Ebet Roberts/Redferns
Simon Perry
January 27, 2016 AT 05:52 PM EST

This article originally appeared on PEOPLE.COM.

David Bowie’s death shocked the world — but one of his close friends and collaborators knew of the icon’s cancer battle for more than a year.

Music producer Tony Visconti, who worked with Bowie throughout his career and co-produced the icon’s last album Blackstar, says the singer called him to a secret meeting to reveal his cancer diagnosis in January 2015.

“David said, ‘I have something to show you,’ and he pulled his woolly hat off and he was completely bald,” Visconti, 71, tells British music monthly Mojo. “And he said, ‘I have cancer …’ – and my life hasn’t been the same since that moment.”

Visconti didn’t see it coming, having initially feared that he was going to be fired. “I choked up in front of him,” he says, but the pals were able to move past the heartbreaking news and discuss the album they were planning to start the following day, which would be released on Jan. 8 — just two days before Bowie died at the age of 69.

“We were already keeping the album secret, but this added an extra burden,” writes Visconti in the March issue of Mojo, now available in the U.K. “It’s been hard to live with.”

Bowie’s cancer went into remission at one point, only to return in November — but throughout the creative process, the singer never lost hope and the “sparkle” in his eyes, writes Visconti.

In the duo’s last chat via FaceTime, Bowie confided in Visconti about plans to try new therapy, the producer says: “He was still upbeat. I think he thought — we all did — that he had more time.”

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