Rest in Peace, David Bowie

January 14, 2016

The first, and indeed only, scientifically confirmed space alien, the rock star and space invader otherwise known as Ziggy Stardustleft this plane to world-wide heartbreak in his 69-year-old space suit on January 10, 2016. David Bowie–aka Major Tom, Aladdin Sane, The Thin White DukeHalloween Jack, and more–jettisoned the blue planet just two days after dropping his twenty-sixth album, the Godspeed epic Blackstar to critical acclaim. In his time on this big blue marble, Bowie virtually redefined rock ‘n’ roll and courageously explored the realms of soul, funk, jazz, punk, Broadway, synthesizer, burlesque, progressive rock, ambient, no wave, and music that transcends categorization.

But Bowie was also an accomplished actor who worked with some of the biggest names in the film industry including Susan Sarandon, David Lynch, Martin Scorsese, Dennis Hopper, Naomie Harris, Christian Bale, and Ben Stiller. In keeping with his personal and professional eccentricity he tended to portray the mysterious outsider or tortured genius, but he also played for comedy and shtick when the whim suited his fancy. Bowie stunned his psychedelic and counter-culture music fans with his compelling and dramatic turn as WWII prisoner of war, Major Jack Celliers, in Merry Christmas, Mr. Lawrence. In fact, The New York Times wrote, Mr. Bowie’s screen presence here is mercurial and arresting, and he seems to arrive at this effortlessly, though he manages to do something slyly different in every scene. The demands of his role may sometimes be improbable and elaborate, but Mr. Bowie fills them in a remarkably plain and direct way.”

This is high praise for a rock and pop star from the often-prejudiced critical elite. In Nicolas Roeg’s The Man Who Fell to Earth, Bowie is arresting as an alien trying to save his dying planet while combating the fears and prejudices of foolish and self-destructive human beings. And the chameleon gives a surprisingly genuine and nuanced performance as a frail and insecure Andy Warhol in 1996’s Basquiat. But many pop-culture aficionados recognize David’s portrayal of Jareth the Goblin King in 1986’s fantastical puppet adventure Labyrinth as his crowning theatrical achievement. Bowie handles the kitchy material with equal parts menacing intensity and affable humor. Watching David sing and dance with unabashed enthusiasm for a precious baby and gothic puppets is a real treat, indeed!

These are just a few of the roles Mr. Bowie portrayed throughout his career and creative adventure, and this doesn’t even mention his various dramatic and surreal performances in his own music videos. It is testament to the fact that David Bowie was indisputably gifted, but more importantly, he was hard-working and extremely focused.

What are your favorite David Bowie roles?  Please share!

RIP to The Man Who Sold the World.