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David Bowie dies aged 69

The man who gave the world Major Tom, Ziggy Stardust, glam rock, plastic soul and Jareth the Goblin King has lost his 18-month battle with cancer

By Jon Chapple on 11 Jan 2016

image © Adam Bielawski

David Bowie has died aged 69.

A statement posted by Bowie’s official Facebook page this morning (11 January) revealed that the singer, songwriter, multi-instrumentalist and producer had been diagnosed with cancer 18 months ago and “died peacefully surrounded by his family”.

Born David Robert Jones in 1947, Bowie was, it hardly needs saying, one of the most influential artists in the history of popular music. Former Ultravox frontman and Live Aid founder Midge Ure, who covered Bowie’s ‘The Man Who Sold the World’ in 1982, told the BBC that “we are all still walking in his slipstream” and that “none of us can compare to what he did and what he has done”; Paul McCartney, meanwhile, wrote on his own website: “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. […] His star will shine in the sky forever.”

In contrast to McCartney’s band – The Beatles being the other obvious contender for the most important British act of all time – live performance was always central to Bowie’s period of musical innovation (The Beatles’ last concert was August in 1966, just after the release of Revolver; their psychedelic opus Sgt Pepper was still almost a year away). It was a series of remarkable concerts in early 1972 as his androgynous alien persona Ziggy Stardust – in particular a now-legendary performance of ‘Starman’ on Top of the Pops – that propelled Bowie to stardom in the UK and helped usher in, aided by longtime frenemy Marc Bolan, the birth of glam rock.

In an era dominated by grinning bubblegum popstars and ‘serious’ rock acts who would rather perform sitting down, the arrival of Ziggy was nothing short of a revolution – and every period of Bowie’s career since, from the Thin White Duke to the Berlin era and beyond, has included at its heart his electrifying stage presence.

Bowie remained a major concert draw up until his final tour, the 112-date A Reality Tour, which was, at $46m, the ninth-highest grossing of 2004. His 1987 Glass Spider Tour was the fifth-highest-grossing of the entire decade, earning $86m.

In contrast to The Beatles, the other obvious contender for the most important British act of all time, live performance was always central to Bowie’s period of musical innovation

Despite this, Bowie said in 2002: “I am not a natural performer. I don’t enjoy performing terribly much. Never have. I can do it and, if my mind’s on the situation, do it quite well. But five or six shows in, I’m dying to get off the road and go back to the studio.”

Vulture.com has compiled a list, 16 of David Bowie’s Best Live Performances You Can Watch Right Now, highlighting some of his most iconic live appearances. (It also serves as nice visual history of the man himself: witness the transformation from permed hippie to distinguished elder statesman over the course of 35 years.)

While Bowie hadn’t performed live since 2006, Woody Woodmansey’s Holy Holy – a group led by Mick ‘Woody’ Woodmansey, drummer in the Ziggy Stardust-era backing band the Spiders from Mars, and Tony Visconti, producer of 13 of his albums – are midway through an 11-date tour of the US and Canada performing the album The Man Who Sold the World and other contemporary Bowie songs.

It is not yet known if the tour will be called off, although it seems likely, considering the band are due to perform in Toronto tomorrow night. Visconti’s manager Joe D’Ambrosio would only tell IQ: “We are respecting Tony’s privacy at this very sad moment in time.”

Bowie’s death comes just days after the release of his 25th studio album, Blackstar, on 8 January.

In a post on his Facebook pageBlackstar producer Visconti said the album was a “parting gift” from Bowie. “I knew for a year this was the way it would be,” he wrote. “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.”