Some people died before their time, some people died long after they should have done, few get it right. Elvis, popped an artery on the toilet, Diana got wrapped around a tunnel support, Lennon got shot, Jackson, should have died before losing credibility, lots of other artists have overdosed - which arguably you could say they had control over, but we have to hand it to David Bowie, never has an artist planned and executed a death so well.
The emotional out pouring has been quite a spectacle. The artist stories that example his talent and skill, the broad audiences that he appealed to, whether mass market or the fringe, all had some personal connection for what the artist meant to them. However, amongst his greatest achievements might not be his work when he was alive, but the work he done on his death.
About half a million of us die in the UK each year. Many put up a fight for a while, then become reflective about the end, wanting to spend it meaningfully with family and loved ones. I guess for a while Bowie fought the cancer as so many of us do each year. Rounds of chemo, ever decreasing strength to keep fighting. In contrast though, Bowie, decided to own the issue and create for it. That must have taken some effort.
Many of us passively drift into the abyss without purpose or plan. We fear the end, try to dodge it. Forgetting the simple preparations like a will or funeral plan - according to the BBC, only 30% of us have prepared a will. Which isn’t a big effort. So imagine the effort Bowie went through to do what he did, to think about an album, set up photo shoots, videos, (I really hope he didn’t waste his time doing a social media plan) to create what was a perfect final curtain.
Conducting a performance around your end is pretty impressive. Death inspires many artists. Potentially its the most potent of muses. Victorian Gothic was rarely without a reference to it. Others have died while doing their art - Tommy Cooper the comedian and magician for example died on stage doing ‘Live From Her Majesty’s’ - which has a certain irony and comic value that I am sure Cooper would enjoy. But he didn’t plan it that way. Other stills have created artwork around their own death. Johnny Cash, ‘Aint no Grave’ and ‘Man Comes Around’ are good examples. Although about his death, and near his death, they didn’t involve his death as part of the act, as arguably Bowie's did.
Its the link between the two states that make Bowie's ending so remarkable. Barely any have achieved such a thing. And the ones that have mostly lived in the theme of religion or myth. The philosopher Epicurus said that “Death is nothing to us, because when we are here, death is not, and when death is here, we are gone." Bowie managed to create something for both of those states, and bridge the worlds of being and not being.
We all have to bridge that gap between the ‘Now’ and the ‘Then’. The being alive, and not being alive. Bowie has inspired in life. In death. And has uniquely stepped inspiringly between.