Musician and actor David Bowie has died at the age of 69 after an 18 month fight with cancer, surrounded by his close family. Bowie’s name is synonymous with artistic integrity, controversy and experimentation, and he is regarded as one of the most influential artists in history. His 26th album Blackstar was released two days before the announcement of his death, on his 69th birthday.

A long history

David Jones was born in suburban south London in 1947, into a family beleaguered by mental health problems.

Including the later suicide of his older half-brother Terry, these issues would influence much of his character adoption with which his name is associated.

From the tragic astronaut junkie Major Tom in his 1969 breakthrough hit Space Oddity to his requiem just over a decade later, Bowie also introduced and dropped the mid-Seventies dandy, aristocratic Thin White Duke and the blue-eyed soul boy of Young Americans album. Proto Glam-rock god Ziggy Stardust became the most famous of these characters, and made Bowie a superstar before he killed him off at the Hammersmith Odeon just 18 months later.

Stardom, sophistication and family

Mega-stardom and mass fortune arrived in the 1980s, coinciding with a drop in his critical acclaim. The 90s and into his later years saw Bowie focus on looking after his young New York family and occasionally returning with flashes of brilliance in a sophisticated, art-rock Godfather of 21st century avant-garde idiom. The title track from Blackstar was used in TV series The Last Panthers.

Elsewhere on the silver screen, his turn as the water-deprived alien billionaire Thomas Newton in Nic Roeg’s The Man Who Fell To Earth (1976) could have been written for him, while mass family acceptance followed in the mid-Eighties with the big-haired Jared The Goblin King in the fantasy Labyrinth. He reappeared in David Lynch’s Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me, and even more recently as the inventor Nikolai Tesla in The Prestige.

The world has brought forth many great artists, from Leonardo da Vinci to Picasso and from Beethoven to Jimi Hendrix. David Bowie is unsurpassed in his immaculate melding of the uncompromisingly progressive with the commercially accessible. The style, grace and panache with which he achieved this places him firmly at the top of art’s table. Bowie is survived by his wife Iman, son Duncan and daughter Lexi.

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