Rolling Stone has done a pretty good job of tracking David Bowie’s last years. There are still plenty of unanswered questions about, but this article fills in a few gaps.
He grew so secretive that he chided one of his closest collaborators, Tony Visconti, for revealing that they watched British comedy during studio breaks. By the time he made his surprise re-emergence in 2013 with his first album in a decade, The Next Day, he had pulled off a feat that no other rock star has quite managed, regaining all of the heady mystique of his breakthrough years, and then some. He was a legend, a living ghost, hiding in plain sight, walking his daughter to school, taking cabs, exercising alongside ordinary humans in workaday gyms in Manhattan and upstate in Woodstock. With his family, he said, he was David Jones, the person he had been before he assumed his stage name. He had, at last, truly fallen to Earth, and he liked what he found there.
His final three years, though, were an extraordinarily fertile period of creativity. In 2014, he began work on another, even better, album, Blackstar, while also helping bring to life an ambitious off-Broadway show, Lazarus, based around his old and new songs. But he had kept one more secret: Bowie maintained focus on these last creations while battling cancer (of the liver, according to one friend). He died on January 10th, two days after the release of Blackstar, and a month after the opening of Lazarus. His passing occasioned the kind of worldwide grief not seen since the deaths of Elvis Presley and Michael Jackson.
Visconti, who knew of Bowie’s illness, noticed the tone of some of the Blackstar lyrics early on. “You canny bastard,” Visconti told him. “You’re writing a farewell album.” Bowie simply laughed. “It’s so inspirational how he lived his last year,” says Visconti, pointing out that Bowie wrote some of his most amusing lyrics (“Man, she punched me like a dude,” “Where the fuck did Monday go?”) while terribly ill. “He kept his sense of humor.”
Read the whole thing. It’s worth it.