When I saw the news on Twitter that David Bowie had died, I started to cry. It was the middle of the night, but I couldn’t sleep anymore. I tossed and turned with “Heroes” echoing in my head.

Here it is, three days later and I’m still trying to process it. David Bowie was not just part of the soundtrack of my life, he represented the ultimate in individuality.

This was a time of Carly Simon, Neil Diamond, Neal Young, and Elton John. In Bowie’s early years, The Beatles were still recording. Led Zeppelin hit it big about when Bowie did. In this company, Bowie stood out. And he was hugely popular, which was perhaps odd because this was still a time when people didn’t admit to being gay, not publicly. Conformity was still the norm. Queerness was shunned, ridiculed, sometimes beaten. This was before punk, before new wave, before metal, but I can’t help but feel that those movements all grew out of aspects of Bowie profound stage presence and music. And while Bowie was not vocal about his private life, his performances, especially as Ziggy Stardust, challenged people’s notions of sexuality and gender, and rumors in the press colored public perceptions of him. And yet they loved his music. We all did. (Well, except for those who didn’t. They can speak for themselves.)

Bowie was there in my college days, in grad school, and repeatedly from then on—always different, even after he dropped the deliberate personas. And he was there in movies. My own favorites were Merry Christmas, Mr. LawrenceThe Man Who Fell to Earth, and The Hunger. Bowie showed us that we could be ourselves. He rejected the establishment even as he exploited it. And just by being there, he let us know that things were okay.

And now he’s gone. I’m still trying to absorb that.

Below is a fascinating interview. At about 6:25 or so, he starts talking about the internet. Listening to it, you have to remind yourself that this was recorded in 1999. It could be an interview today. Such insight!

Below are some music videos and performance clips of just some of the songs I’ve loved so much. I recommend also browsing images online. You’ll see someone who loved life and loved people. His open smile in candid settings. He was so alive! One of my big regrets is that I never saw him in concert.

In searching for clips for this post, I stumbled across this BBC documentary buried deep in the links. Definitely worthwhile for anyone interested in the man. [Edit: The video has been taken down. Wish I had transcribed the title.]

Even in the face of death, he kept creating and reinventing himself. His death caught us by surprise, but he knew it was coming. He shares it in his final album, Blackstar, released last Friday on his birthday. It’s painful and beautiful.