th birthday and two days before his death.
“David Bowie died peacefully today surrounded by his family after a courageous 18-month battle with cancer,” according to a statement posted on his Facebook page yesterday (Jan. 11). Bowie’s son, Duncan Jones, confirmed his death to news organizations.
The cause of death was reported to be liver cancer.
His passing closes the final chapter on a music career that spanned five decades. During that time, Bowie’s sound never went out of style. He was also a fashion icon and credible movie star.
His fans took the news particularly hard, especially since there was no hint Bowie was gravely ill.
“I’m confused, shocked, and I don’t know what to believe,” wrote one fan on Bowie’s Facebook page.
“My heart nearly stopped reading this post. I hope this is not true, but if it is, I am truly, truly sorry for the loss of such a great man, performer, musician, and inspiration. My heart goes out to you, David Bowie, the blackstar.”
Bowie, real name David Robert Jones, released his debut album, the self-titled David Bowie in 1967. It was a far cry from the music that would propel his career from the folk rock of Space Oddity to the glam rock classic The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars.
With his move into glam rock he invented the character “Ziggy Stardust,” an androgynous figure that emphasized sexuality and decadence and flamboyant costumes. He started a worldwide trend.
His music was just as innovative as his look. He shot to stardom in 1969 with the release of Space Oddity. He said said at the time that he was inspired by Stanley Kubrick’s visionary film “2001: A Space Odyssey.” He was stoned at the time, he revealed.
The music evoked the alienation of his generation and the feeling of helplessness in the face of runaway technology, the space race and the Cold War, which threatened nuclear annihilation at an instant.
Ziggy Stardust was grounded in the same ethos. Ziggy was purportedly an alien who fell to earth, neither understanding or being understood by our strange world. Bowie wore flamboyant costumes and makeup and changed the course of rock music.
The portrayal caused confusion about Bowie’s sexuality, and he played it for all it was worth. He claimed he was gay at a time when Britain had only decriminalized homosexuality two years earlier and became a pioneer of the sexual revolution as well.
He expressed regret for the claim in the 1980s and said he was actually a “closet heterosexual.” He married model and actress Mary Angela “Angie” Barnett in 1970. They divorced ten years later. In 1992, he married Somali-American model Iman Mohamed Abdulmajid, better known simply as Iman.
Bowie never stood still in his music career. in the mid-1970s, he abandoned Glam Rock and debuted more of an R&B-infused sound. His song from that era, “Fame,” became his first U.S. No. 1 hit. He also adopted a new persona, the “Thin White Duke.”
Later, in the 1980s, he shifted course again, and re-established himself as a best-selling artist with a dance sound. His first album Let’s Dance, released in 1983, was an instant success.
In the music video for Bowie’s latest album, he appeared in one scene in a hospital bed with bandages around his eyes. It may have reflected his actual condition.
“Look up here, I’m in heaven,” he sings.
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