In the early 2000s, Bowie released two albums, Heathen in 2002 and Reality in 2003. Both albums, in one form or another, were influenced by the 9/11 terrorist attacks. Heathen was the by-product of an unreleased album Toy, which was to rework older unpopular songs from the 1960s. However, Bowie and longtime producer Tony Visconti decided to forgo the release of Toy and focus mostly on creating new compositions that would eventually yield the album Heathen. Recordings from Toy still managed to be apart of Heathens release. The underlining themes in Heathen are Bowie's response to the 9/11 terrorist attacks with such tracks as "Slow Burn," "Afraid," and "A Better Future." The album was received very well by critics and listeners. It was Bowie's highest charting album since his early 80s albums Tonight and Let's Dance. Author and critic, Dave Thompson said this about Bowie's Heathen:
At the time, and through the months of uncertainty that followed [9/11], the need for bonding was even more pronounced. Heathen sounded like it understood how people felt. People automatically felt the need, then, to understand Heathens and, of all Bowie's albums of the nineties and beyond, it remains the one that is most frequently singled out as his best, because it is certainly his most direct. Even Tony Visconti referred to it as his magnum opus: "I told him, 'That was more like a symphony.'"
The following year, Bowie released Reality. The album was well received. However, while on tour to promote the new album, Bowie suffered a few injuries. The first was when Bowie was hit in the eye by a lollipop thrown by a fan. Later on the tour, Bowie was suffering from chest pains that was diagnosed as an acutely blocked coronary artery and required an immediate medical surgery. Because of this, the tour was cancelled 14 days early. Bowie decided to slow down his creative touring output after the Reality tour.
In 2006, Bowie received the "Lifetime Achievement Award" at the Grammys. That same year Bowie announced that he was going to take sometime off from touring and making studio albums.
Its not surprising that David Bowie would make the transition to film throughout his lifetime. He was practically an actor from the beginning with the creations of his various alter egos, such as Ziggy Stardust, Aladdin Sane and the Thin White Duke. His performances were theatrical, had story lines, and band members played various roles to create the overall production. Bowie starred in his first feature film The Man Who Fell to Earth in 1976. This was a perfect fit for Bowie since the premise of the film was about an alien who crash landed on Earth and was trying to find a way to transport the Earth's water back to his planet which was in severe drought. Since its release, The Man Who Fell to Earth has maintained an avid cult following. It would be assumed that Bowie would be responsible for the soundtrack, but due to some contractual disagreements, Bowie had no representation with the music on the film.
Bowie would go on through the 70s and 80s as a star in many featured films, including Just a Gigolo in 1978, Merry Christmas Mr. Lawrence in 1983, The Hunger also released in 1983 and Labyrinth in 1986, which might be one of his best known works as an actor. Directed by Jim Henson and George Lucas, Labyrinth is a adventure musical fantasy about a young girl searching for her lost infant brother who was kidnapped by Jareth, the Goblin King, played by Bowie. Besides these three characters, the majority of the roles were played by puppets that Jim Henson created. Unlike The Man Who Fell to Earth, Bowie did have a major role in creating the soundtrack. He recorded five songs for the film, "Underground," Magic Dance," "Chilly Down," "As the World Falls Down," and "Within You." Some of these tracks were released as singles outside of his stdio recordings.
From the movie Labyrinth. The song "Magic Dance" is one of Bowie songs written for the film.
Bowie made many cameo appearances and was the subject for a variety of documentaries about his life and others. One of his more notable cameos occurred in the movie Zoolander where Bowie was the judge of a runway show between two male supermodels, Derek Zoolander and Hansel.
A decade after the release of Reality, Bowie came out with his highest charting album The Next Day in 2013. The The Next day was recorded secretly, with Bowie and his band having to change studio locations in the middle of recording the album because a studio employee leaked information about the recording and its location. Bowie even had everyone involved with the recording to sign Nondisclosure Agreements. Finally, in 2013, Bowie released on his website that a new recording would be coming out later that year. This was accompanied by the single "Where Are We Now?" and its music video. The single instantly went to the top most downloaded song within hours of its release. The album in its entirety was released two months later. The artwork of the album is unique. It is the album cover of Bowie's 1977 release Heroes from his Berlin Trilogy years, with a large white square with album overlaying the image. The original title, Heroes, is crossed out. This album cover was to "forget or obliterate the past" according to designer Jonathan Barnbrook who came up with the image for the album.
Three year later, Bowie released his final album, his 25th studio album in all. Blackstar was released on Bowie's 69th birthday, January 8th 2016. This release was two days before Bowie's death. 18 months earlier Bowie had been diagnosed with liver cancer and had kept this a secret from the public. Blackstar served as a parting gift to listeners, critics and fans. A month before Blackstar's release, Bowie premiered his musical debut Lazarus, starring Michael C. Hall, in New York City. The musical is a sequel to the story line The Man Who Fell to Earth, a movie that came out in 1976 that starred Bowie. The title of the musical is also a well received single from the album Blackstar. Both of Bowie's final works, the musical Lazarus and Blackstar, seemed to have an underlying theme of death and afterlife. People mourned Bowie's death with impromptu gatherings and street shrines. A mural of Bowie was painted in Brixton, London, his origin of birth. Bowie's will indicated that he did not want a funeral and was cremated on January 12th, 2016.
Bowie's impact on the world will never be forgotten. He innovated progressive change throughout his life with personas such as Ziggy Stardust, and his incorporation of various musical styles and innovative techniques. His constant pursuit to reinvent the invented gave the world the ambition to do the impossible. Bowie's influence is more than his creative productions that gave fans and future performers something to strive for, or his collaborations with other artists, styles and artistic expression that helped change so much of how we think today. Bowie changed the world, and not just in entertainment. The German Foreign Office credits Bowie for contributing to the Fall of the Berlin Wall with his album Heroes. Bowie was humble with his success. He turned down a knighthood in 2003, and kept his private life secretive. The world and our lives today would not be as colorful or artistically enlightened if it wasn't for for the influence of David Bowie.