David Bowie dead at 69 after cancer battle

David Bowie, the iconic, shape-shifting musician, actor and performer who profoundly shaped popular culture and fashion in a career spanning five decades, has died after an 18-month cancer battle.

Singer's latest album Blackstar was released just last week

Bowie's Canadian connection

8 years ago
Duration 2:42
CBC`s Deana Sumanac-Johnson examines the artist's relationship with Canada over the decades

David Bowie, the iconic and shape-shifting musician, actor and performer who profoundly shaped popular culture and fashion in a career spanning five decades, has died after an 18-month cancer battle.

Representative Steve Martin said early Monday that Bowie died "peacefully" and was surrounded by family.
"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's son, filmmaker Duncan Jones (from his first wife, Angela), confirmed the death on Twitter with a picture with his father in the 1970s, saying "Very sorry and sad to say it's true."

Bowie married model Iman in 1992, with a daughter born to the couple in 2000.

David Bowie and his wife, model and entrepreneur Iman, are shown at a New York City benefit in 2011. (Andrew H. Walker/Getty Images for DKMS)

The genre-smashing singer, songwriter, performer and producer was hailed as "a musical hero to millions" as well as a "Renaissance man and visionary artist," by the U.S. Recording Academy, which administers the Grammy Awards, on Monday.

"[Bowie] is remembered and celebrated today for his audacious approach to pushing creative boundaries and ability to reinvent himself time and time again, changing the course of pop music in the process. David was a true original who influenced so many and his art will live on forever. We offer our sincere condolences to his family, friends, creative collaborators and to all of David's fans across the globe," said academy president Neil Portnow.

Bowie celebrated his 69th birthday on Jan. 8 and marked the occasion by releasing his latest album, Blackstar

Bowie, born Jan. 8, 1947 in Brixton, England, performed in a series of bands as a teen. He cut sides in the mid-1960s under Davy Jones, his given name, before changing his persona, in no small part because of the success of the Monkees singer of the same name.

He first gained prominence as David Bowie with Space Oddity, a top five hit in the U.K. in 1969 with its memorable opening, "Ground control to Major Tom." The song would become a hit again on both sides of the Atlantic in the mid-1970s, and was famously performed by Canadian astronaut Chris Hadfield in space in 2014.

Controversy and success

Throughout the 1970s, Bowie would provoke and entertain in a number of styles, no more so than as Ziggy Stardust, his controversial androgynous image shocking some commentators and parents.

It came on the heels of Bowie describing himself first as gay and then bisexual to Melody Maker in 1972. It was a surprising declaration given he had been married to his wife Angela (Barnett) for two years and two were the parents of a young son. 

David Bowie, shown performing on stage during a concert in Hamburg, Germany in October 2003, died Sunday after a battle with cancer. (Maurizio Gambarini/EPA)

Bowie had enjoyed modest success with The Man Who Sold the World and Aladdin Sane, but the album The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars in 1972 took his career to the next level, fanned by his provocative image and statements. Bowie was considered a pioneer of glam rock, his songs served by the metallic riffs of then-guitarist Mick Ronson.

The character took on a life of its own, Bowie would tell interviewers Flo and Eddie of The Turtles on the CBC show 90 Minutes Live a few years later.

"Ziggy was for me a simplistic thing," Bowie said in the interview. "It was, what it seemed to be, an alien rock star and for performance value, I dressed him and acted him out. I left it at that, but other people re-read him and contributed more information about Ziggy than I had put into him."

Bowie was a restless performer, however, and in a span of a few short years begin incorporating soul, new wave, electronic and ambient styles in his music. Ziggy gave way to personas such as Aladdin Sane and The Thin White Duke.

"It was still very hard for anybody to realize that a rock artist can go onstage and be a different person every time he goes on stage," said Bowie. "Nobody was doing that."

A consistent chart presence in the U.K., Bowie broke through in a big way in the U.S. with the re-release of Space Oddity, which became his first American top 40 hit. He solidified his rise in 1975 with Young Americans, which featured future star Luther Vandross on backing vocals. Subsequently Fame, co-written by John Lennon and Bowie's longtime guitarist Carlos Alomar, reached No. 1, and Golden Years soon followed as a hit.

Meanwhile, earlier songs like Rebel Rebel, Changes and Starman were FM radio staples.

Bowie during the decade found himself in demand as a producer, as well, helping shape releases by contemporaries and friends like Lou Reed, Iggy Pop and Mott the Hoople. Later in his career, he would collaborate with music artists as diverse as Bing Crosby, Queen, Mick Jagger and Tina Turner.

