David Bowie dead at 69 after battle with cancer
Published Monday, January 11, 2016 2:16AM EST
Last Updated Monday, January 11, 2016 11:26PM EST
After a half-century of pushing cultural boundaries with his art, British rocker David Bowie is dead at the age of 69.
A statement posted to Bowie's Facebook page said the star died peacefully on Sunday, surrounded by his family after an 18-month fight with cancer.
Bowie released his final album "Blackstar" to positive reviews on Friday, his birthday.
A music video for the first single "Lazarus" appears to foreshadow the death. It shows him lying in a hospital bed as he sings, "look up here, I'm in heaven.”
“Lazarus” the musical had already sold out in New York.
“Blackstar” hit No. 1 on iTunes Monday.
Bowie landed on the U.K. charts in 1969 with his single, "Space Oddity,” just as the world was captivated by the U.S. moon landing.
In 1972, he re-emerged as the alter ego Ziggy Stardust with a new album, "The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars."
The album was based on the concept of a rock star from outer space who was trying to make his way in the music world.
Ziggy Stardust shocked fans with his androgynous outfits, weird make-up and fiery red-orange hair.
Music industry expert Eric Alper said one particular performance on the British TV show "Top of The Pops" remains a defining moment for pop music.
"Everybody watching knew that you didn't have to have any barriers anymore," he told CTV's Canada AM of that performance. "You can be gay; you can be bisexual; you can pretend you're from space, and a lot of people did."
It was this spirit of pioneering and boundary-breaking that made Bowie an icon for all those who felt that they somehow didn't fit in.
In a moving letter to the star, delivered at the 2013 opening of the "David Bowie Is" art exhibit in London, actress Tilda Swinton noted how Bowie had a way of bringing people together.
"The freak becomes the great unifier," the letter said. "The alien is the best company after all."
Bowie continued to re-invent himself over the years, not just in appearance, but also with his sound.
Following Ziggy Stardust, he released "Changes," co-wrote the song "Fame" with John Lennon, and collaborated with Brian Eno on "Heroes."
He achieved greater success in the 1980s with the album "Let's Dance," which featured the singles "Modern Love" and "China Girl."
He also released one of his biggest singles, "Under Pressure," which he recorded with Queen in 1981.
In a 2002 interview coinciding with the release of “Heathen,” Bowie told CTV’s Lisa LaFlamme that he had gone through a period where he was “being lazy” and “cutting corners creatively,” which left him “so depressed.”
“I felt kind of shallow and like I was letting myself down,” he said.
Bowie took issue with the suggestion that he was constantly re-inventing himself just because his clothing or hair would change.
In fact, he said his music was always driven by the same thing.
“It really is about, centrally, isolationism,” he told LaFlamme, adding he wasn’t sure whether it was “personal emotional isolation or spiritual isolation.”
Bowie said space was simply a metaphor for “that big well of nothingness inside,” adding that he had no interest in actually going there.
“I would rather chew pieces of cement than get on a spaceship,” he said. “They’re dangerous, those mothers. They blow up. Thank you, no.”
Bowie’s music made it to space regardless. It was performed in a widely-shared 2013 cover by Canadian astronaut Chris Hadfield, who tweeted his farewell to Bowie on Monday.
British astronaut Tim Peake, who is currently aboard the International Space Station, also tweeted to express his condolences.
Other tributes poured onto social media from a diverse group of musicians, including Mick Jagger, Madonna, Paul McCartney, Iggy Pop and Kanye West.
Bowie was born in the Brixton area of London, U.K., on Jan. 8, 1947. He married twice, first to model and actress Mary Angela Barnett from 1970 to 1980, and to supermodel Iman since 1992.
He leaves behind two children, Duncan Jones and Alexandria Zahra Jones.
With files from The Associated Press