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On 10 January 2016, English singer, songwriter and actor David Bowie died at his Lafayette Street home in New York City, having suffered from liver cancer for 18 months. He died two days after the release of his twenty-fifth studio album, Blackstar, which coincided with his 69th birthday.

Death of David Bowie
David Bowie Death New York Apartment Memorial 2016 7.JPG
Flowers outside Bowie's apartment in New York in January 2016
Date10 January 2016
LocationNew York City, U.S.
CauseLiver cancer

Bowie kept his illness private, and friends and fans alike were surprised by his death. Makeshift memorials were created in London, New York City, Berlin, and other cities in which Bowie had lived; sales of his albums and singles saw a significant increase. Many commentators noted Bowie's impact on music, fashion and culture and wrote of his status as one of the most influential musical artists of all time. Numerous musicians and public figures also expressed their grief.[1][2]



Bowie was diagnosed with liver cancer in mid-2014.[3] Bowie told only his family and people he was working with about his condition; Ivo van Hove, with whom Bowie was collaborating on the off-Broadway musical Lazarus, was told shortly after Bowie himself found out.[4] Tony Visconti, Bowie's friend and producer of many Bowie albums, including his final album, Blackstar, was told in January 2015. Visconti recalled that Bowie was completely bald from his chemotherapy when they spoke.[5] However, many musicians who had worked with Bowie over the years, such as Mike Garson, Gerry Leonard, Brian Eno, Nile Rodgers, Reeves Gabrels, Tina Turner, Iggy Pop, Sterling Campbell, Earl Slick and Gail Ann Dorsey, were not told about the illness and were surprised when Bowie died.[6][7]

By mid-2015, it was hoped that the cancer was in remission, but by November 2015 the cancer had spread throughout Bowie's body and Bowie was told his condition was terminal.[8] He was in the middle of filming the video for his song "Lazarus" when the decision was made to end his cancer treatment.[9] Bowie's last public appearance before his death was at the 7 December 2015 opening night of Lazarus.[10] Bowie released his final studio album Blackstar on 8 January 2016, his 69th birthday.[11][12][13] Bowie reportedly wrote a five-year plan for what he wanted done with his music after he died.[14]

Bowie died on 10 January 2016, and his official Facebook page posted the message "Jan. 10, 2016 – David Bowie died peacefully today surrounded by his family after a courageous 18-month battle with cancer. While many of you will share in this loss, we ask that you respect the family's privacy during their time of grief."[15]

On 12 January 2016, in accordance with his will, Bowie was cremated in New Jersey and his ashes were scattered in accordance with Buddhist rituals in Bali, Indonesia.[16][17] Bowie had vacationed in Bali in the 1980s and had written the song "Tumble and Twirl" about his exploits there.[18]



Flowers at the Bowie mural in Brixton, London

Memorials to Bowie were created around the world in the hours following his death. In Brixton, the London area in which Bowie was born, a mural painted in 2013 by Australian artist Jimmy C became a shrine at which fans left flowers, records and handwritten messages.[19] The mural features Bowie as he appeared on his iconic Aladdin Sane album cover, with a lightning flash across his face. In Berlin, fans left flowers outside the flat in which Bowie and Iggy Pop had lived while Bowie created his seminal "Berlin trilogy" of albums—Low, Heroes and Lodger—in the late 1970s as well as Pop's albums The Idiot and Lust for Life (which Bowie produced).[20] Flowers were also left outside Bowie’s New York City apartment and next to his star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame in Los Angeles.[21] In Milan, fans held a flash mob memorial service in Colonne di San Lorenzo[22] while fans in Rio de Janeiro paid tribute to Bowie in February's Rio Carnival.[23] In Japan, hours after Bowie's death, a devoted fan was arrested for threatening to commit suicide with a box cutter in public.[24]

Other musiciansEdit

Groninger Museum, Netherlands Bowie tribute (February 2016)

Tony Visconti, who produced a number of Bowie's albums including the "Berlin trilogy" and Young Americans, wrote: "He always did what he wanted to do. 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. I knew for a year this was the way it would be. 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".[25]

Mick Jagger said "David was always an inspiration to me and a true original. He was wonderfully shameless in his work. We had so many good times together ... He was my friend. I will never forget him". Friend and collaborator Iggy Pop described him on social media as "the light of my life", while singer Madonna tweeted: "Talented. Unique. Genius. Game Changer" and sang "Rebel, Rebel" at her Houston concert. The rock group Queen, with whom he collaborated on "Under Pressure", tweeted a link to the video of the song, with the words: "This is our last dance...."[26]

