David Bowie Death from Liver Cancer: What Kind, Why & When?

David Bowie died of liver cancer in 2016 after decades of drug and alcohol abuse. Liver disease is most associated with alcohol, so did David Bowie get liver cancer from drinking too much?

Primary liver cancer, the kind David Bowie had, is rare and most often linked to cirrhosis of the liver, typically caused by heavy drinking over a long time. But unhealthy eating or hepatitis B and C have also been linked to cirrhosis.

His treatment began soon after his diagnosis in mid-2014.

But by mid-2015, it appeared as if the cancer was in remission. However, by the end of November of that year, his cancer metastasized and spread throughout his body.

Bowie was in the middle of filming the video for the song “Lazarus” when he stopped his cancer treatment, prioritizing his music over the treatment.

Could it be possible that stopping the treatment mid-way aggravated his condition? Or, just like his fans claim, Bowie knew that his illness was terminal, so he wanted to keep working instead of spending his final days on death bed.

Whatever the case may be. Let’s gather more details on the legendary musician’s life and death.

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When did David Bowie die, and from what?

On January 10, 2016, David Bowie died in his Lafayette Street home in New York City. The musician suffered a rare type of cancer called Primary Liver Cancer (when cancer originates in the liver as opposed to spreading to the liver from other organs).

Bowie’s documentary “David Bowie: The Last Five Years” made by BBC, looks back at the musician’s life near the end. The 1 hour 30 min long documentary reveals that Bowie learned about his terminal cancer only three months before death.

By this time, David was working with music director Johan Renck who informs:

“He found out that it is over…. we’ll end treatment or whatever capacity that means that his illness has won.” 

At one point, the documentary shows Bowie eye-bandaged and lying in a bed.

Renck revealed:

“To me, it had to do with the biblical aspect of it, you know the man who would rise again, and it had nothing to do with him being ill.”

Bowie’s near and dear ones believed that the artist was at the top of his game when recording his final album Blackstar. The album was released on January 8, 2016, to coincide with Bowie’s 69th birthday.

Two days later, Bowie died in his New York home. His official Facebook page read the following lines:  

“January 10, 2016-David Bowie died peacefully today surrounded by his family after a courageous 18-month battle with cancer. While many of you will share in this loss, we ask that you respect the family’s privacy during their time of grief.” 

It’s not enough to say that David Bowie’s death severely impacted how music was now perceived. His kingdom of music stays untouched and chartered in the minds of pop music lovers.

He was an irreplaceable artist and still is to this day.

What causes liver cancer?

Liver cancer is most often caused by liver cirrhosis, which is usually caused by heavy drinking over a long period of time. However, unhealthy eating or hepatitis B and hepatitis C have also been linked to cirrhosis. So Bowie’s lavish lifestyle in the ’70s, was easily a major risk factor.

While researching, I found out a study by Michael Karin shows the vital role our immunity system plays in protecting our bodies from germ invasion and killing us.

According to the same study, if the immunity factor stays the same all the time, these same cells responsible for killing germs can attack their cells. It can sometimes damage the blood vessels’ inner lining.

In terms of David Bowie’s vibrant lifestyle, he markedly increased these risk factors by:

  • Taking drugs in the 70’s and ’80s (heroin, cocaine)
  • Smoking
  • Drinking alcohol heavily
  • Following an unhealthy diet
  • Possibly acquiring infections from unprotected sex
  • Irregular sleeping patterns

Bowie’s medical reports are not available for online access by anyone.

And there is a severe lack of evidence to support that Bowie suffered any infection. Therefore, it’s probably safe to say that acute inflammation may have damaged Bowie’s liver capacity.

How long did David Bowie have liver cancer before he died?

Davie Bowie was sick with liver cancer for approximately 18 months. However, he only knew his liver cancer was terminal about 3 months prior to his death from it, so it was already in the advanced stages when he became aware of it.

But Bowie’s health was plagued for about 12 years. He first stepped away from touring following a mild heart attack in 2004. From here, he suffered a total of six heart attacks until finally, liver cancer claimed his life in 2016.

After over 100 shows, Bowie went on his most extended tour commencing in October 2003. I was lucky enough to see him around this time (4th row!), and the show was spectacular (and far superior to the Let’s Dance-era show I saw in 1983).

But the worldwide concert tour to support his album “Reality” saw Bowie complaining of severe chest pains in June 2004.

Test reports informed that the chest pain was a heart attack that required a small angioplasty to open up his blocked arteries. The heart attack forced the concert managers to cancel fourteen dates near the end of the tour.