The restlessness that inspired his music and saw him recording everywhere from Berlin to Los Angeles to France to Philadelphia, extended to his personal life, as the singer dealt with a cocaine problem, disputes with manager Tony DeFries and marital strife. Bowie's marriage would end by 1979.

Chris Hadfield remembers David Bowie

8 years ago
Duration 6:15
Retired astronaut, who honoured Bowie with a Space Oddity cover from space, recalls the musical icon

The end of the decade would be marked his so-called Berlin trilogy of releases with producer Brian Eno, Low, Heroes and Lodger, the title track of the second of those seen by many as one of his finest songs. Bowie said music exploration and language became more important at this time than creating a new character and narrative.

As the decade turned, Bowie would enthusiastically dive into the music video form with clips for D.J., Fashion and Ashes to Ashes, in part earning him MTV's first Video Vanguard award in 1984.

Canadian connection

Bowie, with help from Nile Rodgers of Chic as co-producer, enjoyed his biggest commercial hit with the smash Let's Dance in 1983. The album sold seven million copies worldwide and spawned hits like the title track, China Girl and Modern Love. The follow-up Tonight was also commercially successful and included the hit Blue Jean.

Bowie had a strong connection with Canada over the decades, opening his Diamond Dogs album tour in Montreal in 1974, and 13 years later, previewing the Glass Spider set of dates with a club show in Toronto.

Always looking for new ways to incorporate a range of performance styles into his stage shows, Bowie collaborated with Montreal dance troupe La La La Human Steps for the Sound and Vision tour in 1990.

"It's one thing to have ideas, but it's another thing to have the courage to voice them," troupe founder Edouard Lock told The Canadian Press in a phone interview from Paris on Monday.

"[Bowie] was very aware of where society was going and how he wanted to interact with it."

Bowie's appreciation of Canadian artists continued in more recent years as well. He enlisted Canadian singer-songwriter Emm Gryner as his back-up singer while on tour in 1999 and 2000. (More recently, the alt-pop singer helped Hadfield with his made-in-space cover of Bowie's Space Oddity).

Remembering David Bowie

8 years ago
Duration 5:29
CBC's Laurie Brown, who interviewed David Bowie multiple times, recalls the iconic musician's ever-changing image over the years

In 2005, Bowie joined rock troupe Arcade Fire onstage at several performances in New York and continued to be a fan of the band's music, offering a brief backing vocal to the band's 2013 dance-influenced track Reflektor. Invited to listen to the track in studio before its release, Bowie jokingly threatened to "steal" it if the band didn't hurry up and finish the mix, according to the group's Richard Reed Parry.

Also in 2013, Bowie tapped acclaimed Canadian-Italian artist, director and photographer Floria Sigismondi to direct videos for his album A New Day, including for the titular track and The Stars (Are Out Tonight), which saw the music legend perform alongside actress Tilda Swinton.

While critics were often mixed on his subsequent efforts, which included the band outing Tin Machine, his status was secure as a pioneer for legions of artists, whether it be visually with the likes of Boy George, Marilyn Manson and Lady Gaga, or musically, as was the case with Paul Weller, Psychedelic Furs, Nirvana and The Killers. He was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1996 by David Byrne of the Talking Heads.

"Like all rock `n' roll, it was visionary, it was tasteless, it was glamorous, it was perverse, it was fun, it was crass, it was sexy and it was confusing," Byrne said.

Like all rock 'n' roll, it was visionary, it was tasteless, it was glamorous, it was perverse, it was fun, it was crass, it was sexy and it was confusing.- David Byrne on the music of David Bowie

With a smooth voice, dapper style and unusual looks — a childhood accident resulted in a dilated pupil that made it appear he had two different coloured eyes — Bowie also found success on screen and stage.

He appeared in film in The Man Who Fell To Earth; The Hunger; Merry Christmas, Mr. Lawrence; Absolute Beginners; Labryinth and The Last Temptation of Christ. On stage, he received accolades in 1980 on Broadway for his turn as John Merrick in The Elephant Man.

A heavy smoker much of his life, Bowie reportedly suffered a heart attack in the 2000s.

David Bowie 1947-2016

8 years ago
Duration 6:23
CBC's Eli Glasner looks at the life and legacy of the iconic musician, actor and performer

Blackstar was his 25th studio album and once again featured Tony Visconti in the production role, the pair having first worked together on Space Oddity over 45 years ago. Critics and listeners have been intrigued by the mood and message of the release, with Andy Gill of The Independent describing it as "far as he's strayed from pop."

News of Bowie's death quickly resonated online, with British Prime Minister David Cameron, Billy Idol, Iggy Pop and Ricky Gervais, fresh off hosting The Golden Globes, paying tribute to the legendary performer.

With files from The Associated Press and The Canadian Press