Very early on Monday morning, the world was shocked to hear the news that David Bowie has died at age 69.
A statement posted to Bowie's Facebook page reads, "January 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."
The news came shortly after Bowie's 69th birthday, a day that marked the release of his 25th studio album, Blackstar. Bowie had also been active in the creation of Lazarus, a new piece of musical theater that incorporates his music with a plot inspired by the 1963 novel and 1976 film The Man Who Fell to Earth.
One of the towering greats of rock history, Bowie also had an impact far beyond the music world. In a career that spanned over half a century, a remarkable series of albums and tours not only won legions of fans and influenced generations of musicians, they changed popular culture as Bowie's famously fluid identity helped to radically expand ideas of gender, sexuality, and self-expression.
The classical world is also mourning Bowie, whose art crossed genres. His creative vision overlapped with those of artists like his collaborator Brian Eno and the composer Philip Glass, whose first and fourth symphonies incorporate music written by Bowie and Eno.
Born in London in 1947, Bowie grew up influenced by early rock and roll and England's dynamic musical subcultures. He formed his first band at age 15, rapidly developing a strong sensibility as a performer and songwriter. Bowie was also interested in the performing arts, broadly construed, from an early age; his wide-ranging artistic interests would bear fruit in his uniquely theatrical career as a rock star.
Bowie's self-titled debut album was released in 1967, a diverse and sometimes whimsical collection that fit with the spirit of its times but also gave notice that Bowie was no ordinary pop star. Over the next decade, Bowie released a series of albums that helped to define the most ambitious edge of '70s rock and pop, taking on a series of personae from the alien Ziggy Stardust to the lonesome Thin White Duke.
While the individual albums became classics of their time, it was the overall arc of Bowie's mercurial career that had the greatest impact outside the music world: Bowie contained multitudes, and showed a generation of young people that they could explore their own identities with a new and empowering freedom.
In the late '70s, Bowie collaborated with Brian Eno and others on what became the most critically-acclaimed albums of his career: the "Berlin trilogy," so called for the city in which Bowie lived while they were being made. Low, "Heroes," and Lodger were concept albums with a starkly emotional punch, wide-ranging and experimental but still containing hits like the title track of "Heroes", its title in quotation marks to add an ironic twist to its anthemic chorus.
Taking yet another left turn, Bowie reigned on the pop charts in the early to mid-1980s; notably, the Nile Rodgers collaboration Let's Dance spawned three Top 20 hits, including the #1 title track. As he approached 40, Bowie settled into his status as an iconic and beloved music figure, one of the most recognizable and fascinating rock stars. Though the 1986 Jim Henson film Labyrinth is his most widely known film, he acted in several movies and stage productions over the course of his career, with Nicolas Roeg's eerie and poignant Man Who Fell To Earth perhaps the most beloved among his fans.
Bowie continued to actively record and tour throughout the 1990s, as aesthetically restless as ever. In the late '80s and early '90s he recorded two albums with the rock group Tin Machine; in the mid-'90s he explored electronica; he dipped into drum and bass in 1997's Earthling.
While Bowie's touring schedule slowed and finally ended in the 2000s, he continued to release albums and collaborate on projects in film, theater, video games, and the visual arts as he earned growing accolades and recognition for his pioneering career. In recent years the career-spanning museum exhibit David Bowie Is, drawing on Bowie's own extensive archives, demonstrated his range and impact.
Tellingly, Bowie never visited the exhibit himself — his focus, even in his final years, remained on the future. Bowie's last two albums, The Next Day (2013) and Blackstar, earned praise as revealing even further dimensions of one of the most chameleonic artists of his time. Of the jazz-influenced Blackstar, "an uncompromising collection of songs," The Current's David Safar writes, "Blackstar is a worthy swan song to a career that few artists ever achieve."