NEW YORK/LONDON – David Bowie, the iconic and shape-shifting British singer whose illustrious career lasted five decades with hits like “Fame,” “Heroes” and “Let’s Dance,” died Sunday after an 18-month battle with cancer. He was 69.
Representative Steve Martin said early Monday that Bowie died “peacefully” and was surrounded by family.
“While many of you will share in this loss, we ask that you respect the family’s privacy during their time of grief,” the statement read. No more details were provided.
Bowie turned 69 on Friday, the same day he released a new album called “Blackstar.”
The singer, who was born David Jones in London, came of age in the glam-rock era of the early 1970s. In the first of many reinventions that were to make him a style icon, he named himself David Bowie in 1966 to avoid confusion with Davy Jones, lead singer with The Monkees.
Bowie had a striking androgynous look in his early days and was known for changing his looks and sounds. He had launched a provocative alter-ego named Ziggy Stardust, and the stuttering rock sound of “Changes” gave way to the disco soul of “Young Americans,” co-written with John Lennon, to a droning collaboration with Brian Eno in Berlin that produced “Heroes.”
He had some of his biggest successes in the early 1980s with the stylish “Let’s Dance,” and a massive American tour.
“My entire career, I’ve only really worked with the same subject matter,” Bowie said in a 2002 interview. “The trousers may change, but the actual words and subjects I’ve always chosen to write with are things to do with isolation, abandonment, fear and anxiety — all of the high points of one’s life.”
At a concert for rescue workers after the 2001 World Trade Center attacks, his performance of “Heroes” was a highlight.
“What I’m most proud of is that I can’t help but notice that I’ve affected the vocabulary of pop music. For me, frankly, as an artist, that’s the most satisfying thing for the ego.”
Bowie was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1996, but he didn’t attend the ceremony. Madonna, another artist who knew something about changing styles to stay ahead of the curve, accepted for him and recounted how a Bowie concert changed her life when she attended it as a teenager. David Byrne, of the art rockers Talking Heads, inducted Bowie and said he gave rock music a necessary shot in the arm.
“Like all rock ‘n’ roll, it was visionary, it was tasteless, it was glamorous, it was perverse, it was fun, it was crass, it was sexy and it was confusing,” Byrne said.
Throughout his career he also appeared in acting and cameo roles in films, from his striking appearance in the 1986 cult hit “Labyrinth” to playing inventor Nikola Tesla in 2006’s “The Prestige.”
His chameleonlike ability to reinvent his image, drawing on everything from mime to kabuki theater, was accompanied by a string of albums until heart problems curtailed his productivity in the 2000s.
He had last performed in 2006 and was rarely seen in public, and it was unclear whether he died at his long-term home in New York or in his native Britain.
He made a moody album three years ago called “The Next Day” — his first recording in a decade, which was made in secret in New York City. “Blackstar,” which earned positive reviews from critics, represented yet another stylistic shift, as he gathered jazz players to join him.
He released a music video on Friday for the new song “Lazarus,” which shows a frail Bowie lying in bed and singing the track’s lyrics. The song begins with the line: “Look up here, I’m in heaven.”
Tributes poured in for the singer. British astronaut Tim Peake tweeted about his sadness from outer space aboard the International Space Station, saying “his music was an inspiration to many.”
British Prime Minister David Cameron tweeted that Bowie’s death is “a huge loss.” He wrote he had grown up listening to and watching Bowie and called the singer a “master of reinvention” and a pop genius who kept on getting it right.
Kanye West said on Twitter that Bowie was one of his “most important inspirations, so fearless, so creative, he gave us magic for a lifetime.”
Bowie felt uneasy about some of his greatest material, once embarking on a “greatest hits” tour saying it would be the last time performing much of his old material. He later relented, however.
“I’m not a natural performer,” he said in the 2002 interview. “I don’t enjoy performing terribly much. Never have. I can do it and, if my mind’s on the situation, do it quite well. But five or six shows in, I’m dying to get off the road and go back into the studio.”
Bowie was married to international supermodel Iman since 1992.