David Bowie, the innovative and iconic singer whose illustrious career lasted five decades with hits like “Fame,” “Heroes” and “Let’s Dance,” died Sunday after a battle with cancer. He was 69.
Representative Steve Martin said early Monday that Bowie died “peacefully” and was surrounded by family. The singer had battled cancer for 18 months.
“While many of you will share in this loss, we ask that you respect the family’s privacy during their time of grief,” the statement read. No more details were provided.
Bowie turned 69 on Friday, the same day he released a new album called “Blackstar.”
Bowie, who was born David Jones, 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 stylist “Let’s Dance,” and a massive American tour.
“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.”
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.”
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.
Bowie was married to international supermodel Iman since 1992.
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.
Bowie’s first musical instrument was the saxophone, and he became a fan of early rock by Little Richard, Fats Domino and Frankie Lymon. While in high school, a fistfight over a girl damaged his left pupil, leaving him with one blue eye and the other permanently dilated and the appearance of a darker color.
In the mid-1960s, he began recording folk and pop music with various units and for a variety of labels. He changed his name to David Bowie in 1966 (largely to avoid confusion with Davy Jones of the Monkees), and started dabbling in theater.
In 1969, he released the album “Space Oddity” with a title song that became his first U.K. top 10 hit. Under the influence of Marc Bolan, Bowie formed a short-lived glittery band called Hype with guitarist Mick Ronson and Tony Visconti on bass. A version of that group would evolve into the musicians behind some of Bowie’s groundbreaking work at the beginning of the ’70s, starting with “The Man Who Sold the World.”
He followed that with the flamboyant “Hunky Dory” in 1972, which included “Changes,” a single that defined the coming decade for Bowie, reaching No. 66 on the U.S. pop chart. The same year saw the debut of “The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders From Mars,” a concept album that fully ignited a cult following responding to its provocative rock and the glittery alien garb the band wore onstage.
He continued to record in that mode (the album “Aladdin Sane”) and produced Lou Reed’s breakthrough solo album “Transformer,” including the single “Walk on the Wild Side.” Bowie disbanded his Spiders From Mars in 1973. He soon began work on a musical translation of George Orwell’s “1984,” but could not secure rights to the novel from the author’s heirs. He renamed the project “Diamond Dogs” (though some of the “1984” elements remained) and launched an elaborate tour.
Within a year, he transformed again to record the sultry blue-eyed soul of “Young Americans,” an album heavily influenced by Philadelphia R&B, though it also included “Fame,” an edgy funk collaboration with John Lennon. The song was Bowie’s first chart-topping single in the U.S.
In 1976, he performed his first major role as an actor, as the alien visitor in Nicolas Roeg’s “The Man Who Fell to Earth.” The same year he released “Station to Station,” which included the top 10 single, “Golden Years.” He relocated to Berlin and began working with Eno on a trilogy of albums (“Low,” “Heroes” and “Lodger”) that often featured brooding electronics. In 1977, he appeared in another film, “Just a Gigolo,” alongside Marlene Dietrich and Kim Novak.
After a decade as a major cult figure and occasional hit-maker, Bowie reached a broad mainstream audience with 1983’s “Let’s Dance,” a modern dance-music collection produced by Nile Rogers, with lead guitar from Stevie Ray Vaughan. In 1985, he recorded and filmed a duet with Mick Jagger on a new version of Martha and the Vandellas’ “Dancing in the Street,” in support of Live Aid.
After spending the ’70s as a groundbreaking rocker, and then with the success of “Let’s Dance,” the remainder of the ’80s were surprisingly fallow for Bowie. He formed a band called Tin Machine in 1989 and released two albums. In the ’90s, Bowie appeared ready to experiment outside the mainstream again and released a series of albums as diverse as those from the 1970s, including “Earthling,” which dabbled in new generation electronic dance music.
In 1992, he appeared in the David Lynch prequel “Twin Peaks – Fire Walk With Me.” He married supermodel Iman the same year. In 2002, he reunited with Visconti to record “Heathen.” And his songs (as performed by Seu Jorge) were part of the soundtrack to the 2004 Wes Anderson film “The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou.”