David Bowie, the legendary British singer-songwriter whose 50-year body of work influenced countless musicians and helped spawn multiple musical genres, has died from cancer. He was 69.
Bowie, born David Robert Jones in 1947, died Sunday surrounded by family after an 18-month battle with the disease, according to a statement released on his website.
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.
The news was confirmed by his son Duncan on Twitter:
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
Bowie’s diagnosis had been kept a secret while his career had seen a recent resurgence: just two days prior to his death, on his 69th birthday, he released his 26th album, the widely-acclaimed Blackstar. In New York, a musical Bowie co-wrote titled Lazarus recently debuted off-Broadway to sold-out crowds.
As the news of Bowie’s death has spread across the Internet, many are saying his that these last works were his farewell messages to the world; a thesis that has been corroborated by Bowie’s longtime producer, Tony Visconti:
Fearless from the start of his career — the cover of his second album, 1970’s The Man Who Sold the World, features a picture of him wearing a dress — Bowie’s work would go on to take multiple forms. His stardom began with the melody-heavy glam of Ziggy Stardust, led to the cocaine-fueled soul of the Thin White Duke, which was followed by rehab and the ground-breaking synth rock of his Berlin Trilogy (Low, Heroes and Lodger) and a return to soul and pop music during his most successful period, after the release of 1983’s Let’s Dance.
But Bowie never stopped recording nor experimenting. In the late ’80s he took a hiatus from solo work and started the harsh, return-to-rock-roots band Tin Machine, which released three underrated albums. He also took part in the rise of Industrial Rock during the mid-’90s, after bands like Nine Inch Nails were openly effusive about their love for his work. This willingness to both adapt to evolving musical tastes as well as anticipate new genres was essential to the longevity of his musical career, which was successful right up to the end: The Next Day, released in 2013 after a long hiatus, charted at No. 1 not just in the U.S. but all over the world, and was nominated for Best Rock Album at the 2014 Grammy Awards.
Besides being an influential musician and actor — he starred in several films, his first feature being the cult classic The Man Who Fell to Earth — Bowie was an avid comedy fan, bringing entire video libraries of British comedy shows and classic funny films with him to the studio while he recorded his later albums. His appreciation for humor was apparent in his appearance on the Ricky Gervais-created TV show Extras, which is as memorable as any of his songs:
Much more can be said about Bowie’s career and influence — on social media Sunday night, a near-universal outpouring from fellow musicians proved his impact. Among his strongest legacies in the world of music and celebrity was Bowie’s shapeshifting nature, beginning with the first time he publicly shed one form of himself to move onto another: the last song he performed as the glam-rock muse Ziggy Stardust, “Rock ‘N’ Roll Suicide,” captured in the D.A. Pennebaker-directed concert film Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars:
GIF showing David Bowie’s many “ch-ch-changes” over his 50-year music career by Helen Green:
This story will be updated with more details as we learn them.