Bowie's death leaves distraught fans with unanswered questions
David Bowie (Twitter)

Music legend David Bowie was famously private during his lifetime -- and in death, as a string of questions about the circumstances of his passing remained unanswered on Tuesday.

His official social media accounts had announced the shock news of his death at 69 on Monday: "David Bowie died peacefully today surrounded by his family after a courageous 18-month battle with cancer," adding a request for privacy for the grieving family.

Little information was available on how or where he died, and requests for comment to Bowie's record company Columbia Records were not answered.

Born and raised in south London, Bowie was a long-time resident of New York and some British media reported that he had died there.

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But the New York Post claimed that the "Heroes" and "Life On Mars?" singer had "passed away at his London home".

With no official comment available, Bowie's place of death remained a mystery, as did funeral arrangements.

Yet a small circle of close collaborators were aware that the iconic performer, who repeatedly reinvented himself across six decades in the music industry, was in poor health.

Belgian theatre director Ivo Van Hove, who worked closely with Bowie on his musical "Lazarus" which opened in New York in December, told Dutch public radio NPO that Bowie had been suffering from liver cancer.

"I've known for more than a year. We began working together on our show 'Lazarus', and at one moment he took me to one side to say that because of his illness, he would not always be able to be around," Van Hove told NRC Dutch daily.

- Circle of secrecy -

Bowie's supermodel wife Iman, who has not commented publicly on his death, posted a series of poignant messages on social media in the days before he passed away.

"The struggle is real, but so is God," she wrote on her public Twitter and Facebook accounts Sunday.

The previous day, she had written: "Sometimes you will never know the true value of a moment until it becomes a memory".

Bowie's son, film director Duncan Jones, confirmed news of his father's death Monday with a short message on Twitter and has not commented further.

"Very sorry and sad to say it's true. I'll be offline for a while. Love to all," he wrote.

All but an inner circle were kept in the dark about the singer's illness as he worked to complete his final album, "Blackstar", released on his 69th birthday, just two days before his death.

Van Hove said Bowie was desperate to finish "Blackstar" and "Lazarus" before it was too late.

Highlighting how secret Bowie kept his illness, long-time collaborator and friend Brian Eno said his death came as "a complete surprise".

He told the BBC he received an email from Bowie a week before his death which he now believes was a farewell message.

"It was funny as always, and as surreal, looping through word games and allusions and all the usual stuff we did. It ended with this sentence: 'Thank you for our good times, Brian. they will never rot'," Eno said.

"I realise now he was saying goodbye."