Born: January 8, 1947;
Died: January 10, 2016

DAVID Bowie, who has died aged 69, was, next to Elvis Presley and the Beatles, the most influential and important musician in the history of pop music. Throughout the 1970s he expanded the musical and visual vocabulary of pop while converting emerging musical forms such as disco and electronic music to his own ends. He also opened the door for pop music to talk openly about sexuality when he declared that he was bisexual at the start of that decade. And throughout his musical career he stood for the idea of pop as an imaginative, even utopian, playground.
For a measure of his centrality to the story of pop music one need only imagine it without him. It would be a narrative robbed of much of its otherness, its colour and ambition. It would be robbed, too, of some of pop’s most thrilling and resonant singles, from Life on Mars to the recent Lazarus.
Bowie was born David Jones, the son of a charity worker and a cinema usherette in Brixton, on January 8, 1947, so sharing a birthday with Elvis Presley. “I was probably stupid enough to believe that having the same birthday as [Elvis] actually meant something,” he would say later.
In his teens his older brother Terry Burns – who suffered from mental illness and would commit suicide in 1985 – would introduce him to jazz and modern literature and shortly after his 15th birthday Bowie joined his first band, the Kon-Rads. He left school with a solitary O-level in art and became a trainee commercial artist, before spending the rest of the 1960s pursuing success in a variety of bands. He also trained as a mime artist and even appeared on TV defending men with long hair on the BBC news magazine Tonight.
He released his debut eponymous album – the first of 25 – in 1967 and had his first number one with Space Oddity in the summer of 1969. The BBC used it during their coverage of the Moon landing that year. But the single proved something of a false start for its maker and although he would see some success with the album Hunky Dory it would not be until the release of his album Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars in 1972 that Bowie would become the star he had spent so long aspiring to be.
All the more remarkable then that he killed off his Ziggy persona on stage a year later. It was to be the beginning of a remarkable few years of constant change, which saw him reinvent himself musically and stylistically time and again, via the “plastic soul” of Young Americans, the “Thin White Duke” persona of Station to Station and the pivotal Berlin era albums Low, Heroes and Lodger, the first two of which would become for many his lasting musical legacy. As if this wasn’t enough during those years he also helped reinvigorate the careers of Mott the Hoople, Lou Reed, Iggy Pop and even Lulu, by writing them songs or offering his production skills.
As for his own work, each album saw him adopt a new persona and a distinctively different look, in collaboration with photographers such as Mick Rock and Brian Duffy and fashion designer Kansai Yamamoto who designed his Ziggy stage gear. Cultural commentator Peter York once claimed that Bowie’s distinctive contribution to the decade was introducing “the idea of constant stylisation – oneself as a Work of Art – to a wider audience than ever before.”
“I re-invented my image so many times that I’m in denial that I was originally an overweight Korean woman,” Bowie joked himself.
Of course his cultural impact on the 1970s was at least as important as his music. As early as 1972 he was telling the music press – with a wink –  that he was bisexual. The year before he became a father – to the film director Duncan Jones – with his then wife Angie. They had married the year before.
This all made him a hero to many gay teenagers struggling with their sexuality at a time when homophobia was still rampant in the UK and the United States.
Bowie’s wilful otherness – most obviously in his role as an alien in Nic Roeg’s film The Man Who Fell to Earth – gave others the inspiration and space to find their own position in the world whatever their social or sexual orientation.
Meanwhile, his appearance on Top of the Pops singing Starman, his arm casually draped around the shoulder of guitarist Mick Ronson, was the spark that launched a number of 1980s eyelinered pop careers, from Boy George to Marc Almond.
Bowie was not above rock and roll clichés of course. He risked his health throughout the early years of the 1970s through his excessive drug use. It all added to his dangerous, even cadaverous allure for a while, though it threatened his health and his life. “It’s a miracle that David Bowie, Lou Reed and Iggy Pop are actually still alive today, given how hard they lived,” the photographer Mick Rock would later remark.
