It took years of hard work for David Jones to become David Bowie. The aspiring artist was a teen popster, a hippie-ish folkie and a purveyor of novelty records (“The Laughing Gnome,” best forgotten), before emerging from his chrysalis to become one of the most unpredictable and influential figures in music. Here’s a look at his life and career:
Jan. 8, 1947: David Robert Jones is born in south London, England.
1962: Friend George Underwood punches Bowie in the eye in a fistfight over a girl. The blow does permanent damage, dilating the pupil for the rest of Bowie’s life. The effects of the injury lead many to assume erroneously that his eyes are two different colors. After the fight, Underwood remains Bowie’s friend and goes on to design the artwork for three classic album covers.
That same year, Bowie forms his first band, the Konrads.
1964: “Liza Jane” is the first single released under the name Davie Jones with the King Bees. It isn’t a commercial success, but Bowie revisits it for his 2000 album “Toy,” comprising mostly new versions of songs from early in his career. “Toy” is never released officially, though several of its tracks are reworked for 2002’s “Heathen.”
1967: The artist now finally known as David Bowie releases his debut single, “The Laughing Gnome,” a novelty song featuring a comedic voice similar to Alvin and the Chipmunks. Although it is a flop initially, it becomes a hit when it is re-released in 1973 after Bowie has made his big commercial breakthrough.
1969: Bowie first displays his knack for seizing the zeitgeist with the out-of-this-world track “Space Oddity,” released the year of the first moon landing. Beautiful and melancholy, it tells the story of Major Tom, an astronaut adrift in space, lamenting, “Planet Earth is blue, and there’s nothing I can do.” Real-life astronauts embrace the song, with Cmdr. Chris Hadfield memorably performing it aboard the International Space Station in 2013. That YouTube video has nearly 28 million views.
1970: Bowie marries Mary Angela Barnett, also known as Angie Bowie, an actress, model and musician. The next year she gives birth to son Zowie, now known as acclaimed movie director Duncan Jones (“Moon,” “Source Code”). David and Angie’s turbulent relationship ends in divorce in 1980, though Angie continues to use her adopted surname. She is currently a cast member of the British TV show “Celebrity Big Brother.”
1971: Bowie appears on the cover of the 1971 album “Hunky Dory” as an androgynous figure with long golden locks — one in an ever-changing array of styles and personas he will adopt and abandon. The songs explore sexual ambiguity, fame, new fatherhood and more. “Life on Mars,” the tale of a misfit girl and her wild imagination, becomes one of his most enduring hits and gives its name to a 2006 BBC show set in the ’70s.
1972: Bowie adopts the persona of the flame-haired alien rock star Ziggy Stardust for “The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders From Mars.” A generation of teenagers stops and stares when the androgynous, seductive character appears on British TV show “Top of the Pops” performing “Starman.” Ziggy makes Bowie a star, but even then he is ruthless about moving on: “When the kids had killed the man, we had to break up the band,” he sings on the album’s title track.
1975: After Bowie kills off Ziggy, he moves through guises including the edgy Aladdin Sane and Halloween Jack before going to the United States and immersing himself in the sound of Philadelphia soul. The album “Young Americans,” produced by frequent collaborator Tony Visconti and featuring a roster of funk and soul talent that includes guitarist Carlos Alomar and a young Luther Vandross, is a complete change of pace and features the exuberant title track and “Fame,” co-written by John Lennon.
1976: Bowie is perfectly cast as an alien adrift in the New Mexico desert in Nicholas Roeg’s film “The Man Who Fell to Earth.” He will go on to play parts including a World War II prisoner of war in “Merry Christmas, Mr. Lawrence,” a vampire in “The Hunger,” Pontius Pilate in “The Last Temptation of Christ” and Andy Warhol in “Basquiat.” On Broadway, critics praise him as disfigured Victorian John Merrick in “The Elephant Man” in 1980.
Exhausted by work and too much cocaine, Bowie holes up in West Berlin in 1976 and, working with synth pioneer Brian Eno, produces three of the most remarkable albums of his career: “Low,” “Heroes” and “Lodger.”
1980: The first single, “Ashes to Ashes,” from Bowie’s album “Scary Monsters (and Super Creeps)” is a bittersweet sequel to “Space Oddity” that Bowie calls his epitaph for the 1970s.
1981: An unplanned studio jam with rock group Queen results in the single “Under Pressure,” which goes on to be an artistic high point for both acts. A version featuring Bowie’s and Freddie Mercury’s isolated vocals still makes the rounds in social media today, with 5.1 million views on YouTube.
1983: Bowie embraces the mainstream — or the mainstream finally catches up with him — for “Let’s Dance,” one of his biggest albums, considered by many to be the last flourish of his golden period. The album also launchs the career of then-little-known blues guitarist Stevie Ray Vaughan.
1985: Bowie performs at Wembley Stadium as part of the Live Aid Ethiopian relief concert. The cover of Martha & the Vandellas’ “Dancing in the Street” with Mick Jagger also debuts with a silly, rag-tag video supposedly taped in just a few hours after the similarly rushed studio recording session.
1989: The solo artist forms a new band with experimental guitarist Reeves Gabrels, releasing the self-titled album “Tin Machine.” Its aggressive, bluesy sound stands in stark contrast to the radio pop Bowie has dabbled in for most of the ’80s, and radio and MTV don’t follow along.
1992: Bowie marries Somalian supermodel Iman. They have one child, Alexandria, in 2000.
1996: “Telling Lies” is released on DavidBowie.com, the first ever downloadable single from a major artist.
1997: In a shrewd financial move, Bowie issues what come to be known as “Bowie Bonds,” asset-backed securities that bring the musician $55 million up front, to be repaid out of future royalties from his music. Prudential Financial purchases all the securities.
1998: Realizing this Internet thing is no passing fad, the musician gets into the ISP business with BowieNet. He ventures into a new world of accessibility with his fans, often popping unannounced into chat rooms and on message boards. His 1999 album “Hours ...” features a song whose lyrics were co-written by Alex Grant, chosen via an Internet-based contest.
2004: While performing at the Hurricane Festival in Germany, Bowie thinks he has pinched a nerve. It turns out to be a blocked coronary artery. After an emergency medical procedure, the singer cancels the rest of the tour. He largely retires from public life.
2013: Bowie takes fans and music critics by surprise in 2013 with a new album, “The Next Day,” announced on his birthday.
2015: Another surprise album, “Blackstar,” is announced in November, accompanied by an epic, 10-minute single and video depicting a blindfolded Bowie offering enigmatic incantations on life and death.
On Dec. 7, the stage show “Lazarus” opens at New York Theatre Workshop. The new piece, co-written by Bowie and Tony winner Enda Walsh, is a musical continuation of “The Man Who Fell to Earth.”
2016: “Blackstar” is released on Jan. 8, the singer’s 69th birthday. One day before the video for single “Lazarus” debuts, depicting a noticeably frail Bowie floating in and out of a hospital bed, interspersed with scenes showing him gesticulating rhythmically while wearing a reproduction of one of his iconic 1970s costumes.
Two days later, Bowie dies after a battle with cancer. Music writer Graeme Thomson captures the shock: “We were so thrilled to have him back, we failed to notice he was saying goodbye,” he tweets.