Elton John commented that "we all know how inspiring he is. We all know that his music stands. We don't have to say anything about the music: it speaks for itself. He was innovative, he was boundary-changing, and he danced to his own tune—which in any artist is really rare".[27] John also performed a cover of "Space Oddity" at the Wiltern Theater in Los Angeles two days after Bowie's death.[28]

Kate Bush, noted for rarely giving public statements, told The Guardian in an interview: "David Bowie had everything. He was intelligent, imaginative, brave, charismatic, cool, sexy and truly inspirational both visually and musically. He created such staggeringly brilliant work, yes, but so much of it and it was so good. There are great people who make great work but who else has left a mark like his? No one like him".[29]

The Who honoured Bowie during their concert of 3 March 2016 at New York's Madison Square Garden with images of Bowie and noting "We'll miss our friend, a true icon of music and art, and a brilliant innovator."[30]

Debbie Harry said "Who doesn't love Bowie? A visionary artist, musician, actor, a completely renaissance man who has given us a long list of songs like 'Heroes,' 'Rebel Rebel,' 'Young Americans,' 'Diamond Dogs,' 'The Jean Genie,' and some memorable film performances like The Man Who Fell to Earth, Basquiat, Labyrinth, The Hunger. I can't say enough things about David Bowie to show how much I love him." [31] Paul McCartney, meanwhile, shared a picture of him and Bowie together on Instagram and commented that "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".[32]

Bruce Springsteen commented "Over here on E Street, we're feeling the great loss of David Bowie. David was a visionary artist and an early supporter of our music. Always changing and ahead of the curve, he was an artist whose excellence you aspired to. He will be sorely missed."[33] Bowie had previously recorded cover versions of Springsteen's songs "Growin' Up" and "It's Hard to Be a Saint in the City" early on in Springsteen's career.[34] On the opening night of The River Tour 2016 in Pittsburgh on January 16, Springsteen & the E Street Band opened their encore with a cover of "Rebel Rebel".[35]

Yoko Ono also noted Bowie's friendship with herself and John Lennon, and thanked him for being a "father figure" to her son following Lennon's death.[36]

Homages from outside of pop cultureEdit

British Prime Minister David Cameron paid tribute to Bowie, calling him "an immense British talent" and stating "musically, creatively, artistically, David Bowie was a genius".[37][38]

The German Foreign Office tweeted "Good-bye, David Bowie. You are now among #Heroes. Thank you for helping to bring down the #wall", referencing Bowie's time in Berlin in the 1970s as well as his 1987 concert near the Berlin wall.[39]

Vatican Cardinal Gianfranco Ravasi tweeted some of the words to Bowie's song "Space Oddity" in memoriam after Bowie's death.[40]

Given the astronomical theme of several of his works, tributes also came from numerous astronauts and astronomers, including Chris Hadfield and Neil deGrasse Tyson. NASA tweeted "The stars look very different today" from their official Twitter account, directly quoting "Space Oddity".[41]

Analysis of BlackstarEdit

Bowie's final album, Blackstar—styled as ★ on the cover—was heavily analysed following his death, and numerous supposed clues about Bowie's fate were discussed. The album's second single "Lazarus" includes the lyrics "Look up here, I'm in heaven/I've got scars that can't be seen", which appeared in numerous news publications after his death.[42] The album's title was also believed to have symbolised death; it is the name given to a cancerous lesion, as well as the term for the transitional state between a collapsed star and a singularity. It is also reminiscent of the name of a little-known song about death by one of Bowie's musical idols, Elvis Presley, which features the lyrics "When a man sees his flaming star, he knows his time has come".[43] The video for "Lazarus" included visuals of Bowie retreating into a wooden cupboard, and writing with a skull on his desk—seemed to many to symbolise Bowie's imminent death.[43]

Other lyrics were also scrutinised; the track "Dollar Days", for example, featured the line, "Don't believe for just one second I'm forgetting you/I'm trying to/I'm dying to". The title and refrain of the album's final track, "I Can't Give Everything Away", was believed by some commentators to refer to Bowie keeping his imminent fate private whilst hinting at it throughout the album, while its use of the harmonica solo from "A New Career in a New Town"—an instrumental track on Bowie's 1977 album Low which refers to his move to Berlin—was considered a reference to Bowie beginning another new phase of his life.[43]

Impact on music salesEdit

Immediately following Bowie's death, sales of his albums and singles soared. Blackstar, already on track to claim the number one spot in the United Kingdom, accelerated in sales and stayed atop the albums chart for three weeks, as well as topping the Billboard 200 chart in the United States.[44] Blackstar also topped the album charts in 24 different countries, including France, Germany and Italy, while it also made the top 5 in a further six different countries, including Japan and South Korea.