Bowie was concerned about his own mental health at the time and also became obsessed with the occult. He then damaged his reputation in 1975 when he started to tell interviewers that Britain needed a strong leader and that he believed “very strongly in fascism”. Adolf Hitler, he told people, was a rock star.
On May 2, 1976 he returned to the UK and was caught by a photographer apparently giving his followers a fascist salute. It was one of the sparks for the Rock Against Racism movement.
Bowie’s reputation recovered from that drug-addled stupidity and he emerged from the cultural year zero inspired by punk unscathed to become a key pop figure in the 1980s.
After giving the New Romantic movement the seal of approval by asking Steve Strange and others to appear in his Ashes to Ashes video, he then returned in 1983 with his most successful persona, as a normal bloke.
The album Let’s Dance, made in collaboration with producer Nile Rodgers, propelled him to the forefront of pop stardom and initiated a decade of commercial success – including an appearance at Live Aid – if increasing critical disdain. Bowie himself was dismissive of his mid-eighties output, claiming his 1987 album Never Let Me Down was “awful”.
He still made some good tracks in that time – many hold his theme tune for the film Absolute Beginners in high regard – but there was also much that wasn’t and his attempt to reinvent himself by forming the band Tin Machine was to prove the nadir of his reputation (although even those years are currently undergoing something of a re-evaluation).
In his time Bowie was also an actor – as well as the Roeg film he appeared in Tony Scott’s The Hunger and Martin Scorsese’s The Last Temptation of Christ among many others, though he received his best notices playing The Elephant Man on Broadway.
He was also an eager painter,  an early adopter of the internet and an astute businessman. In 1997 he invented “Bowie Bonds”, which allowed people to invest in his future earnings. They raised £35 million for the artist after they were sold to the American insurance company Prudential Insurance Inc.
The 1990s also saw him regain his musical reputation with a series of adventurous – if correspondingly less popular – albums which saw him dabble with some of the musical trends of the decade, even including jungle on Earthling.
But a heart attack on stage in 2004 saw him retreat from the public eye and he spent most of the last decade living quietly in New York with his wife of more than two decades Iman and his daughter Alexandria, born in 2000.
In 2013, however, he staged a remarkable coup by releasing an unheralded single Where Are We Now? on his birthday out of the blue, proving that he had not lost his capacity to surprise. It presaged an album The Next Day – released to hugely deserved acclamation – ahead of a museum show at the V&A in London dedicated to his chameleon career.
His last album Blackstar was released on his birthday two days before his death. In retrospect, as many have already noted on social media, it is an album that is in effect a great artist saying goodbye. It is all the harder to listen to now as a result.
His friend and collaborator, producer Tony Visconti, said on Twitter yesterday: “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.”

David Bowie dies aged 69 after cancer battle

Some key statistics from David Bowie's life.

- Five UK number one singles: Space Oddity (1975), Ashes to Ashes (1980), Under Pressure (with Queen - 1981), Let's Dance (1983) and Dancing in the Street (with Mick Jagger -1985)

- 13 weeks at number one in the UK singles chart

- 61 top 40 hits. The first was Space Oddity in September 1969; the most recent was Where Are We Now in January 2013

- 336 weeks spent in the UK top 40 singles chart

- Nine UK number one albums. The first was Aladdin Sane in May 1973; the most recent was The Next Day in March 2013

- 599 weeks in the UK top 40 album chart, including 23 at number one

- 140 million - estimated worldwide record sales, enough to make him one of the top 10 biggest-selling UK artists of all time

- Seven million - copies sold of Let's Dance, Bowie's biggest-selling album

- Two - number of Brit awards, in 1984 and 2014. Both were for Best British Male. Bowie also won one Grammy award in 1985 and one Ivor Novello award in 1969

- One - number of qualifications Bowie achieved at school: a single O-level in art