On Saturday, seemingly out of nowhere a Twitter user wrote, “If you’re ever sad, just remember the world is 4.543 billion years old and you somehow managed to exist at the same time as David Bowie.”* In the canon of larger-than-life individuals, Bowie looms up there with Bob Dylan and Mark Twain, ever conscious of his image and persona. He lived life not as a shooting star that burned out, but a comet that would disappear and return, always burning brighter. Witness some of the more memorable phases of his continuous reinvention on the pages that follow…
Davy Jones: Born in Brixton, then a working class south London neighborhood, and working through dozens of post rock ’n’ roll bands and looks. The wounded feelings of Bowie, who always seemed a little disappointed with what he saw on this planet, can always be traced back to the way it looked to the founder of The Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Long-haired Men.
Major Tom: While the rest of the world watched the moon landing on their way to Woodstock, this was Bowie. Years before Interstellar and The Martian, Major Tom is adrift in space, cut off from all communication and blowing our minds.
Ziggy Stardust: The shortest-lived period beginning in 1972 with The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the facepaint and the decade-ahead-of-its-time mullet. This period of his life coincided with Bowie coming out as gay in Melody Maker.
Aladdin Sane: Out of the ashes of Stardust grew this character which was, in Bowie’s words: “Ziggy goes to America.” Bigger hair, bigger lightning bolt, bigger sound. He is the Evil Knievel-level Vegas sideshow born for an insane time (1973). The rigors of touring and making a name for yourself in this country are enough to drive “a lad insane.” The only American he is willing to cover, however, is an unknown fella named Bruce Springsteen that he heard one night in Asbury Park.
Kansai Yamamoto bodysuit: Before Bowie could afford to wear high-end costumes on stage, he would have friends copy Yamamoto’s designs and make them for him. After the success of Ziggy Stardust, Bowie had Yamamoto make him this outfit, perfect for Aladdin Sane’s oversize persona. The lesson: Always dress for the job you want.
The Thin White Duke: The darkest of Bowie’s alteregos starts to appear around the time of “Rebel Rebel,” and blossoms in time for Station to Station. It is hard to tell whether this is a mature David Jones recording music as an adult or a more complicated take on what it means to be alive in a lifeless music industry.
Halloween Jack: The first full persona from Bowie since Ziggy. This is another American creation of Bowie’s with the eyepatch and the bravado and the bulge we’ll see again in the 1986 children’s (?) film Labyrinth.
David Bowie: The dapper, stylized Bowie is among his most enduring looks. In 1975 the still somewhat unknown Bowie booked a one-day session with John Lennon at Electric Lady studios. Bowie bent Lennon’s shouts of “aaaaaaim!” over Carlos Alomar’s guitar riff into “Fame,” and snagged his first US no. 1 hit—later to appear in everything from Pretty Woman to Rock Band 3.
Mainstream master: Years after the death of disco and Nile Rodger’s band Chic was shelved, Bowie came back as a sort of prom MC with “Let’s Dance.” It was almost too dance-y for disco. And pretty damn catchy too.
The Goblin King: As Jareth in Labyrinth, Bowie is the only other live action character besides a young Jennifer Connelly in this puppet epic from Jim Hensen and George Lucas. Written by Monthy Python's Terry Jones, the film was mostly panned at the time. This and his turn as Nikola Tesla in 2006's The Prestige are remarkable because Bowie looks like a man putting on a ridiculous act, instead of being his own creation. He still rocks it though.
Forever Bowie: Shared on both his and his wife Iman’s Instagram pages just the day before he died, this is the Bowie we will always have—looking his usual brilliant, resilient self just before his 69th birthday in a Thom Browne suit. No matter which of the many Bowies you have in your head at any given time, there’s always this classy gent who would be happy to make the introduction.