Rest in Peace David Bowie (1947 – 2016)Movies/TV,News Ken W. Hanley
For a man whose career often brought him to places beyond the stars, it’s only fitting to say that David Bowie was a universal icon. Even in his oh-so-rare missteps, Bowie found something deep, strange, existential and heartbreaking, and more often than not, we all could find a piece of ourselves in his lyrics, his movements and his presence. So when news broke that David Bowie passed away on January 10th, 2016, after 18 months of battling cancer, there’s an undeniable emptiness and sense of disbelief that follows.
But like any star, Bowie is destined to shine on long, long after death. Few artists have found a longevity like Bowie, and even fewer have found growing popularity within their legacy. His music, his performances, his imagery; it all can be found with regularity and reverence today as it could in his prime. And with his latest album, the haunting, beautiful BLACKSTAR, released so soon before his demise, Bowie couldn’t leave this world without releasing one more masterpiece, serving as evidence that not all artists rust with age, but rather find reinvention.
While almost everyone familiar with pop culture has a favorite Bowie track, whether it be “Space Odyssey,” “Suffragette City,” “Let’s Dance,” “Heroes,” or, yes, even “I’m Afraid of Americans,” Bowie also deserves equal credit for his film performances as well, with many falling along the border of the horror genre. His truly alien performance in Nicolas Roeg’s THE MAN WHO FELL TO EARTH is nothing short of sublime, instilling Thomas Jerome Newton with an unsettling, unearthly quality that absolutely went on to inspire Jonathan Glazer’s UNDER THE SKIN. And that performance resonates today as well, enough so to inspire an off-Broadway sequel entitled LAZARUS, the title track of which provided a soul-shattering single that unearthed mere hours before his passing.
Perhaps Bowie’s most strictly definable contribution to the horror genre would be his lead performance in Tony Scott’s Gothic vampire film THE HUNGER, a studio release that put Bowie front and center of an erotic tale of bloodsuckers traversing through 1980s New York City. As John Blaylock, Bowie offered a contemplative and chilling portrayal of a desperate immortal whose battle with death instills him with pain, fear and inhumanity. A man whose career is frequently associated with transformation, Bowie offered an unforgettable and often underrated vampire performance that worked best when Bowie found himself near unrecognizable. And to add to the utterly creepy performance is the inherent mystery behind it as well, as Bowie rarely discussed the role following the film’s release.
Following THE HUNGER, Bowie’s next genre-friendly performance was that of Jareth, The Goblin King in LABYRINTH, a dark fantasy film that portrayed Bowie as a powerful and malevolent sorcerer. Ostensibly the villain of the film, LABYRINTH is easily Bowie’s most beloved film project, bringing his natural charisma and wicked charm to the iconic role. And while the film doesn’t quite qualify as a horror project, LABRYINTH indeed is far darker and scarier than most family fare, with Jareth’s name consistently coming up among many people’s lists of terrifying cinematic figures of their childhood.
Bowie’s next foray into horror was the part of Phillip Jefferies in the film TWIN PEAKS: FIRE WALK WITH ME. Although his screen time in the theatrical cut is shorter than 3 minutes in total, his performance as an FBI Agent who disappeared between the world of the living and the Black Lodge is nothing short of surreal. Luckily, Bowie’s role was given its due diligence in the recent TWIN PEAKS Blu-ray set, which unveiled several deleted scenes that elaborated on Jefferies’ ordeal and tortured existence. However, it’s a wonder to watch the weird worlds of David Bowie and David Lynch intersect, even if for only a fleeting moment.
Bowie’s ostensibly final contribution to the world of horror would be his on-screen hosting role on the TV anthology horror series THE HUNGER, even though it shares no connection to the Bowie film. Bowie hosted the latter half of the show’s run, even acting in the second season premiere in a reunion with Tony Scott. While the series was largely left without acclaim, the series does carry a cult following, many of whom came aboard for Bowie’s presence alone and discovered the program on DVD.
David Bowie sadly never worked in the horror genre again, despite churning out terrifying music videos for his contemporary releases. While one might wish that Bowie had taken the role of Robert Lecter in Bryan Fuller’s HANNIBAL, it sadly never transpired, with Bowie’s BLACKSTAR album, LAZARUS musical and health issues preventing him from otherwise appearing on the series. Though that missed opportunity joins the many hypotheticals that haunt the world of horror like a specter, the truth is that those who adored and loved the work of David Bowie are grateful for everything the artist did for his audiences.
Even Bowie’s music remains integral to the history of horror, with his music and lyrics having provided an atmospheric backdrop for several terror titles. Most notably, Bowie created the original song for Paul Schrader’s remake of CAT PEOPLE, a track that set the template for the erotic horror film and would become another hit single for the pop legend. But one can look at the soundtracks for THE HUNGER, HELLRAISER III, DOGVILLE and more to see just how effective Bowie’s melodies can be when paired with the horror genre. And even for all of its issues, AMERICAN HORROR STORY paid tribute to Bowie’s time-honored songs on their FREAK SHOW season, even being the centerpiece of the bloody season premiere.
But even with every single unparalleled artistic achievement that can be attributed to David Bowie, he was only just a man. Beyond the paint, the music, the movies, the dancing, and the mythology was a father and a husband, fragile, intimate and loving. He will be missed, by some more than others, but he certainly cannot be forgotten. Rest in Peace.