David Bowie: The Last Five Years Shows Final Creative Burst

The Thin White Duke died in a flurry of creation that led to his final album, HBO chronicles in David Bowie: The Last Five Years

“I heard telephones, opera house, favorite melodies,” David Bowie sang on the opening track of his Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars album. “My brain hurt like a warehouse, it had no room to spare. I had to cram so many things to store everything in there.” Bowie, who died on Jan. 10, 2016, ended nearly a decade of silence to engage in an extraordinary burst of activity, producing two groundbreaking albums and a musical in his last years. David Bowie: The Last Five Years, will explore this unexpected end to a remarkable career. The documentary debuts on what would have been the Thin White Duke’s 71st birthday, Monday, Jan. 8, at 8 p.m. ET, exclusively on HBO.

The BBC documentary David Bowie: The Last Five Years was directed by Francis Whately, who helmed the 2013 documentary David Bowie: Five Years, chronicling Bowie’s golden years of the seventies to early 80s.

Here is the official trailer for the documentary:


David Bowie had a “frightening brush with mortality” during the 2003–2004 “Reality” tour, according to HBO’s official site. He suffered a heart attack during what was to be his final full concert. He “then disappeared from public view, only re-emerging in the last five years of his life to make some of the most important music of his career.”

The documentary focuses on three major projects: the musical Lazarus, which was inspired by the character he played in the 1976 film The Man Who Fell to Earth; and the albums The Next Day and Blackstar, which was released on Bowie’s 69th birthday, two days before his death in 2016. According to reports at the time, Blackstar was planned to be Bowie’s farewell album, but the director recently revealed that that wasn’t exactly the case. Bowie didn’t know his cancer treatments would be unsuccessful until after the album was recorded.

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David Bowie: The Last Five Years gives a unique behind-the-scenes look at Bowie’s creative process. Dispelling the simplistic view that his career was simply predicated on change, the film includes revealing interviews with many of Bowie’s closest creative collaborators. The filmmakers interviewed Bowie’s longtime producer Tony Visconti, along with musicians who contributed to The Next Day and Blackstar.

Jonathan Barnbrook, the graphic designer of both albums, and Robert Fox, the producer of Lazarus, also spoke for the documentary, along with cast members from the show. They also speak with  Johan Renck, director of Bowie’s final music video, Lazarus, which was widely discussed as foreshadowing his death.

The documentary also features excerpts from many of Bowie’s biggest hits, including “Fame,” “Rebel Rebel,” “‘Heroes’” and “Space Oddity,” as well as songs from his last two albums, juxtaposing footage from the music videos “The Stars (Are Out Tonight),” “Blackstar” and “Lazarus” with studio performances by the musicians on the albums.

On Feb. 12, 2017, David Bowie posthumously swept the 2017 Grammy Awards with five wins for Blackstar, including: Best Rock Performance, Best Alternative Music Album, Best Recording Package, Best Engineered Album, Non-Classical and Best Rock Song.

HBO Documentary Films will present David Bowie: The Last Five Years on Jan. 8, 2018.