'Genius' rock star David Bowie dies of cancer aged 69


David Bowie, whose groundbreaking music inspired generations during a career spanning six decades, has died at the age of 69 after being diagnosed with cancer.

The cultural pioneer's death in New York on Sunday, following an 18-month illness, was confirmed by his family.

Friends, fans and contemporaries described the Heroes singer as "iconic", "a genius" and "one of the greatest performance artists in history".

Glastonbury founder Michael Eavis said the star - who played the Somerset festival twice before retiring from live shows in 2006 - said: "He's one of the three greatest in the world, ever - Frank Sinatra, Elvis Presley and David Bowie. There's no-one else even close."

Bowie's biographer, Paul Trynka, described the Brixton-raised performer as "someone who redefined pop music" and "a creative force who endured over several decades".

Collaborator Brian Eno, who worked with the singer multiple times, reflected on an email Bowie sent him just one week ago.

He said: "It was as funny as always, and as surreal, looping through word games and allusions and all the usual stuff we did.

"It ended with this sentence: 'Thank you for our good times, brian. they will never rot'. And it was signed 'Dawn'.

"I realise now he was saying goodbye."

The singer and guitarist - known for hits including Let's Dance, Changes and Under Pressure, died surrounded by his loved ones, a statement on his Facebook page said.

Long-time producer Tony Visconti said the late singer's final album, Blackstar - released two days before his death - was "his parting gift" to the world.

Prophetically, its lead single, Lazarus, opens with the lyrics: "Look up here, I'm in heaven," while the accompanying video shows a bed-bound Bowie playing a man struggling to overcome illness.

Stars from the world of showbiz mourned the loss - their grief made more acute by the fact little was known about the extent of his ill-health.

Sir Paul McCartney reflected on the enormous role Bowie's work played in British musical history, adding: "I'm proud to think of the huge influence he has had on people all around the world."

Iggy Pop, who was also among the long list of artists who collaborated with Bowie, said: "David's friendship was the light of my life. I never met such a brilliant person. He was the best there is."

Others summoned Bowie's lyrics in written tributes to mark his passing.

Gladiator actor Russell Crowe, referencing one of Bowie's better known singles, Sorrow, which featured on 1973 covers album Pin Ups, wrote: "RIP David. I loved your music. I loved you. One of the greatest performance artists to have ever lived. #sorrow"

Prime Minister David Cameron, whose musical tastes are well documented, led the tributes from the world of politics.

He said: "I grew up listening to and watching the pop genius David Bowie. He was a master of reinvention, who kept getting it right. A huge loss."

The singer had barely performed in public since falling ill in June 2004. 

His last musical appearance on stage is listed as a three-song set at New York's Hammerstein Ballroom in November 2006, in which he played Wild Is The Wind, Fantastic Voyage and Changes. Bowie is believed to have performed in the UK for the final time two years earlier at the 2004 Isle of Wight Festival.

He made a surprise comeback in 2013, after a 10-year break from recording, when he suddenly released a new single on his 66th birthday, with an album out weeks later.

The star made a habit of confounding the critics - killing off his most famous alter ego, Ziggy Stardust, at the height of his fame - and reinventing himself in roles including glam rocker, soul singer and hippie songwriter.

Bowie, born David Jones in post-war Brixton, south London, kicked off his music career in the R&B boom of the early 1960s.

In 1969 he made his first appearance in the charts with Space Oddity.

A string of albums followed, before 1972's The Rise And Fall Of Ziggy Stardust And The Spiders From Mars made him an international star.

The 1980s saw him combine his pop career with appearances in films including Absolute Beginners - as well as a memorable turn as the Goblin King in the fantasy film, Labyrinth. Perhaps his most memorable role came in the 1976 movie, The Man Who Fell To Earth.

Bowie married supermodel Iman Abdulmajid in 1992 and the pair had a daughter, Alexandria Zahra Jones. He was married to Angela Bowie between 1970 and 1980, with whom he had a son, the film director Duncan Jones.