David Bowie: Ultimate Hero

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Aidin Vaziri | “Look up here. I’m in heaven.”

David Bowie bid his fans farewell as only he could, with the opening lines of his new single, “Lazarus,” released three days before the brazen British singer-songwriter succumbed to an 18-month battle with cancer Sunday.

With Mr. Bowie’s passing, at age 69, the world lost one of its most important pop culture figures of the past century.

Until his last breath, the Thin White Duke remained beautifully elusive.

Even as news of his death was posted to Mr. Bowie’s official social media accounts Sunday evening, after the release of his stellar return-to-form new album, “Blackstar,” fans were quick to contend it was all a hoax — or at least hoped it was just a bad joke at the expense of an artist who remained so vital and full of life throughout his five-decade career.

Mr. Bowie’s death was ultimately confirmed by his publicist, Steve Martin, and reconfirmed by his son, Duncan Jones.

“Very sorry and sad to say it’s true,” the star’s son, a film director, said on Twitter@ManMadeMoon.

For a generation, Mr. Bowie was a constant if ever-changing figure whose influence on the world at large, much like the Beatles, Michael Jackson and the Rolling Stones, was monumental.

Mr. Bowie released “Blackstar,” a collaboration with a New York jazz combo, on Friday — his birthday. His return was to be heralded by a tribute concert at Carnegie Hall on March 31 featuring the Roots, Cyndi Lauper and the Mountain Goats.

Keeping illness secret

But even with all the hoopla surrounding the new release, Mr. Bowie managed to keep his cancer diagnosis a secret from his fans, friends and music industry insiders.

“David’s death came as a complete surprise, as did nearly everything else about him,” producer Brian Eno said in a statement.

But the way in which he prepared for it was no less than pure Bowie genius. In the video for “Lazarus,” named after the biblical character who rises from the dead, Mr. Bowie appears bandaged in a hospital bed singing the lyrics that foreshadowed his death.

“His death was no different from his life — a work of art. He made ‘Blackstar’ for us, his parting gift,” Tony Visconti, Mr. Bowie’s producer and close friend for almost five decades, said in a tribute on Facebook. “I knew for a year this was the way it would be. I wasn’t, however, prepared for it.”

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