Many details of David Bowie‘s death remain a mystery, including where he died and just how many people knew about his 18-month battle with an unspecified cancer.
While Bowie managed to keep his deteriorating health private over his last few years, a small circle of people close to him have spoken about his cancer battle since the singer died yesterday, aged 69.
“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. He was an extraordinary man, full of love and life. He will always be with us. For now, it is appropriate to cry.”
David Bowie Performing With Tony Visconti, Tibetan Freedom Concert 2001 (Photo: Getty Images/Ebet Roberts)
Flemish theatre director Ivo van Hove, who worked with Bowie on his last stage musical, Lazarus, also knew about the musician’s illness. Van Hove says Bowie was suffering from liver cancer, and he has told NPO Radio 4 that the singer “was still writing on his deathbed, you could say”.
“It’s terrible, I live a very long time with the knowledge that this was coming… He has had an incredible fight. He really did not want to die. He also has a young daughter. It was incredibly painful to see that,” van Hove said.
Van Hove has told The New York Times that Bowie told him he was sick via Skype in November 2014, and requested the information remain strictly confidential.
Wendy Leigh, who published a biography of Bowie last year, has told BBC News (via The Telegraph) that Bowie is said to have had other health problems aside from cancer. “He had six heart attacks in recent years. I got this from somebody very close to him,” Leigh said.
Not all of Bowie’s friends and collaborators knew of his illness, however. Chic’s Nile Rodgers, who co-produced Bowie’s best-selling album Let’s Dance, has told Pitchfork that while he didn’t know about Bowie’s illness, he “knew something was wrong”.
Rodgers says that when he asked Bowie a few years ago if he would like to present him with an award at a ceremony, Bowie told him that he couldn’t be there and went on to record a video message for the occasion.
“But looking at him in that video, I could tell he was ill, or at least certainly not the same David that I was in the studio with doing Let’s Dance and Miracle Goodnight and Jump They Say. Something was very different,” Rodgers says.
“I was a little bit sad that he didn’t call me because I’m so close to everybody [in Bowie’s camp] because Let’s Dance and some of the other songs we did together are ongoing things that are licensed to put on a product or in a film, so we all have a good relationship. But I never asked anybody about his health. If they didn’t volunteer it, I didn’t pry.”
In the end, despite not having told many people about his cancer battle, Bowie let Blackstar‘s themes, lyrics and music do the talking. His death has since seen tributes flow from others in the music world and from fans mourning around the globe.
As Bowie sings on his Blackstar track Lazarus:
This way or no way / You know, I’ll be free
Just like that bluebird / Now ain’t that just like me.
Gallery: 25 Iconic Photos Throughout David Bowie’s Career
Here’s How Secret David Bowie’s Cancer Diagnosis Was - Music Feeds