I don’t get emotional over celebrity deaths. Of course I feel empathy, but despite the familiarity of their faces, celebrities are strangers.
But for some reason, the death of David Bowie feels different.
When I was a kid I watched MTV constantly. Cable was new back then. There were few choices. But MTV — I couldn’t get enough. And David Bowie was one of the pioneers of music video. Let’s Dance and China Girl played nearly every hour. They were fun, and there was something about Bowie that was just cool: he knew who he was and he was at ease with himself.
The older I got the more I learned about Bowie’s previous incarnations — Ziggy Stardust, the Thin White Duke — and I grew to not only respect his talent and innovation, but also appreciate his strong sense of self. David Bowie was a chameleon. He was an iconoclast. He charted his own path.
I’ve never been one for a traditional life, despite how I appear, and my life so far has been one of forging (and re-forging) my own identity, apart from others’ and their expectations. In David Bowie I saw another human who invented and re-invented himself as he saw fit. In David Bowie I saw that such a thing was possible.
In these days after his death I’ve heard people say they loved him because he made being a misfit acceptable. I never felt like a misfit. I never saw that in Bowie either. What I saw was someone who was self-made. Maybe Bowie’s greatest talent was that he could be many things to many people while still remaining true to himself.
All men and women must die, and now Bowie has too. It makes me sad to think of this loss, our loss. But I’m glad for his existence and the example he gave to many of us.