Bowie, who had been waging a secret battle against cancer for the past 18 months, died peacefully surrounded by his family in New York. His death, which came just three days after his 69th birthday and the release of his 25th studio album, was confirmed on the singer’s social media outlets early yesterday morning.
The announcement prompted an outpouring of tributes from those who collaborated with Bowie, as well as younger musicians indebted to his innovative and enigmatic output, which became a touchstone across the disciplines of music, film and fashion, often simultaneously.
Such was his influence on public life, messages praising his life and work were also paid from the Vatican and – fittingly for the author of Space Oddity – astronauts onboard the International Space Station, while flowers and lit candles were left in places as far afield as Berlin and Brixton, the London district where Bowie grew up as plain David Jones before embarking on a career that was anything but.
One of the most eloquent tributes came from Tony Visconti, a longstanding friend of the musician who, as his producer, worked on more than a dozen of Bowie’s albums, including his latest record, Blackstar, now on course to top the album charts in the wake of his death.
“He always did what he wanted to do,” Visconti said. “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.”
Visconti suggested the singer and those closest to him had resigned themselves to the fact his latest work would be his last.
“I knew for a year this was the way it would be,” he added. “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.”
His contemporary, Sir Paul McCartney, said Bowie’s “star will shine in the sky forever”. In a message posted on his Facebook page, he wrote: “David was a great star and I treasure the moments we had together.
“His music played a very strong part in British musical history and I’m proud to think of the huge influence he has had on people all around the world.”
Another of Bowie’s collaborators, Brian Eno, a key influence on the acclaimed Berlin trilogy of albums released in the 1970s, said his friend’s death came as a “complete surprise, as did nearly everything else about him”.
Eno said Bowie had e-mailed him a week ago with a “funny” and “surreal” message that ended with the line, “Thank you for our good times, Brian. They will never rot,” a sentiment that was only fully revealed yesterday. “I realise now he was saying goodbye,” Eno added.
The influence and diversity of Bowie’s work was evident in the array of artists who added their own tributes, a roll call that spanned rock veterans Iggy Pop, the Rolling Stones and Brian May through to Madonna, Kanye West and One Direction.
Rumours of ill-health had surrounded Bowie since he suffered a heart attack in 2004 while touring. His last live performance took place a decade ago. Though many suspected he had retired, Bowie remained an influential, if sporadic, presence in public life in later years.
Blackstar was preceded three years ago by another critically acclaimed album, The Next Day, while in 2014, Bowie asked Kate Moss to accept his best British male prize at the Brit Awards, in doing so imploring Scotland to remain part of the union ahead of the independence referendum. Prime Minister David Cameron was among the first politicians to thank Bowie for his contribution to British culture, describing as someone his generation “felt we grew up with”. He said: “He provided a soundtrack to our lives, from the first time I heard Space Oddity to the pride of welcoming British athletes at the London Olympics to one of his masterpieces, Heroes.
“He was also a master of reinvention, who kept getting it right, leaving a body of work that people will still be listening to in 100 years. He was someone who truly deserves to be described as a genius.”
First Minister Nicola Sturgeon said the news about Bowie’s death was “dreadful,” describing him as “a hero for so much more than just one day” and tweeting a link to Space Oddity, a song she said “always made me cry when I was wee”. It was, she added, “having much the same effect today”.
Bowie was married twice, to actress and model Mary Angela “Angie” Barnett from 1970 to 1980, and to international supermodel Iman since 1992. He had two children – Duncan Jones and Alexandria Zahra Jones – one from each marriage.