Singer David Bowie has died at the age of 69 from cancer.
His son, film director Duncan Jones, confirmed the news and a statement was issued on his social media accounts. David Bowie died peacefully today surrounded by his family after a courageous 18-month battle with cancer,” it said. “While many of you will share in this loss, we ask that you respect the family’s privacy during their time of grief.”
Bowie’s hits include Let’s Dance, Space Oddity, Starman, Modern Love, Heroes, Under Pressure, Rebel, Rebel and Life on Mars. He was also well known for creating his flamboyant alter ego Ziggy Stardust. The singer only released his latest album Blackstar on his birthday on Friday. The album, which includes just seven songs, has been well received by critics. His son wrote, “Very sorry and sad to say it’s true. I’ll be offline for a while. Love to all.”
Brian Eno, who collaborated with Bowie on his albums Low and Heroes, said: “Words cannot express… rest in peace David Bowie”. Bowie collaborator Rick Wakeman wrote on Twitter: “As I’m sure you can imagine I’m gutted hearing of David’s passing. He was the biggest influence & encouragement I could ever have wished for.”
Will Gompertz, BBC Arts editor
David Bowie was the Picasso of pop. He was an innovative, visionary, restless artist: the ultimate ever-changing postmodernist. Along with the Beatles, Stones and Elvis Presley, Bowie defined what pop music could and should be. He brought art to the pop party, infusing his music and performances with the avant-garde ideas of Merce Cunningham, John Cage and Andy Warhol.
He turned pop in a new direction in 1972 with the introduction of his alter ego Ziggy Stardust. Glam rock was the starting point, but Ziggy was much more than an eyeliner-wearing maverick: he was a truly theatrical character that at once harked backed to pre-War European theatre while anticipating 1980s androgyny and today’s discussions around a transgender spectrum. He was a great singer, songwriter, performer, actor, producer and collaborator. But beyond all that, at the very heart of the matter, David Bowie was quite simply – quite extraordinarily – cool.
His career spanned six decades. He was in several bands before he signed with Mercury Records, which released his album Space Oddity in 1969, with the title track becoming his first UK number one. His breakthrough came with 1972’s The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders From Mars.
Mark Savage, BBC Music reporter
Today’s news is all the more shocking because David Bowie had recently emerged from suspended animation – revitalised and reinvigorated. His two last albums, The Next Day and Blackstar, ranked with his best, the former celebrating his past, the latter casting forward to the future. The fact he won’t be there is heartbreaking.
But then Bowie’s entire career has been a vanishing act. The son of a waitress and a nightclub owner, David Jones became David Bowie, who became Ziggy Stardust, who became Aladdin Sane, who became the Thin White Duke. All of them were fictitious. All of them became iconic.
In the 1970s, he was restless, flitting between musical styles and personas, producing Lou Reed and The Stooges, and taking up painting in Berlin. His every move sparked impersonators and inspired musical sub-genres. He was the first post-modern pop star.
He struggled to remain relevant in the 1980s and 90s, but continued to push boundaries with the industrial rock of Outside and the drum and bass influenced Earthling. An enforced hiatus, prompted by an emergency angioplasty, took him out of the spotlight for most of the 2000s before that celebrated, unexpected comeback on his 66th birthday.
That late period of creativity may now be reassessed as the work of a musician who knew his time was running out. But it remains a fitting legacy for a man who subverted and reinvented pop time and time again. He also carved out a successful acting career, including his role as an alien seeking help for his dying planet in Nicolas Roeg’s The Man Who Fell to Earth in 1976.
He did a three-month stint as The Elephant Man on Broadway in the 1980s, with other roles that decade including Labyrinth, Cat People and The Hunger. Bowie also starred in Marlene Dietrich’s last film, Just a Gigolo (1978), and played Pontius Pilate in Martin Scorsese’s The Last Temptation of Christ (1988).
The late 1980s were dominated by Bowie’s involvement with his new band, a postmodernist heavy metal outfit, Tin Machine. The 1990s saw David Bowie flirting with drum-and-bass on the Earthling album, while his 2002 album Heathen saw a long-awaited return to form for the singer.
Bowie was born David Jones in Brixton, south London, on 8 January in 1947. Bowie changed his name in 1966 after The Monkees’ Davy Jones achieved stardom. He had headlined Glastonbury in 2000 – his first appearance there since 1971.
Bowie’s last live performance was at a New York charity concert in 2006. But after a decade without a studio album he released The Next Day in 2013, surprising fans who thought he had retired. It became his first UK number one for 20 years. He co-wrote Lazarus, a musical featuring his songs and inspired by his role in The Man Who Fell to Earth, which opened in New York last month. And a truncated version of Blackstar, the title track of his new album, appears as the theme music for the TV show The Last Panthers.
Scottish musician Midge Ure, who helped organised the Live Aid concert in 1985 – at which Bowie performed – told ITV’s Good Morning Britain: “He wasn’t just a brilliant songwriter and an amazing creator, he excelled at everything.
“He gave us the point to run towards, we are all still trying to run towards that, everyone.”