David Bowie did not know the cancer he had was terminal until just three months before he died on Jan. 10, 2016.
The revelation is made in the new documentary, “David Bowie: The Last Five Years,” which debuted in the United Kingdom on Saturday, a day before what would have been Bowie’s 70th birthday.
The film follows Bowie on his 2003 “A Reality Tour” and as he produces his last studio album, “Blackstar,” released just two days before the singer died after an 18-month battle with liver cancer.
Bowie was working on the video for the album’s final single, “Lazarus,” when he got the devastating news, according to Johan Renck, who directed the video.
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But Renck wasn’t told about the terminal diagnosis until after filming the video, he says in the documentary.
“I found out later that, the week we were shooting, it was when he was told it was over, they were ending treatments and that his illness had won,” says Renck.
The video is now taken as a goodbye to fans, even though Renck denies that it was some type of deathbed message.
As he lies in a hospital bed in the video, Bowie sings: “Look up here, I’m in heaven. I’ve got scars that can’t be seen.”
According to The Guardian, Renck created the vision for “Lazarus” a week before learning of Bowie’s diagnosis.
“David said: ‘I just want to make it a simple performance video,’” Renck recalls. “I immediately said, ‘The song is called Lazarus, you should be in the bed.’ ... To me it had to do with the biblical aspect of it ... it had nothing to do with him being ill.”
Bowie kept his illness a secret from everyone but those closest to him, making his death a shock for fans.
“I don’t find it strange he kept his illness so private,” Francis Whately, who created the new documentary, told The Guardian.
“He’d had his life picked over for 40 years and he thought he had said everything he wanted to say, there was nothing more.”
Even some of the musicians who played on the “Blackstar” album didn’t know Bowie was sick, Whately said.
“I still don’t know if he started making Blackstar before he knew he was ill, or after,” said Whately.
“People are so desperate for Blackstar to be this parting gift that Bowie made for the world when he knew he was dying but I think it’s simplistic to think that. There is more ambiguity there than people want to acknowledge. I don’t think he knew he was going to die.
“However, he must have known there was a chance he wasn’t going to recover, so, to do an album with a certain amount of ambiguity in it, is Bowie playing the cat and mouse game that he always played.”