He was a musician who accomplished the rare and enviable feat of changing musical styles like a caterpillar evolving into a butterfly into a sparrow into a hawk into some strange but beautiful mechanized, cybernetic flying creature gifted with music that was like nothing and everythiing you had ever heard before. He did wild and crazy things because he could, and made them beautiful, or at least awesome.
I was aware of his earlier stages; "Space Oddity" and "Suffragette City" and other songs were on Top 40 radio, back when it played everything, but I don't think I actually picked up any of his albums until Young Americans came out; that album of blue-eyed soul slightly tinged with the corrosive cynicism of late 70s New York grabbed me at the time, and so did Station to Station, which is still one of my favorite albums by him. I remember playing that album, and my mother asking who he was after hearing him singing "Wild is the Wind"; she'd heard the original years before, and liked Bowie's rendition of it a lot. After that, I bought all the Bowie that came out, especially as he moved into his Berlin period with Brian Eno. Heroes, especially its title song, struck a chord in me when it first came out, and again years later when my marriage was going though an especially rough stage. Low was interesting, and Lodger had its moments (especially its connections to the horrific movie about teenage heroin addicts in Berlin, Christine F. - Wir Kinder vom Bahnhof Zoo) but when Scary Monsters came out, I was disenchanted, and sold both it and Lodger to a fellow soldier who was much more enamored of him.
But then Let's Dance came out, and it was awesome, but it was the last album of his that I bought for quite a while - marriage and poverty got in the way, and it wasn't until Black Tie White Noise that I picked another one up. Well, I think I have the Tin Machine cassette somewhere. Still, I have more David Bowie on the Winamp than any other artist besides Jason and the Scorchers, and more of his music is tied to different people and times and places in my life than anyone else's, that's for sure.
Which is why his passing (hopefully a painless one, after fighting cancer for eighteen months out of the public eye) hits me a lot harder than some of the other musicians who have shuffled off the mortal coil of late. He was a unique talent, a colossus of the arts who at the same time was capable of great kindness to his fans. I submit that his refusing a knighthood was a sign of this inner grace and kindness - he was already an aristocrat, the Thin White Duke made flesh; what need had he for earthly titles?