David Bowie: 1947-2016

British music icon dies of cancer at 69

A 2003 file picture of David Bowie performing in Hamburg, Germany. His 18-month battle with his illness was a well-kept secret. His most recent album, Blackstar, was released just last Friday, on his 69th birthday.
A 2003 file picture of David Bowie performing in Hamburg, Germany. His 18-month battle with his illness was a well-kept secret. His most recent album, Blackstar, was released just last Friday, on his 69th birthday.PHOTO: EUROPEAN PRESSPHOTO AGENCY

Singer-songwriter's ground-breaking work dates back to mid-1960s

English singer-songwriter David Bowie, an acclaimed artist whose prolific and consistently ground- breaking work dates back to the mid-1960s, died yesterday. He was 69.

A surprise announcement on his official Facebook and Twitter accounts stated that he "died peacefully today surrounded by his family" after an 18-month battle with cancer.

Up until his death, his illness was a well-kept secret. In fact, he made the news in the music press as his most recent album, Blackstar, his 25th, was released just last Friday, on his 69th birthday. Rolling Stone magazine called it his "best anti-pop masterpiece since the Seventies".

Bowie - who was inducted into the United States Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1996 and was ranked at No. 29 in a poll of the 100 Greatest Britons conducted by the BBC in 2002 - inspired many generations of artists and fans worldwide. Tributes have poured in from personalities such as American hip-hop star Kanye West and British Prime Minister David Cameron.

David Bowie sold an estimated 140 million records worldwide. In 2006, he received a Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award. His final global tour included a show at the Singapore Indoor Stadium in 2004.
Apart from music, Bowie was also an accomplished actor who appeared in more than 20 films. 

In Singapore, composer Dick Lee describes the Englishman as "his idol". "A legend has left us," said Lee, whose 1974 debut album included a cover of Bowie's song, Rebel Rebel, released earlier in the same year. "He was my biggest inspiration when I was a teenager, he inspired me to follow my own path. I painted my nails like him, to my parents' horror, and my hair was cut spiky just like his."

Singer and radio DJ Chris Ho, also known as X'ho, said that Bowie's work was an important part of his music education. "I surprised myself by crying at the news of his death," he said. "I grew up on Bowie, he was the biggest influence on me during the 1970s."

Born David Jones in London in 1947, Bowie had his first hit song in 1969 with Space Oddity. Since then, his vast discography had been marked by unceasing changes in music and visual styles throughout his career. From the glam-rock stylings of his seminal 1972 album, The Rise And Fall Of Ziggy Stardust And The Spiders From Mars, to his later dalliances with genres ranging from electronic music to experimental pop, his work was constantly at the cutting edge.

He sold an estimated 140 million records worldwide. In 2006, he received a Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award. His final global tour included a show at the Singapore Indoor Stadium in 2004.

Apart from music, Bowie was also an accomplished actor who appeared in more than 20 films, including starring roles in the 1976 science fiction film, The Man Who Fell To Earth, and the 1986 fantasy film, Labyrinth.

Actor and Bowie fan Adrian Pang shared a scene with the late star in a 1999 British gangster film, Everybody Loves Sunshine.

"In my very brief encounter with him, he came across as a very warm, very sweet, very kind gentleman. He was the epitome of class, elegance and grace and authenticity right to the very core," he recalled.

Bowie was survived by his wife, model Iman, and their 15-year-old daughter, Alexandria "Lexi" Zahra Jones. Bowie also had a son, film director Duncan Jones, 44, from a previous marriage to American model, actress and musician Angie Bowie.

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on January 12, 2016, with the headline 'British music icon dies of cancer at 69'. Print Edition | Subscribe