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David Bowie: Rock’s Protean Genius


When David Bowie burst into America’s consciousness in the early 1970s, he was the sort of pop music star the world had never seen before — an androgynous, pasty-faced English enigma with a bouffant of flaming red hair, who sang not of romance or fast cars, but of an extraterrestrial savior coming to rescue our planet from itself.

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But that was just the early version of Bowie, who, before his death on Jan. 10 at age 69, would radically reinvent himself again and again while selling 140 million albums. Often defying mainstream trends, Bowie’s music daringly fluctuated from driving, edgy rock to disco-soul to brooding ballads that brought to mind Bertolt Brecht and Kurt Weill. Here are some facts about his life and career.

  • Born David Robert Jones, he changed his last name to Bowie — after the American knife — to avoid confusion with the Monkees’ Davy Jones.
  • His first musical instrument was the saxophone.
  • After his first solo album flopped when he was 20, he sought solace in a Buddhist monastery in Scotland.
  • He sometimes made his lyrics more cryptic with the literary technique découpé, cutting up a sheet of paper and rearranging sections randomly.
  • He helped resurrect the careers of American rock stars Lou Reed and Iggy Pop.
  • His numerous film roles included a stranded extraterrestrial in The Man Who Fell to Earth (1976), a vampire in The Hunger (1983) and Pontius Pilate in Martin Scorsese’s controversial The Last Temptation of Christ (1988).
  • In the late 1990s, he raised $55 million selling Bowie Bonds, which enabled investors to back his musical career.
  • He released his final album, Blackstar, on his birthday, just three days before his death.

Here, Bowie performs “Space Oddity” on the TV show Midnight Special in the early 1970s.

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This live performance of “Rebel Rebel” was in Paris in 1999.

Here’s “Blackstar,” from his final album.

Photo: Getty Images

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