David Bowie: Hundreds gather in London to celebrate the life of the legendary music icon

Those close to singer call release of new album a 'parting gift' created as he spent his final months being treated for cancer

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The Independent Online

Hundreds of people have gathered in London to pay tribute to the life of iconic singer David Bowie following his death after an 18-month battle with cancer.

Fans of the musician congregated in Brixton, Bowie’s home town, singing many of the his best known songs and laying tributes in front of the colourful mural of the singer dressed as Ziggy Stardust by artist Jimmy C.

People took to Twitter to describe the “wonderful atmosphere” outside Brixton’s Ritzy cinema, which at some points was lit up with fireworks and filled with loud chants of "Bowie".

A boy leaves flowers beneath the mural of David Bowie in Brixton, London

After five decades spent enchanting and wrongfooting the planet with his ability to push musical and creative boundaries, Bowie died on Sunday, days after releasing the curtain-call album that quietly signalled his final farewell.

As praise and tributes were offered from space to Downing Street, those close to the singer, who had turned 69 on Friday, said the release four days ago of his new album – Blackstar – had been a “parting gift” created as he spent his final 18 months being treated for cancer.

Hundreds of people congregated in Brixton, Bowie’s home town, to pay tribute (Getty)

The hugely influential rock star, whose work reshaped ideas and perceptions in spheres from music and fashion to sexuality, had given no public hint of his illness before his family released a breakfast-time statement announcing his death. He had lived for many years in New York. 

A statement on his Facebook page said: “David Bowie died peacefully today surrounded by his family after a courageous 18-month battle with cancer. While many of you will share in this loss, we ask that you respect the family’s privacy during their time of grief.”

Such was the unexpectedness of the announcement that the singer’s publicist was forced to issue a further statement clarifying that it was not a hoax. Bowie’s son from his first marriage, 44-year-old film director Duncan Jones, said on Twitter: “Very sorry and sad to say it’s true.”

The final grounding of the man whose many alter egos began in 1972 with his creation of Ziggy Stardust was met with expressions of admiration and grief from across the globe.

Sir Paul McCartney described Bowie as a “great star” who had shaped British music, while his friend and collaborator Iggy Pop said: “I never met such a brilliant person. He was the best there is.”

The Prime Minister, David Cameron, said he had grown up listening to the singer, adding: “He was a master of reinvention, who kept getting it right. A huge loss.” Such was the cultural reach of the charity worker’s son from Brixton that tributes were also paid by the Vatican, which tweeted lyrics to his song “Space Oddity”, and the Archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby.

While he had kept his illness secret from even close friends, it was apparent that Bowie, who had deliberately faded from public view after suffering a heart attack while performing in Germany in 2004, had spent his final months writing an album which he knew would be his last work.

Critics last week hailed Blackstar as welcome evidence of the revitalisation of the master of reinvention. But with black-tinged hindsight, fans have highlighted the hints at a goodbye in Blackstar, which had been well received by critics and was expected to top the album charts even before news of his death.

The video for “Lazarus”, one of the tracks on the new album, shows a gaunt Bowie with his eyes bandaged as he thrashes on a hospital bed, singing: “Look up here, I’m in heaven/ I’ve got scars that can’t be seen.”

I never met such a brilliant person. He was the best there is

Iggy Pop

In the video for the album’s title track, the opening shots show a lifeless spaceman – a likely homage to the famously extraterrestrial preoccupations of the man who gave the world the Spiders from Mars. Blackstar, which has just seven songs, was also the first album by the artist not to feature his own face on the cover.

Tony Visconti, who produced many of Bowie’s albums, said the polymathic artist had prepared carefully for his passing. Writing on Facebook, Visconti said: “He always did what he wanted to do. And he wanted to do it his way and he wanted to do it the best way. His death was no different from his life – a work of art. 

“He made Blackstar for us, his parting gift. I knew for a year this was the way it would be. I wasn’t, however, prepared for it.”

British astronaut Tim Peake paid one of the day’s most appropriate homages when he tweeted from the International Space Station that Bowie had been an inspiration.

Sir Paul McCartney said: “His music played a very strong part in British musical history and I’m proud to think of the huge influence he has had on people all around the world… His star will shine in the sky forever.”

Additional reporting by Independent staff