With a sprinkling of Stardust, David Bowie became one of the best-selling and widely loved singers of all time. Eleanor Bley Griffiths recalls a man who followed his own path to success.
One of the world’s most successful and pioneering musicians, David Bowie enjoyed a glittering career, spanning six decades, that saw him become one of the biggest recording artists of all time, and a Hollywood actor.
The chameleonic figure, who first changed his name, and then transformed into Ziggy Stardust, continued to reinvent himself and his music and maintained a reputation as an innovative and uncompromising artist.
The figures alone illustrate the magnitude of a spectacular career. I
In total Bowie released 111 singles — including five UK number ones — 26 studio albums, 46 compilation albums, five EPs, and three soundtracks.
He collected dozens of awards, including two Brits Awards, two Grammys and three MTV awards and transferred his artistry to film in 51 music videos.
He took leading roles in blockbuster films, from The Man Who Fell To Earth in 1976 to a cameo in 2001’s Zoolander, and was also recognised for his sartorial edge by GQ magazine.
Born David Robert Jones on January 8, 1947 in Brixton, south London, to mother Margaret ‘Peggy’, a waitress, and charity worker Haywood ‘John’ Jones, Bowie’s musical talent was clear from an early age.
The family moved to south-east London in 1953, where he graduated from Bromley Technical High School at 16.
Bowie received his first taste of rock music through the record collection of his older brother, Terry, and formed a number of bands as a teenager. He later led a group as frontman Davy Jones — but changed his name to David Bowie to avoid confusion with The Monkees’ Davy Jones, supposedly taking inspiration from a knife developed by 19th century American pioneer Jim Bowie.
He to set out on his own as a solo artist, releasing three singles for Pye Records and his debut album, The World Of David Bowie.
But the records did not achieve the huge success he would go on to experience later in life, and he retreated to a Buddhist monastery in Scotland in 1967.
After returning to London, he started arts troupe Feathers in 1968. When the group eventually separated, Bowie helped create the Beckenham Arts Lab in 1969 before releasing Space Oddity on July 11 that year, his first UK number one.
In March 1970, he married Angie and the pair had a son, Zowie Bowie — now known as Duncan Jones, a film director.
A string of albums followed, including the critically acclaimed Hunky Dory, before 1972’s The Rise And Fall Of Ziggy Stardust And The Spiders From Mars and the birth of the alien alter-ego made him an international star.
The album, which tells the story of an alien rock star, saw Bowie indulge his eye for the theatrical with a string of live shows and television appearances that saw him conquer America and create an otherworldly reputation that still clings to him.
At the same time, he was producing albums for Lou Reed and Iggy Pop and writing one of his greatest songs — ‘All The Young Dudes’ — which he promptly gave away to Mott The Hoople, who had a massive hit with it.
Bowie’s announcement —during a London gig — that he was retiring Ziggy did not stop the commercial success and the hits kept coming as he toured and recorded albums including Aladdin Sane, Diamond Dogs, and his tribute to the swinging London scene that inspired him, Pin Ups.
His soul-inspired Young Americans saw him change direction again and gave him his first US number one when his collaboration with John Lennon on ‘Fame’ topped the charts in 1975.
Bowie played on his alien alter-ego with a successful move into acting — playing the lead character in the science fiction film The Man Who Fell To Earth, before moving to Berlin.
The influence of the then divided city inspired a trio of albums — Low, Heroes, and Lodger — which produced hits including ‘Sound And Vision’ and ‘Boys Keep Swinging’ and are widely regarded as among his finest works.
In February 1980, he split from Angie, reportedly over rumours about his sexuality.
The 1980s saw him combine his rock career with appearances in films including Merry Christmas, Mr Lawrence and Absolute Beginners.
The rise of the New Romantic scene in the UK betrayed an obvious Bowie influence and he continued to record and tour, filling massive US stadiums and selling albums by the million.
1988 brought a new venture — and what many fans thought was a new low — when he returned as one quarter of rock band Tin Machine.
Their initial success soon faded and by 1993 Bowie was back on his own with the solo album Black Tie White Noise.
He had married supermodel Iman a year earlier, before settling in New York. The pair remained together until his death. Bowie continued to tour and record until 2003, when he released Reality.
The same year he sparked headlines when he turned down a knighthood in the Queen’s New Year honours because he reportedly viewed the honours as a “waste of time”.
Reality was his 23rd —and many assumed last — studio album and was followed by low-key live appearances.
Then during his tour in 2004, Bowie suffered a major health scare when he had a heart attack on stage in Germany. The rest of the tour was cancelled as the singer recuperated, reducing his musical output for the next two years. During this time he worked on music for films such as Shrek 2 and Stealth, and collaborated with Canadian band Arcade Fire and Lou Reed.
In 2006, Bowie returned to acting, playing the part of scientist and inventor Nikola Tesla in the Chris Nolan-directed film The Prestige. A year later, he starred as himself in an episode of Ricky Gervais’s comedy series Extras.
He received the Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award in 2006. In November of that year, he performed alongside Alicia Keys at the Black Ball, a New York benefit for Keep A Child Alive. This was the last time he performed live, despite constant hope from his fans that he would reverse his decision to quit live performances.
On his 66th birthday in January 2013, Bowie revealed he’d been back in the studio and would be releasing his first album of new material.
In time with the announcement he released the single Where Are We Now? and the full album followed in March that year.
The record was Bowie’s first featuring new material for 10 years and was received warmly by critics and fans, becoming his first album to reach number one since Black Tie White Noise, released in 1993.
Where Are We Now? was recognised with a Brit Award in 2014, making Bowie the oldest ever recipient when he collected the prize for Best British Male, although the gong was collected on his behalf by model Kate Moss.
His classic record Let’s Dance was rereleased in July last year and he released his 25th and final studio album, Blackstar, last Friday.
He leaves son Duncan Jones, 44, daughter Alexandria, 15, and wife Iman, 60.
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