It’s been a year since David Bowie’s death, so we wanted to revisit some of our best looks into his work.
On January 10, 2016, David Bowie passed away after battling cancer. The news came as a shock; after all, Bowie had just released a new album, Blackstar, two days earlier, coinciding with his 69th birthday. Eulogies and remembrances came pouring in from people all over the world, from all walks of life: musicians, politicians, journalists and astronomers — Bowie had clearly touched many lives across many generations. His many fans felt like they’d lost a loved one.
Across his fifty year career, Bowie proved one of the most influential artists of all time, winning countless awards and honors, gaining inductions into both the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and the Science Fiction and Fantasy Hall of Fame and even having a spider named after him: Heteropoda davidbowie!
Bowie was also an accomplished, award-winning actor, starring in pictures from the children’s cult-classic Labyrinth to the big-budget drama The Last Temptation of Christ.
And of course, Bowie’s legacy left immeasurable contributions in fashion, inspiring everyone from Iggy Pop in the ‘70s to Lady Gaga in the ‘10s. In short, Bowie was a once-in-a-lifetime, fully-complete icon; no one before or after has come even remotely close.
And yet, because of all his accolades and accomplishments, it’s easy to overlook Bowie’s noted humanitarian efforts.
So while others write endless pieces about Bowie’s long career and the amazing impact he’s had on the cultural landscape and all of our lives, let’s remember this amazing visionary by looking at five of his lesser-known (but still enduring) contributions to improving the world:
1) He worked with various AIDS foundations
As early as 1990, Bowie and supermodel wife Iman were involved in AIDS activism, taking part in the 7th on Sale fundraiser, which helped fund research for treating and curing AIDS. Though the disease was still relatively new at the time, from that point forward, Bowie became a lifelong activist, participating in countless events for numerous charitable organizations.
Perhaps most notable was his involvement with Keep a Child Alive. Founded by Alicia Keys and AIDS-activist Leigh Blake, this organization works mainly in Sub-Saharan Africa to treat, educate and counsel those who have (or are at risk of contracting) HIV/AIDS.
Bowie performed at Keep a Child Alive’s 2006 Black Ball. Additionally, he and Iman participated in the “I Am African” campaign, which drew attention to the Foundation’s cause.
2) He collaborated with War Child
Over the past 25 years, the European organization War Child has raised millions of dollars to provide assistance for children affected by war. A large part of these donations have come thanks to all-star collaboration albums that help raise awareness.
Bowie got involved in the 2009 compilation, War Child Presents Heroes, whose concept was “placing faith in the next generation.” Accordingly, music legends selected one of their own songs and picked a “next generation” artist to cover it. Bowie hand-selected TV On the Radio to cover “Heroes”; their excellent cover can be heard above.
3) He performed at Live Aid
In 1985, Bowie played the Live Aid mega-concert to help raise money and awareness about a devastating famine in Ethiopia. For the occasion, Bowie collaborated with Mick Jagger to remake Martha and the Vandellas’ “Dancing the Street”. Though the awful, creepily-homoerotic music video proved a dud, the song still became a huge hit (number one in the UK, number seven in the US) with all proceeds going to charity.
Of course, Bowie also performed at Live Aid: holding court at Wembley Stadium in London, Bowie played “TVC 15,” “Rebel Rebel,” “Modern Love” and “Heroes.” Before launching into the final song, Bowie dedicated “Heroes” to his son, then famously included “all our children, and the children of the world.” The unifying effect of his words was the perfect way to cap off an amazing day.
4) He helped Black artists get played on MTV
With his 1983 album, Let’s Dance, Bowie had his most unexpected transformation yet: a slick, hit-making pop star. The album was a huge smash, spinning off three US top twenty hits, suddenly putting Bowie in the company of other pop-rock bands like Duran Duran and the Eurthymics on radio and MTV.
Bowie could’ve just enjoyed his commercial success as a welcomed surprise. But instead, he used his renewed public prominence to rail against MTV for not playing more music videos by Black artists. In the video above, Bowie states that he is “just floored by the fact that there are so few Black artists” on the channel. When original MTV VJ, Mark Goodman, tries to defend the channel’s misguided White-washed choices, Bowie double-downs by alluding to the fact that MTV has a responsibility to represent all of America with its video selections, not just the White kids.
Michael Jackson, Prince, Lionel Richie and other Black artists had already helped break down MTV’s color barrier, but it was refreshing to see a White artist join their ranks and take a stand against blatant racism.
5) He raised awareness about Australian Aborigines
Similarly, Bowie used his music videos as statements. For example, despite the upbeat tune and throwaway lyrics of “Let’s Dance,” Bowie famously used the video to comment on the difficulty Australian Aborigines have in assimilating to “modern” culture. Such “important message” videos have become increasingly more common, but at the time, Bowie’s choice felt revolutionary when most other videos were just glorified performance clips.
So while Bowie might be gone from our world, his spirit lives on. He was an artist, a chameleon, a poet and a legend, yes. But he was also one of the greatest humanitarians of his day! David Bowie, you will be missed, dearly!