The BBC will air a new documentary about the last years of David Bowie's esteemed career tomorrow (January 7), and it's shaking up the theory that the artist's final album Blackstar was intended as a "parting gift" to fans.
David Bowie: The Last Five Years delves into exactly what the title implies, compiling archival footage, interviews, commentary from friends and collaborators, and the original vocal track for "Lazarus." And it's the video for that same song that's stirring up fresh controversy about Bowie's Blackstar intentions.
According to director Johan Renck [via The Guardian], Bowie found out that his cancer treatment was to be discontinued in the midst of the video shoot — meaning the singer learned that his illness was terminal just three months before passing away.
Renck reveals in the documentary, "David said: 'I just want to make it a simple performance video. I immediately said 'the song is called 'Lazarus,' you should be in the bed.' To me it had to do with the Biblical aspect of it ... it had nothing to do with him being ill.
"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."
That contradicts widespread theories that Blackstar was conceptualized as a "parting gift" to fans — though it will undoubtedly continue to be interpreted as one, as it served as Bowie's final release before his death last year. He passed away on January 10, just two days after the release of the album.
In fact, the week following Bowie's death, long-time producer and collaborator Tony Visconti confirmed to Rolling Stone that Bowie's cancer had become terminal by November 2015. The recording of Blackstar was already complete by then, though Visconti claims he noticed a goodbye-like tone to Blackstar even before that.
"You canny bastard," he told Bowie. "You're writing a farewell album."