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Ashes to ashes: David Bowie, the man of a thousand faces, plays his last song

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Legendary artist and rock god David Bowie has died, at age 69, following an 18-month battle with cancer. 

Bowie, a consummate showman and entertainer beloved in every part of the world, shared his 8 January birthday with Elvis Presley and was born David Robert Jones in Brixton in 1947.

His eclectic career spanned more than 40 years and embraced various art forms, including singing, songwriting, playing multiple instruments, producing, arranging, painting and, of course, acting.

During his musical career, Bowie was known for constantly reinventing himself. He began his career as a novelty musician in 1962 and did not achieve real fame until 'Space Oddity' was released in July 1969 to commemorate the moon landing.

Following the success of 'Space Oddity', Bowie was known as the man of a thousand faces and his massive body of work can be split into several distinct periods.

From 1972 to 1973, Bowie – dressed in a striking costume with his hair dyed red – paired with Hull guitarist Mick Ronson for Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders From Mars. This tour de force combined the hard rock elements of his earlier album The Man That Sold the World with the lighter experimental style of Hunky Dory, another earlier album. Stage antics included performing fellatio on Ronson's guitar.

One of the standout tracks of the Ziggy Stardust period was 'Rebel Rebel', a ball-tearer of a song that has become a modern classic.

Bowie continued to push boundaries with his "Thin White Duke" period. The nattily dressed Bowie released blistering soul and funk offerings such as 'Diamond Dogs', 'Young Americans' and 'Fame' during this stage of his career, which spanned 1974 to 1976.

His next incarnation was Berlin Bowie, a particularly creative period in which Bowie released a trilogy of albums — 'Low', 'Heroes', and 'Lodger'. 'Heroes' was perhaps the standout track of this period.

The brilliant album Station to Station, which had almost a disco feel to it and was quite ahead of its time, also came out during the Berlin period, which spanned 1976 to 1979. Station To Station spawned hits such as 'Stay' and 'Golden Years'.

During the 1980s, Bowie renounced drugs. The clean, sober, and super-cool Bowie who emerged during this new wave period produced hits such as 'Ashes to Ashes', which features a very young Boy George in the video. It is also a great example of how Bowie experimented with fashion and stagecraft rather than focusing solely on music.

He also released the phenomenally successful Let's Dance album in 1983. The video for the title track was filmed in Australia.

Produced by Nile Rodgers of Chic, Let's Dance also produced the dance floor filler 'China Girl'.

Following the largely experimental Tin Machine period from 1989 to 1991, Bowie embraced electronica and released the jazz, soul and hip-hop influenced Black Tie White Noise. He followed this up with the Brian Eno produced, quasi-industrial Outside in 1995, which yielded three to 40 UK singles and paired Bowie with Nine Inch Nails. One of the great songs from this period was 'I'm Afraid of Americans', released in 1997.

Bowie's neoclassical period spanned 1999 to 2012 and was eclectic to say the least as Bowie – always ahead of his time – had started experimenting with other media such as computer games.

In between releasing a great body of musical work, Bowie also proved to be an accomplished actor, appearing in The Man Who Fell To Earth (1978), The Hunger (1983), Merry Christmas, Mr Lawrence (1983) and Labyrinth (1986).

He also appeared as John Merrick in a production of The Elephant Man and had a cameo in the 2001 fashion spoof film Zoolander.

In later years, Bowie kept a relatively low profile but hit the headlines in 2013 with the release of The Next Day. His last album, Blackstar, was released on his 8 January birthday in 2016. Although critics have called it perhaps the oddest album Bowie has ever produced, it is widely tipped to go to number one following his death.

Bowie, a private man, kept his battle with cancer from the media, so his death came as a great shock to fans. He is believed to have died peacefully, surrounded by his family. Survivors include his wife, the model Iman, whom he married in 1992; his son, director Duncan Jones; and daughter Alexandria.

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