David Bowie didn't know he was terminally ill until his last few months.

David Bowie didn't know he was terminally ill until his last few months.
Advertising

While many people believe that David Bowie's final album, "Blackstar," was meant as a parting gift to his fans before he died of liver cancer, a new documentary reveals that Bowie didn't know he was terminally ill during the making of the song, The Guardian reports. The film, David Bowie: The Last Five Years​, is set to air on BBC2 this Saturday, as a commemoration of the beloved star's death in January 2016.

Bowie's death came just a few days after the release of his 25th album, but he kept his illness a secret from the world. Amidst the critical acclaim he was receiving for his album, suddenly, he was gone. Some fans saw his video for "Lazarus" as a sort of foreshadowing of his terminal diagnosis; it depicts him lying in a stark hospital bed, blindfolded and struggling to sit upright. In many ways, the song's lyrics felt like a statement on how near to death Bowie, 69 when he died, felt, as well as a reflection on all he had accomplished.

Look up here, I'm in heaven
I've got scars that can't be seen
I've got drama, can't be stolen
Everybody knows me now

While it's a logical conclusion to draw, the director of the video, Johan Renck, says it's not true, and that he actually came up with the video a week before Bowie found out he was terminal. "To me it had to do with the biblical aspect of it ... it had nothing to do with him being ill," says Renck. "I found out later that, the week we were shooting, it was when he was told it was over, they were ending treatments and that his illness had won."

Advertising

The new documentary promises to shed light on many aspects of Bowie's final years, a period when he chose to live further removed from the public eye. The director, Francis Whately, previously made another Bowie documentary, Five Years, which focused on five of the musician's creatively significant years from 1971 - 1983. Whately also believes that treating Blackstar as a parting gift that Bowie created for his fans is reductive.

"People are so desperate for Blackstar to be this parting gift that Bowie made for the world when he knew he was dying but I think it’s simplistic to think that. There is more ambiguity there than people want to acknowledge. I don’t think he knew he was going to die."

Advertising

While the documentary might leave us with even more questions than answers, that's probably exactly what Bowie would have wanted.

Advertising