Music legend David Bowie dies aged 69

11th January 2016, Comments 0 comments

British music legend David Bowie has died at the age of 69 after a secret battle with cancer, unleashing a cascade of tributes for one of the most influential and innovative artists of his time.

A notoriously private person, Bowie's death in New York was a shock to the world with the announcement coming just three days after he released his 25th studio album "Blackstar", on his 69th birthday on Friday.

"David Bowie died peacefully today (Sunday) surrounded by his family after a courageous 18-month battle with cancer," said a statement posted Monday on his official social media accounts.

The death brings the curtain down on an extraordinary musical innovator and style icon, with a career dating back to his first major hit "Space Oddity" in 1969, about an astronaut called Major Tom who became lost in orbit.

Tributes poured in from the world of music, show business and politics for the singer-songwriter, producer and actor described as a visionary and master of re-invention.

The Rolling Stones hailed Bowie as an "extraordinary artist", collaborator Iggy Pop called his friendship "the light of my life" while Madonna described him as "Unique. Genius. Game Changer."

Bowie spanned styles ranging from glam rock, New Romantic and dance music to alternative rock, soul and hard rock, underpinned by an astonishing array of stage personas from the sexually ambiguous Ziggy Stardust to the Thin White Duke.

"He will be remembered amongst the greats but not just one of them, as a unique great," said Bowie biographer Paul Trynka, describing him as "a creative force" who redefined pop music over decades.

Fans left flowers and messages by a colourful mural of him in Brixton, the south London district where he was born David Robert Jones on January 8, 1947, and where preparations were under way for a street party in his honour.

Although Bowie left school with just one qualification, an O-level in art, he went on to sell an estimated 140 million records worldwide.

- Master of re-invention -

In the first of many re-inventions, he took the name David Bowie in 1966 to avoid being mixed up with Davy Jones, lead singer with Beatles rivals The Monkees, and also studied Buddhism and mime.

Married twice, he was notorious in the 1970s for his hedonistic lifestyle and ambiguous sexual orientation, once declaring he was bisexual but then retreating from his comments.

During the 70s, he brought out a string of successful albums, dominating the British music scene, and also conquered the United States, his ever-changing fashion as groundbreaking as his music.

Beginning with the critically-acclaimed "Hunky Dory", he went on to produce "The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars", followed by rock album "Aladdin Sane", the apocalyptic "Diamond Dogs" before a fling with so-called plastic soul on "Young Americans".

He then switched gears once more, moving to Berlin to work with the electronic experimentalist Brian Eno to produce a trio of albums -- "Low", "Heroes" and "Lodger".

The 1980s saw him win over a new generation with "Let's Dance", which yielded the hit singles "China Girl" and "Modern Love" before a 1985 team up with Mick Jagger for a cover of "Dancing in the Street" that helped to push the BandAid and LiveAid charity projects.

His chameleon-like ability to reinvent his image, drawing on everything from cabaret to kabuki theatre, was accompanied by a string of albums until heart problems curtailed his productivity in the 2000s.

But he also appeared on screen, making a striking appearance in the 1986 cult film "Labyrinth", playing a prisoner-of-war in Japan "Merry Christmas, Mr Lawrence" (1983) and portraying inventor Nikola Tesla in "The Prestige" (2006).

Rarely seen in public, Bowie's last live performance was a decade ago.

But he surprised the world by launching a surprise single "Where Are We Now?" on his 66th birthday in 2013 after nearly 10 years of silence, recalling his days in Berlin in the 1970s and hailed by critics as a major comeback.

- 'Blackstar, his parting gift' -

An innovator to the end, Bowie on Friday released his final album "Blackstar".

The work can be seen in a new light by the revelation of how ill he was when he created it, with lyrics including "Look up here, I'm in heaven, I've got scars that can't be seen."

Long-time collaborator Tony Visconti wrote on Facebook that he had known for a year what was coming.

"His death was no different from his life -- a work of art," Visconti wrote. "He made Blackstar for us, his parting gift."

He leaves behind his second wife Iman, a Somali-born supermodel who he married in 1992 and with whom he had a daughter, Alexandria Zahra Jones.

He also had a son, film director Duncan Jones, with his first wife Angie Bowie.

She was informed of her ex-husband's death while cut off from the outside world on the television show "Celebrity Big Brother".

Germany thanked Bowie for what it said was his role in helping topple the Berlin Wall in 1989, with a tweet linking to a video of his Cold War-era anthem "Heroes" set in the then-divided city.

"For gay people, he was a leading light to give us hope," said charity worker Charlie Rice, 66, who was visiting the Brixton mural.

"He was fearless."

One tribute came from a real star man: British astronaut Tim Peake, who wrote a message from the International Space Station: "Saddened to hear David Bowie has lost his battle with cancer -- his music was an inspiration to many."

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© 2016 AFP

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