In the United States, Bowie's combined album and song sales rose to 682,000 following his death, which was a rise of more than 5,000%.[45] Another nine of his albums re-entered in the Billboard 200, including The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars, Hunky Dory, Let's Dance, Aladdin Sane, Low, and The Next Day. On the Billboard Hot Rock Songs chart, Bowie broke the record for most entries by a single artist with 21 songs.[46]

Blackstar was replaced at number one in the UK by his 2002 compilation Best of Bowie, making Bowie the first artist to replace themselves atop the album chart since Michael Jackson did so following his death in 2009.[47] In the week following his death, Bowie had 19 albums and 13 singles in the top 100 charts for both categories, with his 1977 single ""Heroes"" reaching a new peak of number 12.[48] Bowie would later equal Elvis Presley's record for most albums in the top 40 at one time, with twelve.[49]

In France, David Bowie had three singles enter the top 10, including "Space Oddity" which peaked at number one and gave Bowie his first chart-topping single in the country. The Bowie compilation album Nothing Has Changed also gained new peaks worldwide in countries where it had never made the top 10, rising to number one in New Zealand (where it spent four weeks), number three in Australia, number four in Austria and Germany, number five in Switzerland, number six in Netherlands, number seven in Hungary, number eight in Italy and number nine in Italy. Global streams of Bowie's music on streaming service Spotify also spiked by 2,822% after his death, while the singer occupied all ten of the top ten music videos on the iTunes video chart.[50]

Bowie was the biggest-selling vinyl artist of 2016 in the UK, with five albums in the vinyl Top 30, including Blackstar as the number one selling vinyl album of the year. BPI, who oversees the charts, noted that Bowie's album likely "would have sold in large volumes" even had Bowie not died.[51]

Tributes and servicesEdit

Several artists performed songs by Bowie during concerts in the weeks following his death, including Elton John, Madonna, Bruce Springsteen and Red Hot Chili Peppers.[52] Numerous cities across the world also held events to remember Bowie.[53] A concert at Carnegie Hall in New York City called The Music of David Bowie had already been announced, and was turned into a memorial event after news of his death broke; tickets sold out in two hours.[54] A number of artists also performed and paid tribute at a memorial event in London's Union Chapel six days after his passing.[55] Lady Gaga was chosen to perform a tribute to Bowie at the 58th Annual Grammy Awards, which featured a medley of his songs such as "Space Oddity", "Changes", "Ziggy Stardust", "Fame", and "Let's Dance".[56] In New Orleans, a large Second line parade was led by the band Arcade Fire in the French Quarter. The event was held in February with fans packing the streets dressed in their Bowie-inspired attire.[57] The rock band Phish performed Bowie's The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars album in its entirety as their Halloween costume at the MGM Grand Garden Arena on 31 October 2016[58] Bowie was presented the Brits Icon award in February 2016, a few weeks after his death. Singer Annie Lennox paid tribute to Bowie at the presentation, singer Lorde performed "Life on Mars?" with Bowie's old touring band, Bowie's friend and actor Gary Oldman accepted the award on Bowie's behalf.[59]

The video game Omikron: The Nomad Soul, in which Bowie voiced characters, composed the soundtrack, and contributed to the story writing, was offered as a free download for a week following Bowie's death.[60]

David Bowie was included in the "In Memoriam" tribute at the 88th Academy Awards in a performance by Dave Grohl.[61]

Lin-Manuel Miranda was writing songs for the Disney film Moana after Bowie died, and said "The world had already been mourning Bowie, I’d been listening to Bowie on a loop" and as a result wrote the song "Shiny" partially as a tribute to him.[62]

On American Idol's 15th-season finale, the winners sang some of Bowie's most famous songs on stage.[63]

Glenn Branca, whom Bowie had met and had referred to as an influence on his Tin Machine music, released The Light (for David) in 2016. Branca called Bowie "a kind of muse" and wrote the piece as a tribute to him. [64]


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