Bowie, a singer, songwriter, actor and fashion icon, has been an influence in some way on nearly every modern artist, from Kanye West to Madonna to U2 to Lorde to Lady Gaga. His influence can be felt in punk rock, new wave and alternative music, ambient, dance, electronic music, and beyond. Through the decades, his music encompassed pop, glam rock, R&B, funk, dance, soul, progressive rock, hard rock and more.
Tony Visconti was there to produce Bowie’s classic 1969 album, Space Oddity, beginning a nearly half-century partnership that ended when he produced Blackstar. In a brief yet moving message on Facebook, Visconti makes it clear he knew Blackstar would be Bowie’s final album. “He always did what he wanted to do. And he wanted to do it his way and he wanted to do it the best way,” writes Visconti. “His death was no different from his life — a work of Art. He made Blackstar for us, his parting gift. I knew for a year this was the way it would be. I wasn’t, however, prepared for it. He was an extraordinary man, full of love and life. He will always be with us. For now, it is appropriate to cry.”
While his breakthrough hit was 1969’s “Space Oddity,” about ill-fated astronaut Major Tom, Bowie’s defining moment was the creation of his alter-ego, Ziggy Stardust, a bisexual alien rock superstar whose exploits were documented in the 1972 glam-rock masterpiece The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders From Mars.
Around that time, Bowie also publicly stated that he was gay, but that might have been a publicity stunt. Still, his gender-bending wardrobe, outrageous style and fluid sexuality made him irresistible to men and women alike. In 1976, he said he was bisexual, but in 1983, he told Rolling Stone, that he “always was a closet heterosexual,” and said that publicly declaring he was bisexual was “the biggest mistake I ever made.” Asked about that comment in 2002, he said that he felt stating that he was bisexual ultimately “stood in the way of so much I wanted to do” in America, because it “is a very puritanical place.”
Bowie’s first U.S. #1 was “Fame,” co-written by his good friend, John Lennon. His only other U.S. #1 hit was 1983’s “Let’s Dance,” but his catalog includes a string of classic songs: “Heroes,” “Changes,” “China Girl,” “Rebel Rebel,” “Diamond Dogs,” “Suffragette City,” “Life on Mars,” “Modern Love” and more. He collaborated with artists as diverse as Iggy Pop, Bing Crosby, Queen, Mick Jagger and Tina Turner. He produced albums for Iggy Pop’s Stooges, Lou Reed and Mott the Hoople, for whom he wrote the hit “All the Young Dudes.”
As an actor, Bowie, who was trained in theater and mime, appeared in films as diverse as Labyrinth, The Man Who Fell to Earth, The Hunger, The Last Temptation of Christ, The Prestige and Zoolander. “Lazarus,” one of the songs from Blackstar, also is the title track of a stage musical that opened in New York City last week and that was inspired by the alien character Bowie portrayed in The Man Who Fell to Earth.