FROM Ziggy Stardust to the Thin White Duke, David Bowie’s flamboyant alter-egos defined the 1970s Yet his final incarnation was perhaps the most surprising of all – the gentle and contented family man who lived a quiet life in his adopted city of New York.
The singer liked nothing better than getting up at dawn and walking the streets of the city. The self-confessed “seriously early riser” would pound the pavements of Chinatown, chatting to market traders setting out their stalls, most of whom had no clue who he was.
Today the city that never sleeps is mourning its adopted son, an extraordinary talent who lived a very ordinary life among them.
As fans came to pay their respects outside the Lafayette Street home where he died last Sunday aged 69, the Starman’s Soho neighbours painted a fascinating portrait of the celebrity in their midst who shunned the showbusiness lifestyle.
Marla Tremsky, 42, general manager of upmarket Broadway grocery store Dean & Deluca, recalls how Bowie “always looked dapper” as he did his supermarket shop.
“He was so polite, appreciative and patient.”
Bowie first visited New York in 1971, spellbound by the 1967 Andy Warhol-produced album The Velvet Underground & Nico.
When he moved there permanently in 1993 he was a regular at St Dymphna’s Irish pub on St Mark’s, where he would eat shepherd’s pie after a stroll in Washington Square Park.
“He loved hearty food, it reminded him of England,” says manager Raquel Sanguedo, 41.
“Sometimes he’d have a full Irish breakfast. He would come here, have his meal and no one would bother him. It’s not the kind of place where people take selfies or ask for autographs.”
Although teetotal in recent years, he would also pop into the Irish bar Puck Fair opposite his home. Danilo Durante, 58, owner of Bowie’s local Italian cafe, Bottega Falai, recalls how the singer would scribble away in a little notebook while he washed down proscuttio sandwiches and Italian pastries with cups of coffee.
“He was the quintessential Englishman in New York,” he says.
“He was a gentle man and a gentleman. The last time I saw him was three or four months ago. I had no idea how ill he was.”
Bowie’s representatives have refused to comment on claims he was secretly cremated with no friends or family present. A private funeral ceremony is planned for January 25 while artists including Cyndi Lauper will perform at a memorial concert at Carnegie Hall on March 31.
Despite his 18-month battle with liver cancer, Bowie remained engaged with the New York music scene and would attend rehearsals of his offBroadway show Lazarus at the New York Theater Workshop, where only director Ivo Van Hove knew he was dying.
Musician and fan Lavondo Thomas, 45, revealed how Bowie showed up at his friend Donnie McCaslin’s gig unannounced and enjoyed the experimental jazz saxophonist’s performance so much he invited him to play on his latest album, Blackstar.
“He dressed like a dad. He had no entourage. He asked for no special treatment and made no special demands. In between takes he would ask, ‘Was that all right? What do you think of that harmony?’… Dude, you are David Bowie, are you seriously asking this bunch of clowns for their opinion?
“Here was a man who lived at the zenith of wealth and celebrity. His work succeeded both commercially and intellectually. He should have been the most pretentious man in the universe but he just wasn’t.”