Ashes to ashes: The rise and fall of Ziggy Stardust

This past week, we lost two true pop icons when both Pat Harrington, Jr., who portrayed lovable apartment superintendent Dwayne Schneider (Jan. 6) and artist-musician David Bowie (Jan. 10) passed away.

From 1975 until 1984, Harrington’s portrayal of Schneider was a highlight for millions of viewers of “One Day at a Time.”One of Norman Lear’s groundbreaking shows, the sitcom dealt with issues such as divorce and teenage sex during a time when morality on television was being reexamined and challenged at every turn. Schneider often provided the lighthearted slapstick in several “very special episodes.”

Harrington continued to act on television and on stage, including a guest appearance on former coworker Valerie Bertinelli’s show “Hot in Cleveland.” He died of complications from Alzheimer’s Disease on Jan. 6 at the age of 86.

More shocking was the news that trendsetting artist David Bowie has died of liver cancer at the age of 69. Keeping his illness out of the press, Bowie instead focused on the release of his final album, “Blackstar,” released Jan. 8.

Always pushing the envelope and breaking rules while somehow maintaining an aura of old-school English regality, Bowie was instrumental in the rise of several genres of music, including glam rock in the early 1970s, English-tinged Krautrock toward the end of that decade, New Wave in the early 1980s, industrial in the early 1990s, and experimental electronica in recent years. His hits “Space Oddity” (1969), “Changes” (1972), “Ashes to Ashes” (1980), “Let’s Dance” (1983), along with dozens more, will remain in the American lexicon (and on American radio) for years to come.

In addition to his music, BowBowie1ie ventured into other areas, including acting (1976’s “The Man Who Fell to Earth” and 1983’s “The Hunger” are highlights). He also used his iconic status to challenge traditional roles and values, quietly shocking conservatives with androgyny and alternative lifestyles, often changing looks and personalities every few years.

Like many of my generation, I first really took notice of Bowie during his high point of success with his early 80s pop hits. When exploring his 1960s and 1970s backlog, I was surprised at just how much of his music I recognized from listening to the tunes seeping out from my older siblings’ rooms growing up. Even as a youngster, I was impressed with how eclectic the music was, as he effortlessly glided from one genre to the next…and did it well.

For many of us who never really “fit in,” the music and fluid personas of David Bowie reminded us that art and individuality were never meant to be part of the cookie-cutter mold of “acceptable society.” When Cherie Currie paints her face like Bowie’s alien alter-ego Ziggy Stardust and performs for her derisive high school peers at the beginning of the film “The Runaways,” it is one more reminder of just how much influence David Robert Jones had on the music, culture, fashion and values that shapes (or at least tinges) many of us.

I wish you could swim
Like the dolphins, like dolphins can swim
Though nothing, nothing will keep us together
We can beat them, forever and ever
Oh we can be heroes, just for one day.

(Bowie)

Without David Bowie, pop culture would be a different place today. That doesn’t fade so easily, even after the man responsible has left the stage.

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