Following further dates, Wendy Leigh, Bowie’s biographer told BBC, “He didn’t just battle cancer…he had six heart attacks in recent years.”

Bowie pushed his limits and became productive for ten more years despite poor health conditions. His public appearances became more infrequent. Bowie ultimately decided to retire from the public eye in 2006, making this his last tour.

In 2016, he released his final album (Blackstar), which most of his fans still believe was a parting gift because he knew he would never recover from the illness. But honestly, his poor health could not stop him from loving music. But how good at guitar was David Bowie? 

Luckily, I made sure to discuss it in a recent article. Also, find out how David chose his guitar players and who was the best guitarist?

Just click that link to read it on my site.

When did David Bowie first get into drugs?

David Bowie’s entanglement with drugs began in the late 1960s, a period coinciding with the rise of his music career. His initial encounters with cannabis and LSD served more as explorations of consciousness, fitting in with the counterculture of the time. However, these early dalliances served as precursors to more intense drug use.

In the early 1970s, Bowie’s drug consumption began escalating.

As he skyrocketed to stardom following the success of his Ziggy Stardust persona and album in 1972, so too did his intake of cocaine. Cocaine became Bowie’s drug of choice and he was known to have a heavy reliance on it throughout this period. His thin, drawn look during his ‘Thin White Duke’ era is emblematic of his substance abuse during these years.

His cocaine use became so heavy that, by his own admission, he barely remembered recording his 1976 album “Station to Station”. Bowie’s addiction was increasingly problematic and, by the mid-70s, he was dealing with serious health issues and paranoia, attributed to his extensive drug use.

In 1976, Bowie moved to West Berlin to escape the drug culture that had ensnared him in Los Angeles. This move marked the beginning of a new phase in Bowie’s life and career, known as his Berlin Trilogy. It was in Berlin that Bowie started his journey towards sobriety, drawing away from his drug-ridden LA lifestyle.

Thus, while David Bowie’s relationship with drugs began as a sort of exploration, it escalated into a severe addiction that dominated a significant portion of his life. However, his ultimate ability to confront and overcome his addiction marked an important personal and professional turning point in his life.

Was David Bowie an alcoholic?

David Bowie had a well-documented struggle with drug addiction, particularly with cocaine during the height of his fame in the 1970s. However, Bowie’s relationship with alcohol is less publicly scrutinized, though it was indeed a significant part of his battle with substances.

In the 1970s, while cocaine was Bowie’s primary vice, alcohol was also a regular fixture. Bowie’s drug and alcohol consumption were largely intertwined. The fast-paced rock ‘n’ roll lifestyle of the time, with its party-centric ethos, certainly fueled his consumption of both substances.

As the 1980s rolled in, Bowie made significant efforts to clean up his act. After moving to Berlin in the late 1970s to escape the drug scene in Los Angeles, Bowie managed to largely kick his cocaine habit. However, during this period, Bowie began drinking more heavily, turning to alcohol as he pulled away from drugs. In essence, he replaced one addiction with another.

In various interviews, Bowie admitted to struggling with alcoholism during the early 1980s. He referred to himself as a “blow-in alcoholic” and confessed that he used alcohol as a crutch to deal with his social anxiety. Despite his charisma on stage, Bowie was notably introverted and used alcohol as a means to navigate the social demands of his profession.

It was in the mid-1980s that Bowie sought help for his alcohol addiction. Like his struggle with drugs, he was successful in overcoming his dependency on alcohol. He remained sober for the last three decades of his life, stating that his sobriety was one of his proudest achievements.

Therefore, while David Bowie is often associated with drug addiction, his battle with alcohol was a significant part of his journey with substances. Despite his struggles, Bowie’s ability to confront and overcome his addictions speaks volumes about his resilience and determination.

Did David Bowie ever get clean from drugs?

Yes, David Bowie did eventually become clean from drugs. His struggles with addiction, particularly cocaine, were well-documented, reaching their peak in the mid-1970s when he lived in Los Angeles. The period was one of intense creative output for Bowie but also one of immense personal turmoil due to his escalating drug use.

The seriousness of his addiction became evident to Bowie after a few near-death experiences and realizing he was losing his sanity. Determined to reclaim his life, Bowie relocated to Berlin in the late ’70s, a move that marked the beginning of his journey towards sobriety. Berlin offered a less hectic pace of life and a vibrant arts scene, providing Bowie with an ideal setting to focus on his music and personal health.

