Iconic rocker David Bowie has died at the age of 69.
The “Life on Mars” singer passed away on Sunday, two days after his 69th birthday and his latest album release, Blackstar, following an 18-month battle with cancer.
A statement on his 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.”
His son Duncan Jones, known as Zowie Bowie, shared an old black and white picture of him as a child sat on his father’s shoulders on Twitter and wrote, “Very sorry and sad to say it’s true. I’ll be offline for a while. Love to all.”
Born David Robert Jones, he grew up in Brixton, south London with his mother Peggy and his father John, a promotions officer for U.K. children’s charity Barnardo’s.
His musical ability was evident from a young age. He impressed with his skills on the recorder, while he also picked up the ukelele, tea-chest bass, saxophone and piano as a kid. Bowie was also a member of the school choir and entertained his fellow boy scouts at his local Wolf Club with song-and-dance performances of hits by his childhood idols Elvis Presley and Chuck Berry.
He formed his first band, the Konrads, at the age of 15 and moved on to a string of other groups, including Davie Jones and the King Bees, the Manish Boys, the Lower Third, the Buzz and the Riot Squad, before finally deciding to go solo.
He ditched his birth name due to confusion with fellow 1960s singer Davy Jones of The Monkees, but his big breakthrough didn’t come until 1969, when his song “Space Oddity” was released to coincide with the first moon landing. It became a top five hit in the U.K. charts, but his album of the same name failed to capitalize on the single’s success and it took his creation of Ziggy Stardust, a character from Mars, to propel him back into the spotlight.
The glam rock persona, featuring Bowie with dyed red hair, pale skin and a striking costume, was introduced to fans during a show in London in February,1972 with his backing band the Spiders from Mars, and it quickly attracted a large cult following.
His concept album The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars and the smash hit single “Starman” cemented Bowie’s place in British rock history, and turned him into a cult superstar, known for his camp dress sense and his dramatic sound.
He went on to score crossover success in the U.S. with his 1975 tune “Fame,” from his album Young Americans, and moved into acting the following year, when he was cast as the alien lead in director Nicolas Roeg’s The Man Who Fell to Earth – a character he used to base his next persona, the Thin White Duke, on.
After a lengthy battle with drugs in the ’70s, Bowie moved to Berlin, Germany, where he kicked his habit and began to focus on revitalising his music career. He teamed up with producer Brian Eno for Low, the first of three electronic albums together, on what would become known as the Berlin Trilogy, along with 1977’s Heroes and 1979’s Lodger.
During his time in Berlin, he shared an apartment with Iggy Pop and was instrumental in creating his fellow rocker’s debut solo album The Idiot, and his sophomore, Lust for Life.
Bowie continued to earn critical and commercial success with fan favorite, Scary Monsters (and Super Creeps), and hits like “Ashes to Ashes,” “Under Pressure,” his collaboration with Queen, and “Let’s Dance,” while he also added to his filmography with roles in Nagisa Oshima’s Merry Christmas, Mr. Lawrence, Martin Scorsese’s The Last Temptation of Christ, and 1986’s big budget fantasy classic, Labyrinth. He even left his mark on the Broadway stage in a 1980 production of The Elephant Man, playing the title character, John Merrick.
Bowie headlined the Concert for New York City in 2001 to benefit the victims of the 9/11 terrorist attacks and embarked on a world tour to support his last album, 2003’s Reality. However, the trek was cut short in 2004 after he was diagnosed with a blocked artery, which required him to undergo heart surgery.
The veteran musician took a significant step back from the limelight after the operation, although he continued to dabble in acting, taking on small parts in The Prestige and comedian Ricky Gervais’ TV series Extras in 2005. He also voiced a character in popular cartoon SpongeBob SquarePants in 2007.
His live music appearances in his latter years were rare, joining Arcade Fire onstage in 2005 and David Gilmour in London in 2006 – the same year he was awarded the Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award.
His final recordings included the 2013 album The Last Day and his most recent album Blackstar, which was released on his 69th birthday on Friday. The record features the new single “Lazarus,” the name of his current off-Broadway musical.
The production, which is based on the Walter Tevis novel The Man Who Fell to Earth, closes at the New York Theater Workshop on January 19.
Bowie, who sold an estimated 140 million records over his lengthy career, is widely regarded as one of the most influential artists in pop history, and was ranked at number 29 on a BBC poll of the 100 Greatest Britons in 2002.
The singer was made a Commander of the Order of Arts and Letters by French government officials in 1999, but rejected two top civilian awards by the British monarchy – the Commander of the British Empire medal in 2000 and a knighthood in 2003.
He married twice. His first union to Angie Bowie, the mother of his filmmaker son Zowie Bowie ended in divorce in 1980, and he went on to wed Somalian-American model Iman in 1992. They welcomed their only child, daughter Alexandria, in 2000.