There were four words that had never crossed my mind that I would have to be writing, at least not for many, many years — David Bowie has died.
It still causes me much pain and confusion to even ponder the idea that David Bowie is gone. Of course we’re all very mortal, whether we want to accept that fact or not, but for some reason Bowie just seemed like one of those people who would always be here.
I’m no music scholar and I can’t say I’ve ever followed Bowie as faithfully as some of my friends have, but his music was certainly a major part of my universe. I believe “Fame” was probably the first of his songs that I knew from the local radio station playing it every morning at the same exact time as my clock radio was waking me up for another day of school. The song was ingrained in my subconscious as it played while I was slowly waking from my sleep.
A few years later, I got a job at a local record store (the age of vinyl and eight track tapes) and one of my co-workers was a huge Bowie fan. She had the Young Americans album on constant rotation in the store, so I became more familiar with his music and count “Young Americans” as one of my favorite Bowie tunes. In fact, I was just out recently for dinner and the song was playing in the restaurant! Another of my Bowie milestones came while I worked at another record store and, even though it was a few years old at the time, the Let’s Dance album was still prevalent with the hits “China Girl,” “Let’s Dance” and “Modern Love” all modern classics (as well as his haunting, rocking collaboration with Girogio Moroder on the theme song for Cat People). And while working at my third record store, I finally had a chance to see Bowie in concert when he toured with Nine Inch Nails … a show I nearly missed because of horrific traffic on what was a then a new, incomplete two-lane highway going to a brand new outdoor amphitheater in Virginia. Nine Inch Nails was just finishing up by the time we arrived (completely missing the opening act), but we did get to see the full Bowie show.
One of my favorite songs has to be “Under Pressure” which Bowie recorded with Queen. The most indelible memory I have with that song was the performance Bowie gave with my all-time favorite female singer, Annie Lennox, at the Freddie Mercury Tribute Concert. It’s just one of those things you can never forget.
Bowie’s musical legacy will live on and be unsurpassed for generations, a true visionary in music, art and fashion. But Bowie also has an acting legacy, with iconic performances that will also linger for generations.
Bowie had a few small acting credits to his name between 1967 and 1970 in short films and on television. It wasn’t until 1976 when Nicolas Roeg cast him as an alien (a part tailor-made for him at the time) who comes to earth to get water for his dying planet. The Man Who Fell To Earth has become a cult classic with an iconic Bowie performance that opened many more doors for him in Hollywood. Following that film, he appeared in the last movie starring Marlene Dietrich, Just a Gigolo in 1978, followed by German film Christiane F. in 1981.
In 1983, he took on another role that would garner him some rave reviews – John Blaylock in the artsy vampire movie The Hunger starring alongside Catherine Deneuve and Susan Sarandon. Bowie’s fashionable style fit the role perfectly, but it was a combination of Dick Smith’s stunning age makeup and Bowie’s performance as the truly ancient vampire that won audiences over. He even went on to host a TV adaptation of the movie in 1999.
Between 1983 and 1986, Bowie appeared in several film, sometimes uncredited, including Merry Christmas, Mr. Lawrence, Yellowbeard, Into the Night and Absolute Beginners, but none of those films struck a chord with audiences. It wasn’t until 1986 when Bowie played Jareth the Goblin King in the Henson Company’s Labyrinth that he had another role which suited him perfectly and has become the most iconic of his film performances, winning over new generations of fans with parents who grew up with the movie.
After Labyrinth, Bowie appeared in Martin Scorsese’s The Last Temptation of Christ as Pontius Pilate, an episode of HBO’s Dream On, and The Linguini Incident before taking on the truly bizarre role of FBI agent Philip Jeffries in Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me in 1992. In 1996, Bowie took on the role of Andy Warhol in the biopic Basquiat, appeared as himself in both Zoolander in 2001 and Ricky Gervais’ Extras in 2006, played Nikola Tesla in The Prestige and lent his voice to Arthur and the Invisibles and Spongebob SquarePants. His last film appearance was as himself in the film Bandslam in 2009.
Bowie passed away on January 10, 2016, just two days after his 69th birthday and the release of his final album Blackstar. Prior to the album’s release, Bowie had remained out of the public eye and even said he would never tour again. A music video was released for the song “Lazarus,” and in hindsight it seems that all the signs were there that something bad was about to happen (Bowie had been diagnosed with cancer eighteen months ago, and his producer has confirmed that the final album and videos were carefully planned as a parting gift for the fans). On January 11 it seems unfathomable to think that we’re now in a world that will no longer anticipate what David Bowie has up his sleeve, but whether he was Ziggy Stardust, The Thin White Duke, Major Tom, Aladdin Sane or the Goblin King, at least we have a musical and filmic legacy that will live on forever.