Ziggy Stardust to ‘The Man who Fell to Earth’: Bowie’s greatest music, films
LONDON– Pop star. Songwriter. Record producer. Multi-instrumentalist. Actor. Artist …
Legendary British art-rock icon David Bowie — who has died aged 69 — was all these and so much more.
In a prolific career spanning more than four decades, Bowie amassed a huge catalog of music, his unrelenting evolution keeping him relevant to new generations of fans.
As an actor, his career flourished from the late 1970s to the early 1980s — and he worked with great directors including David Lynch, Martin Scorsese and Jim Henson. Latterly, he mainly acted in cameos — not bad for a side career.
In honor of a fallen star, here are some of Bowie’s most memorable songs and film roles — including his final haunting word in “Lazarus,” released just a few weeks ago.
BOWIE THE MUSIC SUPERSTAR
‘Space Oddity’ (1969)
The first song to feature fictional astronaut Major Tom, released just weeks before the first Moon landing. Later songs included “Ashes to Ashes” and “Hallo Spaceboy.”
‘Ziggy Stardust’ (1972)
“Ziggy was my Martian messiah who twanged a guitar,” Bowie once said of perhaps his most memorable alter ego, Ziggy Stardust — who remains one of the enduring symbols of glam rock. The concept album that tells his story ‘The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars’ was Bowie’s breakthrough hit and is consistently ranked one of the greatest records of all time.
‘Rebel Rebel’ (1974)
This was Bowie’s last single in the glam rock style that had been his trademark with songs like “Ziggy Stardust” and “Jean Genie” — and extravagant brightly colored skintight jumpsuits and neon orange mullet.
This is the song that made Bowie huge in the U.S. — reaching number 1 on the Billboard Hot 100 in September of 1975. His new friend, John Lennon, sings backing vocals.
Bowie said the song was inspired by a pair of lovers by the Berlin Wall. Years later, he admitted that the lovers in question were his producer Tony Visconti and his German girlfriend. He performed the song at the wall in 1987, two years before it fell.
‘Peace on Earth/The Little Drummer Boy’ (1977) with Bing Crosby
Bowie was noted for his collaborations, including with Queen and Mick Jagger. This bizarre duet with Bing Crosby was originally recorded for the crooner’s TV special “Bing Crosby’s Merrie Old Christmas.” At the time Bowie said, “I hate this song. Is there something else I could sing?” according to one of the song’s writers Ian Fraser. But it’s since become a pop culture classic.
‘Ashes to Ashes’ (1980)
The big reveal in this song is what happened to Bowie’s legendary character Major Tom — now a junkie, strung out and drifting to the stars.
‘Let’s Dance’ (1983)
Ever-changing, Bowie reinvents himself again three years after his New Romantic period, which included songs like “Ashes to Ashes.” Much more upbeat that his previous work, “Let’s Dance” was produced by Nile Rogers of the disco band Chic, who was responsible for its slick ’80s vibe.
The last song Bowie released, now a haunting final word from a man who knew he was dying. The line “Look up here, I’m in heaven,” is among the poignant lyrics. Long-time friend and producer Tony Visconti said he turned his death into a work of art, describing his new album “Blackstar,” released a few days ago, as “his parting gift.”
BOWIE ON SCREEN
‘The Man who Fell to Earth’ (1976) Nicolas Roeg
Bowie’s breakout film role saw him use his skeletal, androgynous appearance to unsettling effect as an alien who comes to Earth to get water for his dying planet. Director Nicolas Roeg’s film is today considered a visionary classic of the sci-fi genre.
‘Merry Christmas Mr. Lawrence’ (1983) Nagisa Oshima
In a widely acclaimed performance, Bowie plays a rebellious POW in a Japanese prisoner of war camp in this WWII drama with homoerotic undertones.
‘The Hunger’ (1983) Tony Scott
In this visually sumptuous, if rather self-conscious vampire drama, Bowie plays the human lover of a centuries-old vamp. It was not a hit with many critics, and it has been called “agonizingly bad,” and “ludicrous.”
Labyrinth (1986) Jim Henson
For an entire generation, “Labyrinth” not Ziggy Stardust was their introduction to the appeal of David Bowie. As the androgynous Goblin King who was at once threatening and sexually alluring, Bowie added a dangerous, adult edge to this fantasy film filled with puppets.
‘The Last Temptation of Christ’ (1988) Martin Scorsese
Originally another musician, Sting, was to play the role of Pontius Pilate in Scorsese’s controversial but critically acclaimed drama about Jesus’ struggle with temptation during his life. Bowie was cast after Sting turned the role down.
By Mairi Mackay