This time 5 years ago, everyone with any public outlet was dashing around typing up a personal obituary for the man who fell to earth. But how exactly do you sum up a creature like the mercurial musician David Bowie, how do you elucidate the void he left behind, how do you even come close to encapsulating the collective grief of the millions in mourning?
As the curtain falls on King Lear, one of the most important and influential pieces of dramatic literature ever (apparently), the last line is not some rollicking homerun, rather like the shortest verse in the bible — ‘Jesus wept’ — Shakespeare closes his play with the artless epitaph of ‘He died’. The point is two-fold; the life that went before the death is what’s important, and how the hell could you follow a life like that anyway? To aggrandise the very last act in a culminating denouement would be wrong and detracting, thus by refusing to do so, we remember the sentence and not the full stop, so to speak.
It would seem a similar force that held the Bard’s words hostage which would affect many of those to whom Bowie meant the most, as the pens and keyboards of millions of glossy-eyed fans strained for words to sermonise about the Starman.
It is sad when any precious addition to our dismal daily lives departs, but it was different when Bowie went. So singular was his influence it was always just nice to know he was out there, ‘taking her easy for all us sinners’, and when he left, it felt like he had taken some unspoken sparkle with him too.
The nation was deflated in defeat. Blackstar, the album the singer released on his birthday and just two days before his death, had been his finest work for decades and it seemed our hero had been struck down in his rediscovered pomp.
But for any mourners in the UK, who just so happened to be perched in front of Channel 5’s Celebrity Big Brother, the best eulogy ever was about to be delivered from a truly unlikely source.
Within the Big Brother House, that year were 3 characters who would act out a King Lear-Esque tragedy of their own — David’s ex-wife Angie Bowie, Tiffany Pollard of Sharknado 5: Global Swarming as well as a host more reality shows and David Guest.
On the devastating day of David Bowie’s passing, in the hours before it had been made public, David Guest had fallen ill. Trying to escape the usual frolics and fracases of the Big Brother House, a ludicrous setting for any real-life living, he retreated to his bed, where under the guidance of the show’s medics, he was instructed to get some rest. He pulled his blanket over his head and did just that.
Not long later the sad news on Bowie broke. Producers summoned Angie to the Diary Room and informed her of the tragic news of her ex-husbands passing.
Over the course of the show, Angie had struck up somewhat of an accord with Tiffany and the emotionally empathetic American picked up a note in her new friends’ sullen disposition. When asked what was up, Angie uttered the fateful phrase: “David has died.”
Tiffany’s eyes flared, panic and disbelief set in, veins leapt upon the face of our Sharknado star and as Angie added for good measure, “it just happened now. Cancer,” she began to enter a frenzy of screaming. As Angie’s grief is comfortingly sequestered for a minute, replaced by ambivalence, she sits, taken aback, wondering how she could ever have known Tiffany was such a fan her late ex-husband.
In the eyes of our friend from Flavor of Love, the David that Angie was referring to was fellow housemate David Guest. Only a matter of hours early he had been ill, but up and about nevertheless, no doubt sharing breakfast with the gang, now in Tiffany’s mind he lay entombed in his duvet having died of some sort of instant strain of cancer and, much to her incredulity, his cadaver resided only a few beds over from hers and for some reason producers had only informed Angie and left his corpse to go cold.
Angie had asked her to keep it to herself, but the enormity of being one of only two housemates to know they were living with a stiffening celebrity corpse proved too much of a burden to bear alone. She raced outside to fellow housemates who were equally alarmed by the screaming commotion. They confronted her and tried to absorb the news, frankly too insane to be distressing.
Once informed, the logic of the group was to inspect the body. The duvet was peeled back, and a shocked David Guest was informed that he was in fact dead. The traumatised man rebuked these remarks and declared that he was only suffering from a minor headache. Contrary to any rumours that Angie was inexplicably trying to seed, he had not succumbed to the darkness.
In time the truth would naturally make sense of the mix-up but for a while, things seemed stranger than fiction. Is there anything more Bowie than that?
It was a TV riot that bore all of his hallmarks; a flair for the dramatic, histrionics, hilarity and that quintessentially David unhuman-human touch, and, in death as in life — endlessly entertaining. The most surreal man had the most surreal send-off. For a moment at least, fans were crying tears of a different kind, as fittingly Major Tom still seemed to be weaving his magic from up in the star-clad firmament, the greatest celebrity big brother of them all. Five years ago today, he died.