David Bowie (born David Robert Jones)
January 8, 1947 – January 10, 2016
Singer/songwriter and rock icon David Bowie passed away yesterday after a private 18 month battle with cancer. According to his publicist, Bowie died peacefully surrounded by his family and friends. Bowie was 69 years old.
Born David Jones in Brixton, London, Bowie was the son of Haywood “John” and Margaret “Peggy” Jones. His father was a promotions officer for Barnardo’s while his mother worked as a waitress. It was when Bowie was nine years old that he discovered rock n roll music. Sooner or later, Bowie picked up on how to play ukulele. In school, Bowie studied art, music and design. In 1962, Bowie found himself in a fight over a girl with his friend George Underwood. Underwood punched Bowie in his left eye, leaving Bowie in the hospital for four months. For the rest of his life, Bowie was left with weak depth perception as well as a permanently dilated pupil- giving Bowie a unique look.
Bowie formed his first band at the age of 15. By 1967, he found himself signed to Deram- the record label that would release his self-titled debut album that same year. Around this time, Bowie changed his previous stage name of Davy Jones, as there was already a famous Davy Jones at that time. He changed it to David Bowie, drawing inspiration from 19th century frontiersman Jim Bowie and the knife he named after himself. Even as David Bowie, Bowie’s debut album was a commercial flop. It wasn’t until 1969 when Bowie was able to score his first hit with the novelty tune “Space Oddity.”
In 1971, Bowie formed his own backing group the Spiders from Mars. Along with Marc Bolan and T. Rex, Bowie was one of the leading figures in the gender-bending sub-genre of glam rock. In concert, Bowie was extravagant as he and his band were decked out in spandex outfits and make-up. In 1972, Bowie had reached the peak of his career with the classic album The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars. From 1971-74, Bowie was releasing hit after hit: “Changes,” “John, I’m Only Dancing,” “Starman,” “Suffragette City,” “The Jean Genie,” “Life on Mars,” and “Rebel, Rebel” just to name a few.
Musically, Bowie was known for being a chameleon- as he kept reinventing himself every few years. After the release of Diamond Dogs, Bowie decided to abandon glam rock and branch out. This started in 1975 with the release of Young Americans, Bowie’s Philly soul album. The album spawned two hit singles with the title track and “Fame,” the latter of which he co-wrote with John Lennon. Bowie experimented with a wide variety of sub-genres: Krautrock (“Sound and Vision,” “Heroes”), new wave (“Ashes to Ashes,” “Let’s Dance”), alternative (Outside) and electronica (Earthling).
Bowie often collaborated with other artists. During the peak of his career in the early 1970s, he took artists such as Lou Reed, Iggy Pop and Mott the Hoople under his wing. For Reed and Pop, Bowie produced albums for them. In 1972, Bowie and his guitarist Mick Ronson produced Reed’s sophomore effort Transformer- which would have a hit single with “Walk On the Wild Side.” With Pop, Bowie produced the Stooges’ third studio album Raw Power in 1973. When the Stooges split in the mid 1970’s, Bowie helped Pop kickstart his solo career with The Idiot and Lust For Life. When Pop was struggling financially, Bowie came to the rescue by re-recording “China Girl” in 1983- a song Bowie and Pop wrote together for The Idiot. As for Mott the Hoople, Bowie helped the struggling band by producing their fifth studio album All The Young Dudes. The title track, written by Bowie, was a hit for the band. In the 1980s, Bowie recorded hit duets with several artists. In 1981, he sang alongside Freddie Mercury on Queen’s hit single “Under Pressure.” He also recorded “Peace on Earth/Little Drummer Boy” with Bing Crosby for Crosby’s 1977 special. When released as a single in 1982, it became a hit. In 1985, Bowie covered Martha and the Vandellas’ “Dancing in the Street” with Mick Jagger- which was promoted with an infamous music video.
Aside from music, Bowie also acted in several movies. His first movie was the 1976 sci-fi cult classic The Man Who Fell To Earth. Bowie’s other notable movie roles include 1982’s Merry Christmas Mr. Lawrence as Major Jack Celliers, Jim Henson’s 1986 fantasy musical Labyrinth as Jareth the Goblin King, and Martin Scorsese’s The Last Temptation of Christ as Pontius Pilate. His last movie role was in 2006 in Christopher Nolan’s The Prestige as Nikola Tesla. In the early 1980s, Bowie received praise for his performance as Joseph Merrick in the stage adaptation of The Elephant Man.
In his lifetime, Bowie was married twice. From 1970-80, he was married to Mary “Angie” Bowie (nee Barnett). Together, the couple had a son named Duncan Jones (aka Zowie Bowie during his childhood) in 1971. Jones is now a successful film director, having worked on movies such as Moon, Source Code and the upcoming Warcraft. Since 1992, Bowie was married to model Iman. With Iman, he had a daughter named Alexandria in 2000.
Two days before Bowie’s passing, he had released his 25th studio album Blackstar. According to the album’s producer Tony Visconti, Bowie wanted the album to be his “parting gift” to his fans. Other reports suggest that some of the songs from the album were about accepting his eventual death. Whatever the case may be, David Bowie left this planet having accomplished many things. His influence can be seen and heard in almost every artist that has come after him. From his music to his live performances, it’s easy to say that David Bowie will be missed.
Rest in peace, Mr. Bowie.