David Bowie fans searching for answers in the days after his death might have their first clues regarding the battle with cancer that shadowed his final 18 months.

Coming mere days after his 69th birthday and the release of his new Blackstar album, the announcement of his passing on Jan. 10 caught the world by surprise, but to those in Bowie's inner circle, news of his condition was nothing new. The Independent quotes stage director Ivo van Hove, who'd been working with him on his new Lazarus musical, as saying he'd known of Bowie's illness for "about a year."

"We began collaborating on our show Lazarus, and at some point he took me to one side to say that he wouldn’t always be able to be there due to his illness. He told me he had cancer, liver cancer," said Hove. "The cast didn’t know all that time, and I suspect that the musicians with whom he recorded Blackstar didn’t know either. He made every effort to complete those two projects on time, not to let his illness win. Bowie was still writing on his deathbed, you could say. He fought like a lion and kept working like a lion through it all. I had incredible respect for that."

The NME, meanwhile, quotes Bowie biographer Wendy Leigh's interview with the BBC, in which Leigh asserts that cancer was only one of multiple health woes that dogged him in recent years. "He didn’t just battle cancer," said Leigh. "He had six heart attacks in recent years. I got this from somebody very close to him."

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