Legendary Musician and Artist David Bowie Is Dead at 69
The singer, actor, and painter touched the lives of many.
The legendary musician David Bowie died on Sunday, January 10, after an 18-month battle with cancer.
The shocking announcement was first posted early this morning on the star’s official Facebook page.
Bowie’s son, the film director Duncan Jones, confirmed the news shortly after, posting an image of Bowie playing with him as a toddler on Twitter.
Bowie’s death comes as a huge surprise, as his final album, Blackstar, was released on Friday, coinciding with his 69 birthday. The album, which was defined as “a spellbinding break with his past” by the Guardian, has gathered positive reviews from international media. The first single off Blackstar is Lazarus, which was released with an accompanying video featuring a bedridden Bowie, singing the lines “look at me, I’m in Heaven.”
A vast number of personalities and celebrities have taken to Twitter to post poignant tributes to celebrate the life and career of the iconic rock star and actor, including UK’s Prime Minister David Cameron; musicians such as Madonna, Brian Eno, and Kanye West; and actors including Mark Ruffalo and Russell Crowe.
Germany even thanked Bowie for his contribution to Berlin, where he lived between 1976-1979 and recorded his famous trilogy of albums Low, Heroes, and Lodger:
David Bowie was born on 8 January 1947, in Brixton, south London, and formed his first band in 1962 at age 15, the same year in which he got into a fight with a friend over a girl and got punched in the left eye, which resulted in the permanently enlarged pupil that gave him the appearance of having one blue and one honey colored eye.
Bowie’s unique eyes would become one of the most distinct traits of his conceptual and maverick aesthetic, which evolved continuously to accommodate the different alter egos—including Ziggy Stardust, Aladdin Sane, and the Thin White Duke—that the singer adopted as he explored new avenues in his music and his relationship with fame and the press.
Bowie’s music success, performative flair, and striking looks earned him roles in a string of cult films, including Nicolas Roeg’s The Man Who Fell to Earth (1976), Marlene Dietrich’s last film, Just a Gigolo (1978), Merry Christmas Mr. Lawrence (1983), Labyrinth, Absolute Beginners (both 1986), and Martin Scorsese’s The Last Temptation of Christ (1988).
Visual art was another of Bowie’s passions. In 1971, as part of his album Hunky Dory, Bowie wrote the song Andy Warhol, in which he sang: “Like to take a cement fix, be a standing cinema, dress my friends up just for show, see them as they really are, put a peephole in my brain, two New Pence to have a go, I’d like to be a gallery, put you all inside my show.”
In fact, in Julian Schnabel’s Basquiat (1996), the acclaimed biopic of the New York graffiti painter-cum-art world sensation, Bowie played the role of Warhol himself. Critics widely praised Bowie’s uncanny performance of Basquiat’s mentor.
But Bowie’s love of art did not only extend to impersonating legendary artists. He attended art school in his youth and painted throughout his life. In the mid-1990s, he started exhibiting his paintings.
In 1998, he told the New York Times:
I kind of went public in about ’94 with the visual stuff that I do. […] Up to that point, painting for me was private, and it really was about problem solving. I’d find that if I had some creative obstacle in the music that I was working on, I would often revert to drawing it out or painting it out.
In the same interview, Bowie also spoke of his art collection:
I collected very early on. I have a couple of Tintorettos, which I’ve had for many, many years. I have a Rubens. Art was, seriously, the only thing I’d ever wanted to own. It has always been for me a stable nourishment. I use it. It can change the way that I feel in the mornings. The same work can change me in different ways, depending on what I’m going through. For instance, somebody I like very much indeed is Frank Auerbach.
Ever the Renaissance man, in that same period he also contributed to the art magazine Modern Painters, interviewing artists such as Schnabel, Balthus, Jeff Koons, and his fellow countryman Damien Hirst, whose work he found “extremely emotional, subjective, very tied up with his own personal fears—his fear of death is very strong—and I find his pieces moving and not at all flippant.”
In 2013, the Victoria & Albert Museum in London opened the retrospective exhibition “David Bowie is,” dedicated to chronicling and celebrating the universe created by Bowie in his five-decade career, through records, photos and film footage, fashion items, and other memorabilia.
Curated with unprecedented access to Bowie’s personal archive, the exhibition was so successful that tickets sold out and visitors endured long queues to access it. The V&A received over 312,000 visitors, and more than 1 million museum-goers have visited the show during its ongoing tour across Toronto, Sao Paulo, Berlin, Chicago, Paris, Melbourne, and Groningen.
Despite his staunch championing of the weird, the art and life of David Bowie touched and changed the lives of many, from fellow musicians and small-town teenagers from all over the world to reputed international politicians.
NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg said on Twitter:
Music producer Tony Visconti, who worked with Bowie on several albums including his final one, confirmed that Blackstar was Bowie’s “parting gift” to fans. Visconti paid tribute to his friend with a touching post on Facebook, writing:
He always did what he wanted to do. And he wanted to do it his way and he wanted to do it the best way.
His death was no different from his life – a work of Art.
He made Blackstar for us, his parting gift. I knew for a year this was the way it would be. I wasn’t, however, prepared for it. He was an extraordinary man, full of love and life. He will always be with us. For now, it is appropriate to cry.
Follow Artnet News on Facebook:
Want to stay ahead of the art world? Subscribe to our newsletter to get the breaking news, eye-opening interviews, and incisive critical takes that drive the conversation forward.