David Bowie, whose ground-breaking sound and chameleon-like ability to reinvent himself made him a pop music fixture for more than four decades, has died. He was 69.
Bowie died Sunday after an 18-month battle with cancer, his publicist Steve Martin told CNN.
“David Bowie died peacefully today surrounded by his family after a courageous 18 month battle with cancer. While many of you will share in this loss, we ask that you respect the family’s privacy during their time of grief,” said a statement posted on his official social media accounts.
Neither his publicist nor the statement elaborated on what kind of cancer the singer was fighting.
Bowie’s death has been the regular subject of internet hoaxes for the last several years. So the news came as a shock to fans and industry insiders when it was confirmed.
“Very sorry and sad to say it’s true. I’ll be offline for a while. Love to all,” his son, Duncan Jones, tweeted.
From a mop-topped unknown singer called David Jones, to his space alien alter ego “Ziggy Stardust,” to the post-apocalyptic Thin White Duke, Bowie’s married music and fashion in a way few artists have been able to master.
He was theatrical, he was flamboyant, he was without parallel in his showmanship.
With a voice that soared from a baritone to a falsetto, he spoke of carrying on against the odds. Of the terror in knowing what the world is about. Of turning and facing the strange.
His voice was a salve for the alienated and the misfits of the world.
Bowie had just released his latest album, ‘Blackstar,’ on Friday, his 69th birthday. It shot to no. 1 on the iTunes chart in the U.K. and no. 2 in the U.S., underscoring his appeal even after decades in the music business.
Like his past releases, the work — generally praised by music critics — defied genres. The influential music publication NME called it an amalgamation of “warped showtunes, skronking industrial rock, soulful balladeering, airy folk-pop, even hip-hop.”
That in a nutshell was Bowie: there wasn’t a musical style he didn’t dabble in – and indelibly leave his mark upon.
Since his breakthrough with 1972’s ‘The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars,” Bowie’s reach was eclectic: glam rock, prog rock, pop rock, electronic rock.
And the results? Electric. To the tune of more than 130 million records sold.
He had his first No. 1 single in the United States with “Fame” in 1973 and followed that up with dozens of hits that still remain on heavy rotation on radio: “Let’s Dance,” “Space Oddity,” “Under Pressure,” “Rebel, rebel,” “Changes.”
“David Bowie was one of my most important inspirations, so fearless, so creative, he gave us magic for a lifetime,” tweeted rapper Kanye West, as news of his death made the rounds.
Born David Jones in South London, Bowie began his musical life with his birthname, riding the mod wave of the mid-1960s. He changed to Bowie to avoid confusion with Davy Jones, the lead singer of the Monkees, which was enjoying serious pop success at the time.
He always had impeccable timing.
He released his song about a doomed astronaut, “Space Oddity,” just days before the 1969 Moon landing.
Four years later he killed off his most famous creation, the other-worldly “Ziggy Stardust,” just at the point it threatened to overwhelm him.
He then transformed into the Thin White Duke, a dapper but coked-out mad aristrocrat. While Ziggy was all arena rock, The Due was chilled soul. While Ziggy gave him “Space Oddity,” the Duke gave him yet another timeless classic, “Fame.”
With Bowie, it was difficult to separate art from reality. And as the drug-taking took its toll, he holed up in Berlin and recorded the ground-breaking Berlin trilogy.
“David Bowie was a true innovator, a true creative. May he rest in peace,” tweeted uber-producer Pharrell Williams.
But just when one thought one could write off Bowie as a peddler in theatrics, he shed his flamboyance for a no-frills, earnest appearance for a 1977 Christmas TV special to sing “The Little Drummer Boy” with Bing Crosby.
The awesome 80s
The 1980s were a great time to be Bowie.
Starting with his collaboration with Queen on “Under Pressure,” he brilliantly reinvented himself to take full advantage of the video music era.
“Let’s Dance” became his most commercially successful album, its sound and his look influencing a new generation of musicians – this time, the New Wave of pop.
Then it was time for another transformation – that of a movie star.
He played the lead role in “The Man Who Fell to Earth,” and had cameos in “The Last Temptation of Christ” and even “SpongeBob SquarePants.”
Through it all, his Midas touch made classics of other people’s songs – He produced Lou Reed’s “Transformer,” with its hit “Walk on the Wild Side,” and Iggy Pop’s “Lust for Life” among others.
In the 1990s and the 2000s, when Bowie did return to music, the reception remained enthusiastic and the result influential.
MORE TO COME