30 bizarre David Bowie stories
Just who (or what) is David Bowie? Is he Ziggy Stardust? The Thin White Duke? Well, he’s all of them and some. His twisted journey through his mind produced some of the craziest looks and groundbreaking songs in music history. There was nothing normal about it though, and we’ve collected the crazy stories that reveal the real David Bowie.
An odd night with the ‘Thin White Duke’
In 1975, David Bowie gave a rambling speech at the 17th Annual Grammy Awards about how lovely it was that Yoko Ono and John Lennon had found love. “Ladies and gentlemen,” he started. “And others,” Lennon and Ono were visibly uncomfortable in the audience, and Bowie nearly forgot that he was presenting the award for Best R&B singer.
“Strange, strange, strange,” is what Bowie later said of his Grammy experience. To be fair, Bowie also later admitted that he was in no way sober, and was knee-deep in his “Thin White Duke” persona. Aretha Franklin won the award, and snatched it from him quickly to prevent him from saying another word.
Ziggy Stardust and Bowie were inseparable
Bowie entered his Thin White Duke promptly after shaking off arguably his most famous persona, Ziggy Stardust. Bowie became so enthralled in his Ziggy Stardust character that he had a hard time telling where he ended and Ziggy Stardust began. But fans loved it, and his biographer later said Ziggy started “a cult of Bowie.”
In the throes of the Ziggy Stardust phase in 1973, Bowie would do all sorts of crazy things on stage (like stripping into a sumo wrestler’s loincloth). He later said, “That [expletive Ziggy] wouldn’t leave me alone for years. That was when it all started to go sour … My whole personality was affected. It became very dangerous. I really did have doubts about my sanity.”
“Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Long-Haired Men”
Bowie is one of those extremely famous people who popped up on the radar a handful of times before achieving international fame. Case in point, this photo of then 17-year-old David Jones in March 1965. Here he’s posing as the founder of the “Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Long-Haired Men.”
He would later change his last name to “Bowie” due to The Monkees’ frontman, Davy Jones. As for Bowie and his society, he appeared on the BBC and was quoted in a London paper saying, “Anyone who has the courage to wear their hair down to his shoulders has to go through hell. It’s time we were united and stood up for our curls.”
Bowie was hiding his urine … from a wizard
Bowie’s Ziggy Stardust era may have come to an end with some difficulty, but perhaps one of the reasons he obsessed over it was because he got to do things he would never do as David Bowie. In 1973 Bowie said, “Offstage I’m a robot. Onstage I achieve emotion. It’s probably why I prefer dressing up as Ziggy to being David.”
Things got really weird in Bowie’s world during this era, evidenced by the fact that he started storing his own urine in his refrigerator. The reason was later explained by Bowie’s biographer, David Buckley, who wrote that he did it because so “no other wizard could use it to enchant him.”
The Berlin era
The below photograph was taken post-Ziggy Stardust and Think White Duke phases, as it features Bowie in San Francisco in 1977. Although the photo shows Bowie while on tour in the US, he actually lived in Geneva, Switzerland, and West Berlin at the time.
While in Switzerland, Bowie immersed himself in classical art and literature, and it has been said that he was such a voracious reader, he easily read a book a day. His drug use caused him to move to Berlin, where he was influenced by the Berlin Wall (among other things). This resulted in him creating The Berlin Trilogy, which was not met with much acclaim, but has since been called “genius.”
Ziggy goes to America
Bowie released The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars in 1972 and followed it up with another album called Aladdin Sane. Aladdin Sane was the first album that Bowie wrote, and although it created a new persona, he said at the time that Aladdin Sane was basically, “Ziggy goes to America.”
Bowie had a love-hate relationship with the US, as one of his biographers would write, “[Bowie] was simultaneously appalled and fixated by America.” “A-lad-insane,” as it’s meant to be said, was written while Bowie was touring the US as Ziggy Stardust, and that’s why it has several references to places in the country.
Alter ego, personae, a complex, or schizophrenia: You be the judge
If Bowie looks like a freaking alien in the below photo, that’s because he is one (although admittedly, we have no way to prove that). Psychologist Carl Jung wrote of the type of person Bowie was: “There is no difference in principle between a fragmentary personality and a complex.” Hmmm … let’s dive into that one.
Here we have Bowie on stage at the Aylesbury Friars on Jan. 29, 1972, and he looks more like a vampire than a human being. This was the early days of Ziggy Stardust, before stardom, ego, and the need to push it took hold. “I think I put myself very dangerously near the line,” he said in 1977. “Not in a physical sense, but definitely in a mental sense.”
If he was a normal man
If Bowie was a businessman, or an actor (actually, he kind of was both), this is probably what he would like. He looks more like Steve McQueen than Ziggy Stardust, or like James Bond, sitting on a deck in Paris drinking champagne and eating beluga caviar.
In 1985, Bowie was actually summoned to play a role in A View To A Kill, which was the 14th installment of the James Bond series. He turned it down, however, and filmmakers ended up casting Christopher Walken. Bowie later said, “I didn’t want to spend five months watching my stunt double fall off cliffs.”
This photograph was taken in LA in March 1973 as Bowie was preparing for a photoshoot with Star magazine. The girl on the left is model Patty Clark, who was described in the magazine as a groupie, which is disturbing, considering she was a minor at the time.
