David Bowie, Legendary Rock Artist, Dead at 69

Updated: Jan 11, 2016 2:38 PM ET

The British musician David Bowie died on Sunday after an 18-month battle with cancer, two days after his 69th birthday.

The artist's verified Facebook and Twitter accounts were the first to post the news, which his son, Duncan Jones, then confirmed to Sky News.

Bowie was one of the most celebrated musicians of modern times and for many years a figurehead of pop's avant-garde. He was born David Robert Jones in South London in 1947 and used this surname in the early days of his career, but by 20, he was Bowie: the svelte, almost foppish pop singer increasingly keen on melding the traditions of rock ’n’ roll with the stylistic affectations of camp. Two years later, on his eponymous second album, he released Space Oddity, the track still praised as one of his masterpieces and the one that introduced the world to Major Tom, the astronaut who wistfully sets off to explore the cosmos.

BRITAIN-MUSIC-OBIT-BOWIEFlowers are left beneath a mural of British singer David Bowie, painted by street artist James Cochran, known as Jimmy C, following the announcement of Bowie's death, in Brixton, south London, on Jan. 11, 2016.  Chris Ratcliffe—AFP/Getty Images 

He was a willful shape-shifter. Major Tom was one in an ensemble of alter egos, which contributed in part to the legendary theatricality of his stage shows. There was, in 1972, Ziggy Stardust, who affirmed the popular image of Bowie as a dazzling androgyne; a year later, there was Aladdin Sane, a darker iteration of Ziggy, haunted by the scepters of fame and drug addiction; in 1976, we met the Thin White Duke, whom writer David Buckley later described as a debonair "barman from hell" inspired by the artist's penchant for cocaine.

By the early 1980s, after a decade of hit singles like "Young Americans" and "Fame," he was "music's most exquisite artifact," as TIME critic Jay Cocks wrote in 1983. That year, when new-wave sounds of bands like New Order and Duran Duran were setting the tenor of pop, his album Let's Dance propelled him to a new stratosphere of fame.

He was a pioneer beyond music. In a 1976 interview with Playboy, he casually identified himself as bisexual, at a time when bisexuality — or even homosexuality — did not necessarily sit well with the public palate. He was married twice, both times to women: first, from 1970 until 1980 to Angie Barnett, who later alleged he had an affair with Rolling Stones front man Mick Jagger, and again to the Somali-American fashion model named as Iman, from 1992 until his death. The couple had one daughter together; Duncan Jones, 44, is from Bowie's marriage with Barnett.

See Intimate Photos of David Bowie Throughout His Career

David Bowie, "Smiling and Waving and Looking So Fine," 1972.
David Bowie, "Smiling and Waving and Looking So Fine," 1972.©Sukita—Courtesy of Morrison Hotel Gallery
David Bowie, "Smiling and Waving and Looking So Fine," 1972.
David Bowie, "The First Time I Saw You," 1972.
David Bowie, "Keep Your 'Lectric Eye," 1973.
David Bowie, "Watch That Man III," 1973.
David Bowie, "Heroes to Come," 1977.
David Bowie, "Heroes," 1977.
David Bowie, "A Day in Kyoto 2- Hankyu Train," 1980.
David Bowie, "A Day in Kyoto 3- Platform," 1980.
David Bowie, "Ki," 1989.
David Bowie, "Smiling and Waving and Looking So Fine," 1972.
©Sukita—Courtesy of Morrison Hotel Gallery
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Kanye West hailed David Bowie as one of his "most important inspirations" in a tribute to the singer on Twitter. He says Bowie was "so fearless, so creative, he gave us magic for a lifetime."

The American singer Iggy Pop tweeted:

British rocker Billy Idol also took to Twitter to describe his loss, saying he was "nearly brought to tears" by the sudden news of Bowie's passing, adding "RIP."

Former Prime Minister Tony Blair, who described himself as a huge fan, said Bowie would be "deeply mourned." "From the time I saw his Ziggy Stardust concert as a student, I thought he was a brilliant artist and an exciting and interesting human being," Blair said in a statement. "It was a great privilege when I got to meet him later in life."

David Bowie is seen c. 1965.
David Bowie is seen c. 1965.CA—Redferns/Getty Images
David Bowie is seen c. 1965.
David Bowie during a portrait session in 1966 in London.
David Bowie in his "Ziggy Stardust" guise in June, 1972 in London.
Twiggy poses with David Bowie for the cover of his Pin Ups album in 1973 in Paris.
David Bowie performs c. 1973.
From left: Angie Bowie, his son Zowie Bowie (Duncan Jones) and David Bowie, appear at a press conference at the Amstel Hotel on Feb. 7, 1974 in Amsterdam, Netherlands.
David Bowie is seen with a large barking dog while working on the artwork for his album Diamond Dogs in London in 1974.
From left: David Bowie, Yoko Ono and John Lennon at the 17th Annual Grammy Awards on Feb. 28, 1975 in New York City.
David Bowie during the filming of The Man Who Fell To Earth in Los Angeles in 1976.
Iggy Pop and David Bowie in Germany in March 1977.
David Bowie performs on Saturday Night Live on Dec. 15, 1979 in New York City.
From left: Carmine Rojas, David Bowie, and Carlos Alomar perform during the Serious Moonlight tour in 1983 at Wembley Arena in London.
Paul McCartney and David Bowie backstage at Live Aid on July 13, 1985 in London.
David Bowie plays an acoustic guitar while being photographed at a press conference in Tokyo on May 19, 1990.
The ConcerAnnie Lennox and David Bowie perform "Under Pressure" at the Freddie Mercury Tribute Concert on April 20, 1992 in London.
David Bowie onstage at Madison Square Garden for his 50th Birthday Concert in New York City on Jan. 9, 1997.
David Bowie is seen while being honored with a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame in Hollywood, Calif. on Feb. 12, 1997.
David Bowie performs during the Isle of Wight Festival at Seaclose Park on June 13, 2004 in Newport, U.K.
David Bowie performs with Arcade Fire at Conde Nast's 2005 Fashion Rocks Show on Sept. 8, 2005 in New York City.
David Bowie during his last live performance on Nov. 09, 2006 in New York City.
David Bowie attends the 2010 CFDA Fashion Awards at Alice Tully Hall at Lincoln Center on June 7, 2010 in New York City.
David Bowie and Iman are seen on April 28, 2011 in New York City.
David Bowie in 2015.
David Bowie is seen c. 1965.
CA—Redferns/Getty Images
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Comedian Ricky Gervais, who persuaded his idol to appear on his television show, "Extras," wrote on Twitter: "I just lost a hero. RIP David Bowie." In a 2010 article, Gervais wrote about how David Bowie inspired him and how he later met him and worked with him. He wrote:

A few years later I emailed David on his 57th birthday. It read: “57???? Isn’t it about time you got a proper job? Ricky Gervais, 42, Comedian.” He replied: “I have a proper job. David Bowie, 57, Rock God.”

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