Only three days after his 69th birthday and the release of his final album, Blackstar, the world lost one of its most prolific and enduring artists David Bowie. A true renaissance man who transcended music, film, art and fashion throughout his public career, Bowie succumbed to an 18-month battle with cancer.
Born David Robert Jones in Brixton on January 8, 1947, the up-and-coming singer/songwriter changed his name to David Bowie to avoid confusion with The Monkees’ Davy Jones. This was just the first in a lifetime of artistic changes that saw him go from the otherworldly ‘70s personas of Ziggy Stardust and the drug-addled Thin White Duke to an entirely new level of mainstream pop success in the ‘80s with his blockbuster album, Let’s Dance.
Throughout his 50 years in music, Bowie would shed his various personas like a snake abandons its skin, never content to expand on successful characters, instead choosing to move in entirely different directions at the height of his various stages of popularity—and doing it more often than lesser artists would dare.
This ongoing search to satisfy his artistic music also crossed over into a formidable acting career with more than 20 films to his credit—as well as a critically acclaimed stage performance in the lead role of The Elephant Man in 1980-81. His film career began in 1976 with The Man Who Fell to Earth and continued on through 2006 when he played Nikola Tesla in The Prestige. Bowie appeared as Pontius Pilate in The Last Temptation of Christ and as Andy Warhol in Basquiat, as well as in Absolute Beginners, Just a Gigolo, Labyrinth, Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me, and one of his most memorable roles in the 1983 cult vampire classic The Hunger with Susan Sarandon and Catherine Deneuve, which was released on Blu-ray just last year due to its ongoing popularity.
Despite his work in film, the industry itself never moved fast enough for an energetic artist like Bowie, who noted in a 1995 interview: “No, I never thought about giving up music for acting. Acting is not on my list of priorities. It's actually extremely boring. I can't understand how actors can do it; it's so vegetating. I think the only thing that I considered changing my professional motivation to was painting, the visual arts; and I was very close to that in the ‘80s. I don't think I was actually really close to giving up music entirely, because I don't think that could ever happen, but I was certainly spending far more time painting and sculpting in the ‘80s than I was making music.”
Bowie was also open about his ongoing desire to change artistic directions, saying, “As an artist, I was never interested in developing and having a continuum in style. For me, style was just something to use. It didn't matter to me if it was hard rock or punk or whatever, it was whether or not it suited what I was trying to say at a particular point in time. It has always been essential to me that my public perception was such that I'd be left free to kind of float from one thing to another. That's just how I work. I'm not a guy who learns a craft and then refines that craft over 25 or 30 years. I'm not that kind of artist. Maybe it sounds pretentious, but I feel that I'm much more of a post-modernist than that.”
Bowie is survived by his wife of more than 20 years, former model Iman; his son, film director Duncan Jones (from Bowie’s first marriage to Angela “Angie” Barnett); and daughter Alexandria Jones (from his marriage to Iman).