David Bowie’s star took many different forms over his 49-year career, his transformations perhaps his most remarkable trait.
From fresh-faced rocker to Thin White Duke, Ziggy Stardust or his roles on the silver screen – whatever shape Bowie took he was universally revered.
Once the world has mourned the loss of one of its greatest creative influencers and pop cultural trend-setters, debate will begin to rage about what Bowie’s most significant masterpiece and incarnation was.
Answering that question is terribly difficult.
Even up to his death Bowie was extraordinary. He had been living with cancer for 18 months, according to the statement that announced his passing.
This meant that while suffering through the disease, he had recorded the album Blackstar, released worldwide on January 8, 2016 – his 69th birthday.
Across 26 albums and close to 50 years, here are some of the moments that defined the legend’s career.
To begin, the GIF below went viral as news of Bowie’s death broke:
— J. Sperling Reich (@sperling) January 11, 2016
1. Self-titled debut: David Bowie (1967)
David Bowie only reached number one in Austria and New Zealand. It did not break any notable sales thresholds.
It was released on the same day as The Beatles’ album Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band.
Described as “baroque pop”, the sound of Bowie’s self-titled debut LP also didn’t bear any resemblance to the music that made him famous later in his career.
2. Bowie’s in space
Originally another self-titled LP, eventually renamed Space Oddity, this was the record that sent Bowie’s star rising.
Taking on the persona of Major Tom – an abandoned astronaut orbiting earth – Bowie benefited from good timing, with 1969 also being the year man first landed on the moon.
Atmospheric, dramatic and utterly enduring, the album was considered one of the most autobiographical creations from Bowie’s many guises.
3. The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust in 1972
The sexually ambiguous, glamorous and fantastical alien rock superstar was a character that took advantage of Bowie’s training in mime and cabaret.
While the albums Hunky Dory and The Man Who Sold The World – wedged between Space Oddity and The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars – granted Bowie his first notably high critical acclaim, the Ziggy Stardust persona, tour and album captured the world’s imagination.
4. Farewell Ziggy, welcome Aladdin Sane
By 1973, Stardust had been shelved and Aladdin Sane was Bowie’s newest character. In that year he released two LP’s – Aladdin Sane and Pin Ups.
He had also produced Lou Reed’s album Transformer after Ziggy Stardust (late 1972), marking the start of Bowie’s many moves into other aspects of the music business.
Sane was a character developed from Stardust and was a play on the phrase “A Lad Insane”.
5. Thin White Duke and the Golden Years
Bowie wrote and recorded the album Young Americans while touring Diamond Days in the US.
It was in this period that Bowie became heavily dependent on drugs, particularly cocaine. He eventually moved to Berlin to try to escape such vices.
Station to Station (also recorded in the US) saw Bowie fully realise the Thin White Duke persona, although it had been seen while he toured Young Americans.
“The Duke” was a sleeker, cleaner and more stylish look for Bowie, coinciding with a similar disposition in Station to Station‘s music.
6. The Berlin Trilogy
In Berlin, Bowie wrote and recorded the albums Low, Heroes and Lodger, released from early 1977 to mid 1979.
Each LP was produced in collaboration with the legendary producer Brian Eno and marked a more electronic departure from Bowie’s usual sound.
The year after Lodger, Bowie released the album Scary Monsters which featured hit song Ashes to Ashes.
7. Let’s Dance
In the 80s Bowie’s music got decidedly more danceable.
No track demonstrated that more than the appropriately named Let’s Dance (1983) from the album with the same name.
Moreover, songs China Girl and Modern Love coupled with world tours introduced Bowie into the minds of a fresh generation.
He also released a cover version of Dancing in the Streets with Rolling Stones’ frontman Mick Jagger in 1985.
It was created for Sir Bob Geldof’s LiveAid concert and fundraiser.
8. The Goblin King
Bowie featured and had cameos in more than 25 films through his life, but none were as compelling as his role as Jareth, The Goblin King, in Labyrinth (1985).
In the film Bowie plays a strange, mythical and powerful creature who has a somewhat strange relationship with Sarah, 15, who is trying to get to the centre of a giant maze.
9. Nineties and noughties
From 1991 to 2003 Bowie released eight studio albums, the best of which were highlighted by Earthling and Heathen.
The former saw the ever-adapting Bowie wrestle with drum and bass influences while the latter marked a return to the rock and roll he became best known for.
10. The Next Day and Blackstar
After 10 years Bowie gave his fans the gift of The Next Day, his penultimate studio album.
It was a triumphant return to the studio for Bowie and it received incredibly positive critical acclaim.
In 2015 he lent his vocals to Arcade Fire’s hit single Reflektor, after having performed on stage with the Canadian band.
Blackstar, released on January 8 – three days before his death – was also lauded by critics who remarked about its dark tone, among other features.