In Berlin, Bowie began to distance himself from his drug-fueled past. Working with collaborator Brian Eno, he produced some of his most critically acclaimed work during this period, known as the “Berlin Trilogy”. His lifestyle in Berlin was a stark contrast to his previous LA life; he cycled, painted, and enjoyed a more balanced, healthier lifestyle.

Despite these positive changes, Bowie’s road to sobriety was not without setbacks. He faced struggles with alcohol addiction even after quitting drugs. However, by the mid-1980s, Bowie had managed to overcome his substance addictions.

He maintained his sobriety for the remainder of his life.

Bowie often spoke candidly about his past struggles with drugs in interviews, acknowledging the negative impacts they had on his mental health and personal relationships. He expressed a sense of gratitude for overcoming his addiction, which he maintained until his passing in 2016.

What The Final 12 Months Of David Bowie's Life Was Really Like

Conclusion

After a rigorous battle with his liver cancer for 18 long months, David Bowie, born David Jones, bid farewell to the world in 2016, just two days after his 69th birthday.

Although unknown to the medical condition in his final days, Bowie’s fans believed that his excessive alcohol abuse was one of the reasons for his death. And to be honest, there are enough studies that support this claim.

Excessive alcohol consumption can cause inflammation in arteries blocking the flow of blood and finally damaging the capacity of liver performance.

So, given these claims and evidence, it is hard to deny that Bowie may have died due to drinking too much.

Frequently Asked Questions

Did David Bowie have a funeral?

David’s death was as unconventional as his lifestyle. He opted out of a traditional funeral, expressed his desire to “go without a fuss,” and did not have a funeral or public memorial.

Bowie made his plans clear to his family about how he wanted to depart by the end of his life. He told his wife Iman what he wanted when the time came.

The singer told his family that he did not want a funeral service or public memorial and wanted to remember the good times they shared and the music they made.

His family respected their beloved singer’s wishes deeply and so “unbeknown to his millions of fans around the world, his body was quietly cremated after he died.”– wrote Mirror.co.uk

But honestly, in many respects, who needs a memorial service to remember the great David Bowie when you have his music instead? He wanted to leave peacefully with no fuss, no big show.

And his last album was enough to say the last goodbyes his fans would have loved to hear.

Why did Bowie stop performing live?

Bowie stopped performing live due to a series of heart attacks starting in 2004. He suffered acute blockages in his arteries and decided to slow down and stop performing.

While the last decade of the singer’s life was littered with rumors and festival slots, Bowie mostly kept himself away from the stage. He retired from the public eye to lead a simple life with his wife Iman and daughter Alexandria Zahra “Lexi” Jones.

His last performance was part of a charity concert. Bowie stole the show with a stunning version of “Life on Mars.” This track was among the first few tracks that commissioned the English singer-songwriter’s career to great heights. Amazingly, Bowie wrote the song all by himself.

But is there any song that Bowie co-wrote that brought him success? 

Luckily, I made sure to talk about it in a recent article. I cover some of his most famous collaborations, but I also answer the much-asked question of whether he helped John Lennon write Imagine.

Just click the link to read it on my site.

What were David Bowie’s last words?

David Bowie’s last words to the public were not explicitly recorded, but his final album, “Blackstar,” is widely regarded as his farewell message.

Released just two days before his death, it’s filled with cryptic lyrics hinting at his imminent demise. Specifically, the line “Look up here, I’m in heaven” from the song “Lazarus” was seen by many as a direct acknowledgment of his terminal illness.

In terms of direct communication, Bowie’s friend and producer Tony Visconti shared Bowie’s thoughts. Visconti said Bowie considered “Blackstar” his “parting gift” to fans, indicating he was fully aware of his dwindling health during its creation. So, while his literal last words aren’t known, Bowie’s farewell to the world was encapsulated in his music, where he bid a poignant and deeply personal goodbye.

But in one of his final interviews, he did have this to say:

“Music has given me over 40 years of extraordinary experiences I can’t say that life’s pains or more tragic episodes have been diminished because of it, but it has allowed me so many moments of companionship that when I have been lonely and sublime means communications when I have wanted to touch people. It has been my doorway of perception and the house that I live in.”


Image by Tommaso Tabacchi from Pixabay and Image by pascal OHLMANN from Pixabay

Jeff Campbell

Hi, I'm Jeff Campbell, a former DJ, music journalist, musician, and music lover. I'm old enough to have seen all the cool bands and young enough to still remember them.

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