David Bowie, a rock and roll icon who sustained a chart-topping career for five decades with hits including “Fame”, “Heroes” and “Let’s Dance”, has died at the age of 69.
Rep Steve Martin said in a statement that the “Ashes to Ashes” singer was surrounded by his family when he died Sunday after an 18-month battle against cancer.
“While many of you will share in this loss, we ask that you respect the family’s privacy during their time of grief,” Martin’s statement concluded. No further details were provided.
The singer’s son, filmmaker Duncan Jones, issued a confirming statement of his own on Twitter.
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
Tributes poured in on social media from, among others, British Prime Minister David Cameron and comedian Ricky Gervais, who hosted Sunday night’s Golden Globe Awards show in Los Angeles.
I grew up listening to and watching the pop genius David Bowie. He was a master of re-invention, who kept getting it right. A huge loss.
— David Cameron (@David_Cameron) January 11, 2016
I just lost a hero. RIP David Bowie.
— Ricky Gervais (@rickygervais) January 11, 2016
Bowie died two days after the release of “Blackstar”, his 29th album, which had been timed to coincide with his birthday. The singer had kept a low profile in recent years after reportedly suffering a heart attack in the 2000s, and it had not been widely known that he was struggling with cancer.
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, who was born David Jones in the Brixton area of South 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 looks and sounds. 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.”
He had some of his biggest successes in the early 1980s with the stylistic “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.”
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.
“My entire career, I’ve only really worked with the same subject matter,” Bowie said in a 2002 interview with The Associated Press. “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.”
His performance of “Heroes” was a highlight of a concert for rescue workers after the 2001 World Trade Center attacks.
“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.”
However, 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 AP 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 awarded a Grammy lifetime achievement award in February 2006 and his final performance on stage was later that year when he sang alongside Alicia Keys at the Black Ball in New York. He made a surprise comeback in 2013 when he suddenly released a new single on his 66th birthday, with his first new album in 10 years, “The Next Day,” following just weeks later.
“Blackstar,” which earned positive reviews from critics, represented yet another stylistic shift, as Bowie 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.”
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 Alexandra Zahra Jones — one with each wife.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.