by Kate Woodford
David Bowie, pop star, actor and style icon, died on Sunday January 10th, 2016. Over five decades, he released 26 albums, starred in numerous films, and was one of the most revered and successful stars in the world. News of his death has elicited tributes and eulogies like almost no-one else before.
Bowie’s musical career was surprisingly slow to start: he released several singles – both solo and in bands – before his first hit, Space Oddity, in 1969. Released days before the Apollo 11 mission to the moon, the story of astronaut Major Tom struck a chord with the British public and the single went to number five in the UK charts. Nevertheless, Bowie looked in danger of being written off as a one-hit-wonder until the release of The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and The Spiders From Mars in 1972. The album told another science-fiction story, about an alien who comes to Earth and becomes a successful pop star. Bowie himself became Ziggy Stardust, with a shock of orange hair and outlandish costumes and shows, and he appeared to have found his niche in a theatrical, visually daring form of rock’n’roll.
The album was a huge hit around the world and still regularly features in lists of the greatest albums of all time. It had characteristics that would be typical of Bowie’s career: the use of music for storytelling, extraordinary visuals and a desire to change his own image. The chameleon-like Bowie would go through numerous incarnations in his career and play with various different musical styles, particularly during the 1970s and early 80s, a period generally regarded as his heyday. With hits like Heroes, Young Americans, Sound and Vision and Ashes to Ashes, Bowie became one of the biggest stars on the planet, and created a mystique around him like no-one had done before. He succeeded in making music that was not only artistic, original and critically acclaimed, but also hugely popular.
Bowie was diagnosed with liver cancer in 2014 but kept his illness private. His final album, Blackstar, was released just two days before his death. Many of the songs focus on dying and mortality, including the single Lazarus, which opens with the words ‘Look up here, I’m in heaven’. The ultimate showman, Bowie appears to have even turned his death into a performance. He leaves a legacy of songs that few can match and his influence on pop culture has been immense.