David Bowie, the ever-changing artist behind ambitious concept pieces like “Space Oddity” and memorable new wave pop like “Let’s Dance” died Sunday from cancer. He was 69.
“David Bowie died peacefully today surrounded by his family after a courageous 18 month battle with cancer,” read a statement issued on Facebook. “While many of you will share in this loss, we ask that you respect the family’s privacy during their time of grief.”
Bowie had just released his 28th studio album “Blackstar” (ISO/Columbia) on Friday, his 69th birthday -- yet another experimental twist on his five-decade long career of well-crafted songs combined with forward-looking imagery and thoughtful, avant-garde visual presentations.
In the video for his single “Lazarus,” released Thursday, he sings, “Look up here, I’m in heaven,” from what looked like a hospital bed, while his alter ego scribbled furiously at a desk. His “Lazarus” musical opened off-Broadway Dec. 7 and is still running at the New York Theatre Workshop.
“He made ‘Blackstar’ for us, his parting gift,” Tony Visconti, Bowie’s longtime collaborator and the producer of his final two albums, wrote on Facebook. “He always did what he wanted to do. And he wanted to do it his way and he wanted to do it the best way. His death was no different from his life - a work of Art.”
So much of Bowie’s career was based on pushing boundaries and creating new forms. The Rock and Roll Hall of Famer’s work in the early ‘70s, including his Ziggy Stardust persona, helped popularize glam rock. His mid-70s work, which he dubbed his “plastic soul” era, would later spawn the new wave of the ‘80s, with “Young Americans” and the hit “Fame.” Over the years, Bowie made significant contributions to what would become Krautrock and EDM.
His biggest American success came in the ‘80s when the music world seemed to finally catch up to him for a moment, with his string of hits, including “Let’s Dance” and “Modern Love” making him one of the world’s biggest stars. He quickly shook off the music industry by moving into hard rock with his band Tin Machine.
“Certain experiences, like spiritual messages, float through your life,” Bowie told me in 2001. “Probably in the last year I have become more aware of that, not from a spiritual standpoint, really, but from the teachings. I have always followed some of the tenets of Buddhism, especially the one about change. What came from my Buddhist bumblings is that change is our river. I keep coming back to that, and it means an awful lot to me.”
At that point, he was already moving into a more private part of his life, focusing on his life with his wife, the supermodel Iman, and their daughter Alexandria Zahra. “I missed so much of my son’s early years because I was on the road,” he said, referring to his son, film director Duncan Jones. “It’s so wonderful to be home.”
After a heart attack in 2004, Bowie essentially shunned the spotlight, though he did make an exception to perform with Arcade Fire, at that point a fledgling band. He surprised the world with his “The Next Day” album, releasing its single with no warning on his birthday in 2013 and then quickly following it up with the full album.
Both “The Next Day” and “Blackstar” were seen as powerful statements from Bowie, making his death Sunday all the more shocking.
“David’s friendship was the light of my life,” tweeted his collaborator Iggy Pop. “I never met such a brilliant person. He was the best there is.”
Kanye West tweeted, “David Bowie was one of my most important inspirations, so fearless, so creative, he gave us magic for a lifetime.”
Madonna called him “Talented. Unique. Genius. Game Changer,” tweeting, “Your Spirit Lives on Forever!”