David Bowie, and why Dying Matters: A reflection

11 January 2016
Whether you are a fan or not, it is hard to deny that David Bowie was a true artist. He didn’t just make music: he controlled every part of the process. That isn’t to say he did it all: one aspect of his genius lay in his ability to choose and mutually gain from his collaborators. This extended to the image he presented to the world, in clothing, make-up, video and live performance.

He was also a private person. Of his collaborators on his last album Blackstar, those who needed to know he was dying were told; the rest had as little idea as the rest of us. In hindsight, the clues are all there, in the lyrics of the album and the video for new single, Lazarus, but are not morbid: as with much of the rest of his work, they could be taken seriously or playfully.

David Bowie was able to manage his death as well as he managed his art. He was able to face the end of his life and use it as the basis of a final artistic statement, a goodbye to his fans and those he loved. As with his artistic life, he faced death by keeping control over the areas he could control. He shared the news only as far as he wanted; he kept working as long as he wished to; he died in a place of his choosing. In his case, this was at home, with his loved ones, according to his official social media accounts.

We will all respond differently when we face death. But being able to control what we can control about death is important. David Bowie was able to maintain control because he understood the choices available to him, and was presumably able to clearly state his wishes. These in turn were clearly respected by those around him: for example, having wished to keep his news private, there were no leaks or rumours.

The right to make our own decisions when facing our own death is central to the work of Dying Matters, but none of this can happen without honest, clear conversations. None of these conversations will be easy, just as they probably weren’t for David Bowie, but they are important.


Our Chair Gary Rycroft considers what we can learn from the death of David Bowie: Read Gary's blog post

A thank you letter to David Bowie from a palliative care doctor

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Clive James' farewell poetry

Writer and broadcaster Clive James is "saying goodbye" through his poetry. Read Japanese Maple, James' poignant reflection on mortality and the glory of nature. 


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Which of the following describes how you would feel talking to someone close to you about their end of life wishes.

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