That's the in memoriam of David Bowie on social media that seems about as common as referring to Ziggy Stardust. How people are responding to a cultural figure so long-lived and influential reveals some interesting generational differences.
Early Gen X-ers remember his musical personas from Ziggy Stardust through the Thin White Duke. They imprinted on him via the radio, the turntable, and MTV.
Millennials make up a good part of those referring to Labyrinth. They seem to recall his role in the movie more than his crafting of the soundtrack. This reflects a pattern I've detailed earlier (here and here) about how their only memories involve pop culture rather than the outside world, and how movies, TV shows, and video games replaced what should have been real-life experiences.
Unlike an audio-visual narrative like a movie or an immersive video game, music does not simulate or substitute for a real-life experience. Escapist Millennials are not drawn much to music in the first place, they remember little of what they do hear, and they remain emotionally attached to even less. So they're going to remember Bowie as the character of the Goblin King, and not the singer of "Magic Dance" and all the other great songs from the soundtrack.
Late Gen X-ers are also remembering his performance in Labyrinth, but equally for the music as for the persona. This movie played a special role in their development, as the final event in what was a mini-phenomenon during their childhood -- dark-toned fantasy films starring youngsters who find themselves without adult protection in a topsy-turvy world. (See footnote for a list.) This genre came and went during just a five-year period (1982-1986), so the elementary school-aged children who made up its audience were born from about 1970 to 1980.
In their minds, the Goblin King isn't just some cool character from a cherished childhood movie -- he's a reminder of the shadowy people who the unsupervised children of the 1980s could have run across while out roaming around public places, a real-life memory association that is lacking among the Millennials.
And nobody could have played that role better than Bowie. He needed to be more than just a cookie-cutter villain, more of a trickster whose anarchic tendency was seductive. For the boys, it meant bending the rules without getting caught. For the girls, it meant the allure of the intimidating yet tantalizing older man. (It's clear from their responses that late Gen-X women had a huge crush on the Goblin King.)
Consequence-free rule-bending and attraction to older dreamy strangers -- two qualities of the Eighties youth atmosphere that these late Gen X-ers remember with more than a twinge of awkwardness, almost like they expect to have seen him on one of those public service announcements after G.I. Joe or Jem reminding them to be cautious around strangers who invite you into their car. Awkward as those memories may feel, they're still a defining mark of their maturation, and they can't help but fondly remember the Goblin King.
Bowie's songs for Labyrinth had a similar effect on their budding audience, introducing them to more mature sounds and themes rather than patronizing and pandering to them. Once helicopter parenting took off, this approach would strike their mom and dad as letting some stranger throw their child into the deep end. But the songs are simple and accessible to youngsters, allowing them to later grow into the music that Bowie intended strictly for adults.
In fact, only "Magic Dance" sounds like it was written for children and has a music video showcasing the Jim Henson puppets of the movie. However, if you were a grown-up, you would not have guessed that "As the World Falls Down" and "Underground" were not aimed at the adult contemporary demographic. Neither do the videos play up the songs' origins in a children's movie, but look like any other adult-oriented Bowie video:
So, if you're puzzled by why so many are remembering him for his performance in Labyrinth, that's why. He was the last popular figure to throw the kids into the social and emotional deep end -- for their own good -- a quality that resonates especially with children who lived through the climate of the early-to-mid 1980s.
* The genre consists of:
1982 The Secret of NIMH
1983 Something Wicked This Way Comes
1984 The NeverEnding Story
1985 Alice in Wonderland / Through the Looking Glass (TV movie)
1985 Black Cauldron
1985 Return to Oz