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New David Bowie Documentary Reveals He Didn’t Intend Blackstar to Be His Final Project

Much of the awe and mystery surrounding David Bowie’s final album Blackstar was inspired by the incredible timing of its release, just two days before Bowie’s death on January 10, 2016. But a new documentary about the rock icon’s last years suggests he was eager to keep working, and did not intend the album as a final bow or a parting gift to fans.

David Bowie: The Last Five Years focuses on Blackstar and the 2013 album The Next Day, as well as Bowie’s stage musical, Lazarus. It’s directed by Francis Whately, who also directed the 2013 doc David Bowie: Five Yearswhich covered Bowie’s Ziggy Stardust-era commercial peak.

“I still don’t know if he started making Blackstar before he knew he was ill, or after,” Whatley told the Guardian. “People are so desperate for Blackstar to be this parting gift that Bowie made for the world when he knew he was dying but I think it’s simplistic to think that. There is more ambiguity there than people want to acknowledge. I don’t think he knew he was going to die.”

According to collaborators, Bowie’s final years were marked by a burst of creativity, and he hoped to continue despite the gravity of his illness. The music video for Blackstar’s “Lazarus,” set in a hospital bed, was conceived before Bowie knew his cancer was terminal. He received the bad news during its filming, video director Johan Renck told the Guardian. Ivo Van Hove, who directed the musical Lazarus, says Bowie spoke of staging a sequel, even though he was so weak that attending the production’s December 2015 premiere was a challenge.

The Last Five Years also includes interviews with Bowie’s producer Tony Visconti, musicians who contributed to The Next Day and Blackstar, the albums’ graphic designer Jonathan Barnbrook, the producer and cast of Lazarus, and others. It also features some never-before-heard Bowie audio, including vocals from the Next Day and Blackstar recording sessions.

The documentary airs on BBC Two in the U.K. on Saturday, January 7. Bowie would have turned 70 the following Sunday. Revisit his “Lazarus” music video below.