Mourners pay tribute in David Bowie's home town

People gather next to tributes placed near a mural of British singer David Bowie by artist Jimmy C, in Brixton, south London. Photo/AP
People gather next to tributes placed near a mural of British singer David Bowie by artist Jimmy C, in Brixton, south London. Photo/AP

Mourners have laid flowers and lit candles beside a memorial to David Bowie in the edgy Brixton district of south London where the visionary British rock star was born.

Tributes have also poured in from titans of popular music, including the Rolling Stones, Madonna and rapper Kanye West, after Bowie died aged 69 following a secret battle with cancer.

A pioneering chameleon of performance imagery, Bowie straddled the worlds of hedonistic rock, fashion, art and drama for five decades, pushing the boundaries of music and his own sanity to produce some of the most innovative songs of his generation.

"David Bowie died peacefully today surrounded by his family after a courageous 18-month battle with cancer," read a statement on Bowie's Facebook page dated January 10.

A spokesman for Bowie said he died on Sunday but declined to say where or from what type of cancer.

"The Rolling Stones are shocked and deeply saddened to hear of the death of our dear friend David Bowie," the Stones said.

"He was an extraordinary artist, and a true original."

Madonna said on Twitter: "Talented. Unique. Genius. Game Changer. The Man who Fell to Earth. Your Spirit Lives on Forever!"

British Prime Minister David Cameron said he had grown up with Bowie's music and described his death as "a huge loss".

David Bowie fan Diana Arango lights a candle at a makeshift memorial surrounding David Bowie's star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame in Los Angeles. Photo/AP
David Bowie fan Diana Arango lights a candle at a makeshift memorial surrounding David Bowie's star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame in Los Angeles. Photo/AP

The Vatican said: "Check ignition and may God's love be with you" - borrowing a verse from Bowie's first hit Space Oddity.

In a music video accompanying Bowie's new, jazzy Blackstar album, released on his 69th birthday last Friday, the singer was shown in a hospital bed with bandages around his eyes.

Born David Jones in Brixton two years after the end of World War II, he took up the saxophone at 13 before changing his name to David Bowie to avoid confusion with the Monkees' Davy Jones, according to Rolling Stone.

He shot to fame in Britain in 1969 with Space Oddity, whose words he said were inspired by watching Stanley Kubrick's film 2001: A Space Odyssey while stoned.

But it was Bowie's 1972 portrayal of a doomed bisexual rock envoy from space, Ziggy Stardust, that propelled him to global stardom.

A person views tributes placed near a mural of British singer David Bowie by artist Jimmy C in Brixton, south London. Photo/AP
A person views tributes placed near a mural of British singer David Bowie by artist Jimmy C in Brixton, south London. Photo/AP

Bowie and Ziggy, wearing outrageous costumes, makeup and bright orange hair, took the pop world by storm.

Bowie continued to innovate, helping produce Lou Reed's Walk on the Wild Side and Iggy Pop's Lust for Life album, delving into American rhythm & blues and co-writing the hit Fame with John Lennon.

This was a period which saw Bowie sporting an array of fantastic costumes, some reportedly based on the chilling Kubrick movie A Clockwork Orange.

"He always did what he wanted to do. And he wanted to do it his way and he wanted to do it the best way," said Tony Visconti, the US producer who helped lift Bowie to stardom.

"He was an extraordinary man, full of love and life. He will always be with us. For now, it is appropriate to cry."

Ever ahead of public opinion, Bowie told the Melody Maker newspaper in 1972 that he was gay, a step that helped pioneer sexual openness in Britain, which had only decriminalised homosexuality in 1967. Bowie had married in 1970.

Four years later, he informed Playboy that he was bisexual, but in the 1980s he told Rolling Stone magazine that the declaration was "the biggest mistake I ever made" and that he was "always a closet heterosexual".

He scored his first US No.1 with Fame and created a new persona, the Thin White Duke, for his Station to Station album.

But the excesses of a hedonistic life were taking their toll.

In a reference to his prodigious appetite for cocaine, he said: "I blew my nose one day in California. And half my brains came out. Something had to be done."

Bowie moved from the United States to Switzerland and then to Cold War-era Berlin to recuperate, working with Brian Eno from Roxy Music to produce some of his least commercial and most ambitious music, including Low and Heroes in 1977.

In 1983 Bowie changed tack again, signing a multi-million-dollar five-album deal with EMI.

The first, Let's Dance, returned him to chart success and almost paid off his advance.

His love-life fascinated gossip columnists and his marriage to Somali-American supermodel Iman in 1992 guaranteed headlines.

Bowie kept a low profile after undergoing emergency heart surgery in 2004. It was not widely known that he was fighting cancer.

"Look up here, I'm in heaven," he sings from a hospital bed in the video accompanying his last album.

"I've got scars that can't be seen."

- RAW/AAP

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