Nash Jenkins @pnashjenkins TIME MAGAZINE


The British musician David Bowie died on Sunday after an 18-month battle with cancer, two days after his 69th birthday.

The artist’s verified Facebook and Twitter accounts were the first to post the news, which his son, Duncan Jones, then confirmed to Sky News.

Bowie was one of the most celebrated musicians of modern times and for many years a figurehead of pop’s avant-garde. He was born David Robert Jones in South London in 1947 and used this surname in the early days of his career, but by 20, he was Bowie: the svelte, almost foppish pop singer increasingly keen on melding the traditions of rock ’n’ roll with the stylistic affectations of camp. Two years later, on his eponymous second album, he released Space Oddity, the track still praised as one of his masterpieces and the one that introduced the world to Major Tom, the astronaut who wistfully sets off to explore the cosmos.

He was a willful shape-shifter. Major Tom was one in an ensemble of alter egos, which contributed in part to the legendary theatricality of his stage shows. There was, in 1972, Ziggy Stardust, who affirmed the popular image of Bowie as a dazzling androgyne; a year later, there was Aladdin Sane, a darker iteration of Ziggy, haunted by the scepters of fame and drug addiction; in 1976, we met the Thin White Duke, whom writer David Buckley later described as a debonair “barman from hell” inspired by the artist’s penchant for cocaine.

By the early 1980s, after a decade of hit singles like “Young Americans” and “Fame,” he was “music’s most exquisite artifact,” as TIME critic Jay Cocks wrote in 1983. That year, when new-wave sounds of bands like New Order and Duran Duran were setting the tenor of pop, his album Let’s Dance propelled him to a new stratosphere of fame.

He was a pioneer beyond music. In a 1976 interview with Playboy, he casually identified himself as bisexual, at a time when bisexuality — or even homosexuality — did not necessarily sit well with the public palate. He was married twice, both times to women: first, from 1970 until 1980 to Angie Barnett, who later alleged he had an affair with Rolling Stones front man Mick Jagger, and again to the Somali-American fashion model named as Iman, from 1992 until his death. The couple had one daughter together; Duncan Jones, 44, is from Bowie’s marriage with Barnett.