Iconic singer David Bowie dies at 69 – Tributes pour in for innovative star

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This file portrait taken on May 13, 1983 shows British singer David Bowie during a press conference at the 36th Cannes Film Festival. According to official social media accounts on Jan 11, British music legend David Bowie has died. (AFP)
This file portrait taken on May 13, 1983 shows British singer David Bowie during a press conference at the 36th Cannes Film Festival. According to official social media accounts on Jan 11, British music legend David Bowie has died. (AFP)

NEW YORK, Jan 11, (Agencies): David Bowie, the other-worldly musician who broke pop and rock boundaries with his creative musicianship, nonconformity, striking visuals and a genre-bending persona he christened Ziggy Stardust, died of cancer Sunday. He was 69 and had just released a new album.

Bowie, whose hits included “Fame,” ‘’Heroes” and “Let’s Dance,” died “peacefully” and was surrounded by family, representative Steve Martin said early Monday. The singer had fought cancer for 18 months.

Long before alter egos and wild outfits became commonplace in pop, Bowie set the music world on its ear with the release of the 1972 album, “The Rise of Ziggy Stardust and Spiders from Mars,” which introduced one of music’s most famous personas. Ziggy Stardust was a concept album that imagined a genre-bending rock star from outer space trying to make his way in the music world. The persona — the red-headed, eyeliner wearing Stardust — would become an enduring part of his legacy, and a touchstone for the way entertainers packaged themselves for years to come.

Bowie turned 69 on Friday, the same day as he released a new album called “Blackstar.”

“While many of you will share in this loss, we ask that you respect the family’s privacy during their time of grief,” said a statement issued via his social media accounts. No more details were provided.

The singer, who was born David Jones in London, came of age in the glam rock era of the early 1970s. He had a striking androgynous look in his early days and was known for changing his appearance and sounds. After Ziggy Stardust, the stuttering rock sound of “Changes” gave way to the disco soul of “Young Americans,” co-written with John Lennon, to a droning collaboration with Brian Eno in Berlin that produced “Heroes.”

Successes

He had some of his biggest successes in the early 1980s with the bombastic “Let’s Dance,” and a massive American tour. Another one of his definitive songs was “Under Pressure,” which he recorded with Queen; Vanilla Ice would years later infamously use the song’s hook for his much maligned smash “Ice Ice Baby.”

“My entire career, I’ve only really worked with the same subject matter,” Bowie told The Associated Press in a 2002 interview. “The trousers may change, but the actual words and subjects I’ve always chosen to write with are things to do with isolation, abandonment, fear and anxiety — all of the high points of one’s life.”

At a concert for rescue workers after the 2001 World Trade Center attacks, his performance of “Heroes” was a highlight.

“What I’m most proud of is that I can’t help but notice that I’ve affected the vocabulary of pop music. For me, frankly, as an artist, that’s the most satisfying thing for the ego.”

Bowie was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1996, but he didn’t attend the ceremony. Madonna, another artist who knew something about changing styles to stay ahead of the curve, accepted for him and recounted how a Bowie concert changed her life when she attended it as a teenager. David Byrne, of the art rockers Talking Heads, inducted Bowie and said he gave rock music a necessary shot in the arm.

“Like all rock ‘n’ roll, it was visionary, it was tasteless, it was glamorous, it was perverse, it was fun, it was crass, it was sexy and it was confusing,” Byrne said.

Bowie kept a low profile in recent years after reportedly suffering a heart attack in the 2000s. He made a moody album three years ago called “The Next Day” — his first recording in a decade which was made in secret in New York City. “Blackstar,” which earned positive reviews from critics, represented yet another stylistic shift, as he gathered jazz players to join him.

He released a music video on Friday for the new song “Lazarus,” which shows a frail Bowie lying in bed and singing the track’s lyrics. The song begins with the line: “Look up here, I’m in heaven.”

Tributes poured in for the singer after the announcement of his death. British astronaut Tim Peake tweeted about his sadness from outer space aboard the International Space Station, saying “his music was an inspiration to many.”

British Prime Minister David Cameron tweeted that Bowie’s death is “a huge loss.” He wrote he had grown up listening to and watching Bowie and called the singer a “master of reinvention” and a pop genius who kept on getting it right.

Kanye West said on Twitter that Bowie “was one of my most important inspirations, so fearless, so creative, he gave us magic for a lifetime.”

Bowie felt uneasy about some of his greatest material, once embarking on a “greatest hits” tour saying it would be the last time performing much of his old material. He later relented, however.

“I’m not a natural performer,” he said in the 2002 interview. “I don’t enjoy performing terribly much. Never have. I can do it and, if my mind’s on the situation, do it quite well. But five or six shows in, I’m dying to get off the road and go back into the studio.”

Bowie was married twice, to the actress and model Mary Angela “Angie” Barnett from 1970-80, and to international supermodel Iman since 1992. He had two children — Duncan Jones and Alexandria Zahra Jones — one with each wife.

Tributes poured in from the world of music, show business and politics for the singer-songwriter, producer and actor hailed as a master of re-invention.

Bowie spanned styles ranging from glam rock, New Romantic, rock 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 Thin White Duke.

Messages

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.

Fans left flowers and messages at a mural of Bowie’s face painted with a lightning bolt in Brixton, the district of south London where he was born David Robert Jones on January 8, 1947.

Although 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 “Dancing 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.

Here is a look at some of the reactions:

Bowie’s son, director Duncan Jones, posted a picture of his smiling father on Twitter:

“Very sorry and sad to say it’s true. I’ll be offline for a while. Love to all.”

Astronaut Tim Peake, who is aboard the International Space Station:

“Saddened to hear David Bowie has lost his battle with cancer – his music was an inspiration to many.”

Madonna:

“Im Devastated! (sic) This great Artist changed my life! First concert i (sic) ever saw in Detroit!”

Iggy Pop:

“David’s friendship was the light of my life. I never met such a brilliant person. He was the best there is.”

Harry Potter author J.K. Rowling:

“I wish he could have stayed on earth longer. RIP.”

Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby told the BBC he remembered Bowie’s early rise to stardom:

“I remember sitting listening to his songs endlessly in the ‘70s particularly and always really relishing what he was, what he did, the impact he had,” Welby said. “Extraordinary person.”

British Prime Minister David Cameron:

“He was a master of re-invention, who kept getting it right. A huge loss.”

Former British Prime Minister Tony Blair:

“From the time I saw his Ziggy Stardust concert as a student, I thought he was a brilliant artist and an exciting and interesting human being.”

London Mayor Boris Johnson:

“No-one in our age has better deserved to be called a genius.”

Comedian Ricky Gervais:

“I just lost a hero. RIP David Bowie.”

Rapper Kanye West:

“David Bowie was one of my most important inspirations, so fearless, so creative, he gave us magic for a lifetime.”

Singer Pharrell Williams:

“David Bowie was a true innovator, a true creative. May he rest in peace.”

Actor Mark Ruffalo:

“Rip Father of all us freaks. Sad sad day. Love always.”

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