David Bowie.jpg
Photograph: EPA/HEIKO JUNGE

Intriguing chamaeleon of the rock world, ceaseless questor after new sounds and at the end a pop music phantom: These are just three of the many roles filled by David Bowie over a near 50-year musical career.

Bowie, born David Robert Jones in Brixton, south London in 1947, put out 25 albums as singer, songwriter and occasional actor, the last on Friday, his 69th birthday.

Critics have rated the album - Blackstar - as one of the most puzzling, sombre and best pieces of his work.

Bowie is said to have sold around 140 million recordings in one form or another, making him one of the most successful popstars of recent decades.

His debut album, entitled simply David Bowie and released in 1967, was folk-based and a flop. But just two years later his breakthrough followed with Space Oddity and its title song about a fictitious astronaut called Major Tom.

Then with Hunky Dory, The Rise And The Fall Of Ziggy Stardust and Aladdin Sane, Bowie spearheaded the Glam Rock era and its outrageous clothes and gender ambiguity.

The 1970s were perhaps Bowie's most creative phase, during which he recorded influential records in the United States and later in Berlin, such as Station To Station, Low and Heroes, which he also did in German.

This was the time when he experimented with drugs, becoming addicted to cocaine. In the following decade he evolved into the critics' darling with the Funk and Blues album Let's Dance. Fans filled stadiums around the world to hear him.

Bowie then embarked on a string of constantly changing pop genres, not all of which were well received, before a heart attack during a concert in Scheessel in northern Germany in 2003 reduced his output and his live performances.

The comeback came in 2013 at the age of 66 with The Next Day, which linked up to previous successes. Now resident in New York, he no longer performed live, avoided interviews completely, but continued to make music, right up to Blackstar, which may be seen as his legacy.

Bowie married twice, for the second time in 1992 to the model Iman Abdulmajid, who bore him a daughter in 2000. He has a son Duncan, a film director, from his first marriage to Angela Barnett.

Bowie himself had some success as an actor, in the film The Man Who Fell to Earth released in 1979, and Merry Christmas, Mr Lawrence, released in 1983, but his acting always took second place to his music making.

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