David Bowie: Celebrating the 'original star-man returned to the stars'

Fans, colleagues and politicians joined the chorus mourning David Bowie, who died on Sunday, and celebrated an ever-changing artist whose sound and influence was remembered as otherworldly. 

Stefan Wermuth/ Reuters
A woman leaves flowers at a mural of David Bowie in his birthdistrict of Brixton, south London, on January 11. The legendary singer's family announced Monday morning that he had passed away on January 10, after an 18-month illness.

As news of David Bowie's death spread Monday morning, fans from Hollywood to the Vatican turned to the legendary musical chameleon's own lyrics for comfort – often with a sense that Bowie penned them for that very purpose.

"Look up here, I'm in heaven," begins "Lazarus," whose video Bowie released just last week: eyes bandaged in bed, the gaunt 69 year old sings, "This way or no way, you know I'll be free."

A Facebook announcement posted early Monday morning from the five-decade star's official page said that the singer "died peacefully [January 10] surrounded by his family after a courageous 18 month battle with cancer." The diagnosis had been a secret from the public, and Bowie released Blackstar, his 25th album, on Friday to coincide with his 69th birthday.

As the Guardian noted, fans seemed shellshocked at the finality of Bowie's last act, unlike his last single's Biblical namesake.

"People seemed to ascribe higher powers to him. As if this pop genius would have somehow twigged a way of escaping death," music editor Tim Jonze wrote, musing that Blackstar was a last goodbye.

"His death was no different from his life – a work of Art. He made Blackstar for us, his parting gift," Bowie's longtime producer Tony Visconti wrote on Facebook. 

Many more took comfort in the idea that Ziggy Stardust had only been lent to earthly fans, and returned to a starry space-rock realm. 

"The original star-man returned to the stars," fellow rocker Florence Welch tweeted, while another fan quoted 1969's "Space Oddity," his first UK Number 1 single:

"This is Major Tom to Ground control

I'm stepping through the door

And I'm floating in the most peculiar way

And the stars look different today" — RIP David Bowie

Even Cardinal Gianfranco Ravasi, President of the Vatican's Pontifical Council for Culture, shared a few lines of "Space Oddity":

English astronaut Tim Peake sent condolences from the International Space Station.

Obituaries and memorials recalled Bowie as a boundary-pushing master of reinvention, "Rock's definitive chameleon," as Agence France-Presse wrote: a man who, over the course of five decades at the head of pop music, blended genres and genders, while revolutionizing the notion of a rock star with his never-ending evolution of alter egos and musical styles, from the darkly waifish "Thin White Duke" to Blackstar's lyrical jazz. 

In Germany, the Foreign Ministry commended Bowie for overcoming a more concrete barrier: the Berlin Wall.

"Heroes," another song much-quoted in Bowie's tributes online, became "the hymn of our then-divided city and its longing for freedom," Mayor Michael Mueller said Monday. After living in West Berlin during the 70s, where he hoped to escape the excessive fame and drug-fueled lifestyle he'd found in Los Angeles, Bowie returned to the city in 1987 to perform the 1977 hit:

I can remember 
Standing, by the wall 
And the guns shot above our heads
And we kissed, 
as though nothing could fall
And the shame was on the other side
Oh we can beat them, for ever and ever

But the classic rock sound of "Heroes" was also left behind in Bowie's ongoing search for new personae and new sounds. "He deconstructed fame before anyone had ever really come to grips with the concept," Guardian columnist Suzanne Moore wrote. In the words of The Washington Post's Tara Bahrampour,

Bowie "had enacted his own death repeatedly, in the form of characters and ensembles he would create, inhabit and then discard. "My policy has been that as soon as a system or process works, it’s out of date," he said in a 1977 interview. "I move on to another area."

That search may have been meant to elude the fate The New York Times predicted for the artist they called "intellectually brilliant," with "endless layers of meaning" in the paper's first 1971 review.

"Limits are always lurking around the corner," Nancy Ehrlich wrote, "waiting to reassert themselves. As Bowie well knows, they always will. The day will come when David Bowie is a star and the crushed remains of his melodies are broadcast from Muzak boxes in every elevator and hotel lobby in town," a destiny he fought to avoid with constant reinvention. 

For fans at the London Underground, Bowie's death was one more adventure.  

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