David Bowie, the British singer-songwriter whose decades-spanning career was characterized by ongoing artistic reinvention, died of cancer on Sunday, Jan. 10.
Reportedly, Bowie battled cancer privately for 18 months. His illness was never made public. At press time, the type of cancer had not been announced.
After a long period of career inactivity, Bowie had an extremely high profile in the weeks preceding his death. A 10-minute extended video
of the title track from what would turn out to be his final album, "Blackstar," was released in November to great critical acclaim. It’s a dark vision in which a masked Bowie sings ominous lyrics including lines such as "Something happened on the day he died, spirit rose a metre then stepped aside, somebody else took his place, and bravely cried."
The "Blackstar" album was released on Jan. 8, his 69th birthday, and two days before his death. His final artistic statement was acclaimed for its musical innovation. Changing gears for the final time in a career that say many such changes, "Blackstar" was recorded with a jazz group, but also incorporated rock instruments and electronic music harkening back to Bowie’s early music while simultaneously staking out new ground.
Born David Robert Jones, Bowie adopted his stage name to avoid confusion with Davey Jones of The Monkees. Bowie’s eponymous first album, released in 1967, was folky and whimsical, and didn’t stir up much interest for the young artist. He had his first hit in 1969 with "Space Oddity." His career growth continued with the 1971 album "Hunky Dory," which featured the hit "Changes."
But it was the 1972 LP "The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars" that brought Bowie international fame. Adopting the persona of Ziggy Stardust, Bowie was a striking character with red hair and an androgynous look. This was the first of many characters Bowie would utilize, and discard, over the course of his musical career. The stark, sleekly dressed Thin White Duke was another notable persona Bowie adopted.
He embraced a variety of musical styles throughout ensuing decades. Albums such as "Young Americans" (1975) and "Station to Station" (1976) found him working in an R&B style. With collaborator Brian Eno, he embraced cold, synthesized tones. And he experienced the greatest commercial success of his career in 1983 with "Let's Dance," which spawned three top 10 hits and sold 7 million copies worldwide.
A trained mime, Bowie utilized his flair for characterization as an actor on screen and stage. Noted performances included the films "The Man who Fell to Earth" (1976) and "Labyrinth" (1986), as well as an acclaimed run on Broadway playing the title role in "The Elephant Man" in 1980 and 1981. Bowie is survived by his wife Iman, their daughter Alexandria (born in 2000), and his son from his first marriage, film director Duncan Jones (born Zowie Bowie in 1971).
A true innovator, David Bowie leaves behind a vast and distinguished body of creative work.
This article will be updated pending further information on Bowie’s condition.