David Bowie, one of the most influential recording artists of all time, passed away on January 10, 2016, after a battle with throat cancer. He was 69.
The following statement was posted to Bowie's social media accounts.
January 10 2016 - David Bowie died peacefully today surrounded by his family after a courageous 18 month battle with...Posted by David Bowie on Sunday, January 10, 2016
The news was also confirmed by Bowie's 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
A legendary career
Bowie's strongest quality as a recording artist was his ability to adapt and change with the times. Though he first found massive fame in the US with 1972's glam-rock masterpiece The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders From Mars, he also performed in numerous other genres, including disco, electronica, and punk.
Bowie hit the top spot on the US charts twice, with 1975's "Fame" and 1983's "Let's Dance"; he hit No. 6 on the UK charts as recently as 2013. But Bowie's influence stemmed from far more than success on the charts.
His legendary "Space Oddity," for instance, is a swirling tale of an astronaut named Major Tom that's at once expansive, experimental, and heartbreakingly sad. Bowie somehow captures both the grandeur and the loneliness of the universe in a little over five minutes. ("Space Oddity," released in 1969, would be Bowie's first top-20 hit in the US and would hit No. 1 in the UK.)
Or consider the title track from his 1975 album Young Americans, a quick tour through seemingly every major American musical style of the time, but one that doesn't progress chronologically. Instead, Bowie tosses a wailing saxophone, a syncopated dance beat, and a rollicking piano line together at the same time. This is what Bowie could do at his best: discombobulate you, forcing you to listen to sounds you already knew in a brand new way.
Bowie's musical career is the cornerstone of his legacy, but he also achieved plenty of success in other fields. Film and television fans will remember him for a variety of iconic performances. He collaborated with Bing Crosby on a duet of "Little Drummer Boy/Peace on Earth" in a famous television special, and he played Nikola Tesla in The Prestige, Pontius Pilate in The Last Temptation of Christ, and most famously the goblin king in Jim Henson's Labyrinth.
Bowie's influence also extended to the worlds of fashion and style, most famously blurring the lines between what was traditionally masculine and traditionally feminine with his glam looks. Those looks changed many times over the years, but seemingly every new one he adopted inspired a legion of fashion icons, rock stars, and other copycats. His evolution was beautifully captured by illustrator Helen Green in this GIF tracing 50 years of Bowie's style.
Bowie actually released an album in early January 2016, which led many fans to hope that he would continue recording new music. Instead, the seven-song, 41-minute Blackstar will stand as the final album he released while alive.
And, indeed, in "Lazarus," the album's centerpiece track and also the name of a new musical based on Bowie's songs, the artist opens by singing, "Look up here, I'm in heaven." In retrospect, the entire album seems like a final statement of purpose from an artist who knew he didn't have much time left.
Vox will have more on Bowie's life, career, and legacy as the week goes on. In the meantime, for an even more in-depth look at his career, read this excellent obituary in the Hollywood Reporter.