British music icon David Bowie has died of cancer at the age of 69, drawing an outpouring of tributes for the innovative star famed for groundbreaking hits like “Ziggy Stardust” and his theatrical shape-shifting style.
A notoriously private person, Bowie’s death came as a surprise just days after he had released his 25th studio album “Blackstar” on his 69th birthday on Friday.
“David Bowie died peacefully today (Sunday) surrounded by his family after a courageous 18 month battle with cancer,” said a statement posted on his official social media accounts.
Film director Duncan Jones, Bowie’s son with his first wife Angie Bowie, confirmed the news on Twitter.
“Very sorry and sad to say it’s true. I’ll be offline for a while. Love to all,” Jones wrote on his official account.
The death brings the curtain down on one of the most acclaimed artists of modern British music, with a career dating back to the hit “Space Oddity” in 1969, about an astronaut called Major Tom, who is abandoned in space.
He spanned styles ranging from glam rock, New Romantic, Krautrock and dance music to alternative rock, jungle, soul and hard rock, underpinned by an astonishing array of stage personas from the sexually ambiguous Ziggy Stardust to the so-called Thin White Duke.
Bowie had last performed in 2006 and was rarely seen in public, and it was unclear whether he died in his long-term home New York or his native Britain.
He was born David Robert Jones in Brixton, south London on January 8, 1947, before his family moved out to the leafy suburb of Bromley when he was six.
Master of re-invention
Though he left school with just one qualification, an “O-level” in art, he went on to sell an estimated 140 million records worldwide, with his biggest-selling album “Let’s Dance” selling seven million copies.
In the first of many re-inventions that were to make him a style icon, he named himself David Bowie in 1966 to avoid confusion with Davy Jones, lead singer with Beatles rivals The Monkees, and studied Buddhism and mime.
The 1970s — the decade that saw him dominate the British music scene and conquer the United States — brought forward a string of successful albums.
It began with the critically acclaimed “Hunky Dory”, continued with “The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars” — whose hits included “Starman” and “Suffragette City” — followed by the rock album “Aladdin Sane,” the apocalyptic “Diamond Dogs” and a fling with so-called plastic soul, “Station to Station.”
He then switched gears once more, moving to Berlin to work with the electronic experimentalist Brian Eno product a trio of albums — “Low,” “Heroes” and “Lodger.”
The 1980s saw him win over a new generation with “Let’s Dance,” which yielded the hit singles “China Girl” and “Modern Love,” and a 1985 team-up with Mick Jagger for a cover of “Dancin’ in the Street” that helped to push the BandAid and LiveAid charity projects.
His chameleon-like ability to reinvent his image, drawing on everything from mime to kabuki theatre, was accompanied by a string of albums until heart problems curtailed his productivity in the 2000s.
He also appeared in films in acting and cameo roles, from his striking appearance in the cult 1986 film “Labyrinth” to playing a prisoner of war in Japan in 1983’s “Merry Christmas, Mr. Lawrence” and inventor Nikola Tesla in “The Prestige” in 2006.
He surprised the world by launching a surprise single “Where are We Now?” on his 66th birthday in 2013 after a decade of silence, recalling his days in Berlin in the 1970s and hailed by critics as a major comeback.
An innovator to the end, Bowie moved away from pop into a new jazz sound in his final album “Blackstar”.
A dark work marked by tense instrumentation, a sense of dread and lyrics about mortality, the work is cast in a new light by the revelation of how ill he was when he created it.
“Look up here, I’m in heaven, I’ve got scars that can’t be seen, I’ve got drama, can’t be stolen, everybody knows me now,” are the starting lyrics of the third track, “Lazarus.”
“Im Devastated! This great Artist changed my life!” pop megastar Madonna said on Twitter.
“David Bowie was one of my most important inspirations, so fearless, so creative, he gave us magic for a lifetime,” wrote musician Kanye West.
Actor Val Kilmer called him a “searing genius,” while Mark Ruffalo called him “father to all us freaks.”
British comedian Ricky Gervais said he had “lost a hero,” while fellow comic Eddie Izzard appealed on Twitter for his songs to be played.
“Please could every radio station around the globe just play David Bowie music today — I think the world owes him that,” Izzard wrote.
One tribute came from a real star man: British astronaut Tim Peake wrote from the International Space Station: “Saddened to hear David Bowie has lost his battle with cancer — his music was an inspiration to many.”