A pioneering chameleon of performance imagery, he straddled the worlds of hedonistic rock, fashion, and drama for five decades, pushing the boundaries of music and his own sanity to produce some of the most innovative songs of his generation.
And in classic Bowie style, he left a parting gift to the world, a new album released just days before his death, prophetically, its lead single, ‘Lazarus’, opening with the lyrics: “Look up here, I’m in heaven.”
The cultural pioneer’s death at 69, in New York on Sunday — some 18 months after his cancer diagnosis — was confirmed by his family.
Friends, fans, and contemporaries described the ‘Heroes’ singer as “iconic”, “a genius”, and “one of the greatest performance artists in history”.
Bowie’s biographer, Paul Trynka, described the Brixton-raised performer as “someone who redefined pop music” and “a creative force who endured over several decades”.
The singer and guitarist — known for hits including ‘Let’s Dance’, ‘Changes’, and ‘Under Pressure’, died surrounded by his loved ones, a statement on his Facebook page said.
Long-time producer Tony Visconti said the late singer’s final album, Blackstar — released two days before his death — was “his parting gift” to the world.
Stars from the world of showbiz mourned the loss — their grief made more acute by the fact little was known about the extent of his ill-health.
Paul McCartney reflected on the enormous role Bowie’s work played in British musical history, adding: “I’m proud to think of the huge influence he has had on people all around the world.”
Iggy Pop, who was also among the long list of artists who collaborated with Bowie, said: “David’s friendship was the light of my life. I never met such a brilliant person. He was the best there is.”
MESSAGE FROM IGGY:
"David’s friendship was the light of my life. I never met such a brilliant person. He was the best there is.
- Iggy Pop"— Iggy Pop (@IggyPop) January 11, 2016
Bono and U2 tweeted the simple message: “Planet Earth is blue.”
Planet Earth is blue - Bono pic.twitter.com/p4GVmnuQql— U2 (@U2) January 11, 2016
In a statement, the Rolling Stones said he was a true original. “As well as being a wonderful and kind man, he was an extraordinary artist, and a true original.”
As well as being a wonderful and kind man, he was an extraordinary artist, and a true original. 2/2 #DavidBowie— The Rolling Stones (@RollingStones) January 11, 2016
Madonna also paid tribute: “I’m devastated! This great Artist changed my life. First concert I ever saw in Detroit! R.I.P.”
I'm devastated. David Bowie changed the course of my life forever. I never felt like I fit in growing up in... https://t.co/D1GnQzIRqw— Madonna (@Madonna) January 11, 2016
Bowie had barely performed in public since falling ill in June 2004. His last musical appearance on stage is listed as a three-song set at New York’s Hammerstein Ballroom in November 2006.
Despite releasing two albums in three years — including Blackstar — health rumours have plagued the singer since he bowed out of the spotlight following a heart attack in 2004.
Bowie collapsed backstage at a gig in Schessel, Germany, and was forced to undergo emergency surgery on a blocked coronary artery.
He made a surprise comeback in 2013, after a 10-year break from recording, when he suddenly released a new single on his 66th birthday, with an album out weeks later.
Bowie married supermodel Iman Abdulmajid in 1992 and the pair had a daughter, Alexandria Zahra Jones. He was married to Angela Bowie between 1970 and 1980, with whom he had a son, the film director Duncan Jones.
Very sorry and sad to say it's true. I'll be offline for a while. Love to all. pic.twitter.com/Kh2fq3tf9m— Duncan Jones (@ManMadeMoon) January 11, 2016
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