Unrecognisable in flat cap, jeans, scruffy hoody and wraparound sunglasses as he carried his lunch — a beef sandwich and salad — in a paper bag, David Bowie wouldn’t attract a second glance on his rare forays out on to the streets of Manhattan.
He had a rule, said friends, not to stand on a street corner for any length of time in case he was recognised.
The star who had spent most of his career doing his utmost to get noticed spent his last years trying to do the opposite as he fiercely guarded a privacy he had never enjoyed before.
Bowie moved to New York in 1993, a year after he married the Somali-born supermodel Iman and in 2000 they had a daughter, Alexandria, also known as Lexi (pictured as a baby)
The singer once said the birth of his daughter Alexandria, now 15, gave him the will to stay healthy
Until a few years ago, his closest artistic colleagues despaired of the superstar ever recording again — but in that, as in everything, the never predictable Bowie was to surprise them.
Tony Visconti, a veteran producer and Bowie’s longest-running collaborator, said he would be in contact with him over the years. ‘I’d say: “How are you doing? Are you going to record again?” And he’d say: “No, I don’t really care.” ’
When he did start working with Visconti again four years ago, it was conducted in secrecy.
Bowie, Visconti explained, needed to protect himself from his fans and their preconceptions about what his new music should be like. Now we know he was also keeping secret his failing health.
Bowie moved to New York in 1993, a year after he married the Somali-born supermodel Iman.
They initially lived off Central Park, but he craved a more artistically cutting-edge neighbourhood. They found a spacious £4 million loft apartment in the fashionable SoHo district.
He reportedly installed a panic room where he and his family could lock themselves away from any intruders.
David Bowie is pictured with wife Somalian supermodel Iman and daughter Alexandria Zahra Jones
The couple kept homes in London and an Indonesian-style home on the Caribbean island of Mustique, but New York became their main base.
They enjoyed separate but successful careers — the elegant Iman, now 60, runs a make-up and fashion company that turns over as much as £15 million a year.
In 2000 they had a daughter, Alexandria, or Lexi. Unlike Duncan Jones, Bowie’s son — originally named Zowie — from his first marriage to Angie, she was rarely photographed in public.
Iman revealed their ability to separate their public and their private lives was the secret to the success of her marriage to Bowie. As she later confided: ‘I am not married to David Bowie — I am married to David Jones [his real name]. They are two totally different people.’
David Bowie and Iman on their wedding day in 1992
Their domestic life was kept fiercely private. ‘We never have photographs taken in our apartment, we never do fashion shoots together,’ said the impossibly well-preserved Iman.
They didn’t fight over domestic matters such as interior decor, she added, because she always got her way.
After the drug and drink-plagued chaos of his earlier life, a time when he couldn’t even decide whether he was gay, heterosexual or bisexual, Bowie didn’t mind being recast as the stable family man.
Up to a point.
‘David Bowie is not a typical 56-year-old,’ he once said, laughing but clearly perturbed when a U.S. interviewer described him as that.
Bowie made clear he embraced conventional — or relatively conventional — family life largely to give his daughter Lexi a normal upbringing.
‘He missed out on much of Zowie’s young life, and wanted to spend as much time as possible with Lexi,’ said David Buckley, Bowie’s biographer.
That home life revolved around their Manhattan flat — Bowie would emerge most mornings and walk Lexi to school — and a country home a few hours’ in a car away.
He bought an undeveloped 64-acre mountain near the famous hippy town of Woodstock in New York’s Catskills, and built a house there where the family could spend summer away from the sweltering heat of the city.
Lexi attended the local summer day camp.
By then, he had become health-conscious, getting up at 6.30am, working out with a personal trainer three times a week and coping with his nicotine yearnings by chewing on tea tree-flavoured toothpicks.
He told an interviewer that fatherhood — at least second time round — had put his workaholic tendencies ‘into perspective’ and given him the will to stay healthy.
However, the defining moment in Bowie’s later years came one night in June 2004 when he was on stage at a rock festival in Germany.
He began to experience pain in his arm and shoulder, but what he had taken to be a trapped nerve turned out to be a badly blocked artery. He was rushed to hospital for an emergency angioplasty.
Bowie made clear he embraced conventional — or relatively conventional — family life with Iman largely to give his daughter Lexi (pictured) a normal upbringing
Bowie never went on tour again and, apart from a three-song set at New York’s Hammerstein Ballroom in 2006, he never performed again either.
His already retiring public life became that of a semi-recluse, as fans wondered whether he was in some private hospital room battling cancer — as was widely rumoured — or at home with the family playing the devoted dad.
His wife provided the occasional clue about their domestic life in interviews — which Bowie had given up doing — and on social media.
The former heavy smoker had previously insisted on a full English fried breakfast every weekend.
After his heart attack, Iman started making him a fat-free Sunday brunch of egg white omelette, shiitake mushrooms and steamed asparagus.
Iman later revealed she had even replaced his mashed potatoes, a Bowie favourite, with pureed cauliflower with non-fat sour cream.
Their home life revolved around their flat — Bowie would emerge most mornings and walk Lexi to school
His worst poison became a strong macchiato coffee, and he would drink only water while working on his music, painting or writing.
He and Tony Visconti had long been regulars at Alcoholics Anonymous, sometimes reminiscing when they were alone about the bad old days, such as the time they stayed up with John Lennon until 10.30am, working their way through a mountain of cocaine that resembled the Matterhorn, and four bottles of cognac.
Last picture: David Bowie attended the premiere of the musical Lazarus, based on his songs, in New York City on December 7
More recently, Visconti said two years ago, the shared passion that could really get them excited was eating sushi.
Always the classic Englishman, who never took on so much as a trace of an American accent, Bowie was addicted to British TV.
He adored Peter Cook and Dudley Moore, Harry Enfield and Paul Whitehouse.
He also loved the satirical comedy The Office and, more surprisingly, the ITV wartime detective drama Foyle’s War.
‘I always feel a stranger here,’ Bowie said more than 20 years after moving to New York. ‘I am an outsider. I really am still a Brit, there’s no avoiding it.’
His return to making music took everyone by surprise, even Visconti, who got the news that they would be working together again when Bowie rang him out of the blue in 2012.
Many thought that ill-health explained why Bowie turned down a plea to appear at the London Olympics closing ceremony in 2012, even though his song Heroes had become the Games’ unofficial anthem.
He was last seen in public last month, when he attended the New York opening night of Lazarus, a musical which he co-wrote.
Smiling broadly at fans, he looked dapper and chipper, even if his legs looked painfully thin under his jeans, and he appeared to be clutching a bottle of pills.
Now Iman — and the daughter to whom the star was just ‘Dad’ — must come to terms with the loss of this singular man.
Iman and the daughter to whom the star was just ‘Dad’ must come to terms with the loss of this singular man