Bowie once said that he found great power in creating his various personas. He commented in the graphic novel Fas Ferox, “I always had a repulsive need to be something more than human. I felt very puny as a human. I thought, [expletive] that. I want to be a superhuman.'”
The below photograph was taken of Bowie in 1996 when he was in a phase of creating electronic music. During his American tour in 1996, he chose none other than hard rockers Nine Inch Nails to tour with. Going from “Under Pressure” to “I’m Afraid of Americans” with Nine Inch Nails’ Trent Reznor was a leap just as far as David Jones to Ziggy Stardust.
Six months after this photo was taken, Bowie turned 50 years old and had a party for the ages at Madison Square Garden. Among the star-studded guests were his wife of four years to that point, Zara Mohamed Abdulmajid (a. k. a. “Iman”), and rock stars such as Lou Reed, Dave Grohl, Robert Smith, and Billy Corgan.
Bowie has an eye patch over his left eye (more on his left eye in a moment), and he looks right at home in the Amstel Hotel in Amsterdam in Feb. 1974. This photo was taken during his “plastic soul” phase, which coincided with him moving to the US.
Going from Ziggy Stardust, to “plastic soul,” to Thin White Duke, and on and on, were quite the transformations, and were better explained in a 2003 interview with Conan O’Brien. “I re-invented my image so many times, that I’m in denial that I was originally an overweight Korean woman.” Well, if that’s who he was, he certainly went through a lot of effort to be someone else.
The Korova Milk Bar
Bowie’s struggles with substance abuse are well documented, and one such story exists in the time he exposed himself to Blondie’s Debbie Harry. The reason he did it: As a token of thanks, after she provided him with the last bit of the nose candy he so desperately craved.
Bowie has been open about his addiction issues, and even admitted that during his White Thin Duke phase, he was surviving off of nothing but “red peppers, cocaine, and milk.” Looks like Bowie was visiting the Korova Milk Bar (A Clockwork Orange anyone?), but the red peppers, why in the world did he choose that?
“The Man Who Sold the World”
“The Man Who Sold the World” is one of Bowie’s most famous songs and was the title of his third album, which was released in 1970. The song was redone by Kurt Cobain and Nirvana during their MTV Unplugged in New York concert in Nov. 1993, and though it’s a great song, Bowie wasn’t too happy about it.
In a 2000 interview with GQ, Bowie said of Nirvana fans: “They were such a young crowd, younger than most of my fans. I know that because, in America especially, when I do ‘The Man Who Sold The World’ the number of kids that come up afterward and say, ‘It’s cool you’re doing a Nirvana song’. And I think, [expletive] you, you little tosser!'”
Bowie actually wasn’t gay, or even bi-sexual
In 1972, about a year prior to this photograph being taken, Bowie came out and admitted that he was gay. Four years later in 1976, in an interview with Playboy, his tuned changed slightly when he said, “It’s true—I am a bisexual. But I can’t deny that I’ve used that fact very well. I suppose it’s the best thing that ever happened to me.”
His ex-wife later confirmed that Bowie had relationships with the likes of Rolling Stone’s frontman Mick Jagger (and several other famous people). Then, in a 1983 issue of Rolling Stone, Bowie did a full 180 when he said, “the biggest mistake I ever made,” and, “I was always a closet heterosexual.”
Bowie paraphernalia and collectibles are very coveted objects and can go for extraordinary prices. Don’t worry, if you want some of your own, eBay has plenty of items you can buy for affordable prices, including our favorite, which was $75, and inspired by the movie Labyrinth.
A $75 item is chump change compared to what some of Bowie’s paraphernalia has gone for. Take a lock of his hair for example, which sold in 2016. The lock was taken by a wig maker in 1983, and 34 years later it started on the auction block for $2,000 but ended up selling for a whopping $18,750.
The death of Ziggy Stardust
The photograph below is significant because it’s the last time (that we know of) that Bowie dressed up as Ziggy Stardust. As the persona consumed him, infiltrated his every thought, and threatened to take over his psyche, Bowie knew he needed a big blowout to say goodbye to Ziggy Stardust forever.
On July 3, 1973, Bowie gave his last press conference as Ziggy, and announced on stage at London’s Hammersmith Odeon on July 3, 1973, that he was “retiring” the character. The next day, Bowie had a blowout party with the likes of his first wife Angie (left of Bowie), Jeff Beck (middle front), and Ringo Star (right front).
The sexiest mugshot ever taken
The below mugshot was taken in 1976 after Bowie was arrested in New York for the possession of half-a-pound of marijuana. He spent the night in jail but didn’t have to do it alone, as Iggy Pop and another musician were arrested as part of the same raid.
This photo was absent from the public spotlight and unknown to everyone until over 20 years after it was taken when Bowie’s estate was being settled in 2007. The photo lay on the edge of a garbage can, and someone saved it from becoming common trash. Since then, it’s largely been considered the sexiest celebrity mugshot of all time.
“Fiery vomiting and venting in a menacing manner”
This is another photo of Bowie during his Ziggy Stardust era but the change in costume is noteworthy. This was part of his “woodland creatures” look, and it was inspired by the fact that he had been very much into Japanese noh and kabuki theater. His designer was Kansai Yamamoto, who drew inspiration from geisha, among other aspects of Japanese culture.
Prior to revealing his “woodland creatures” costume to the audience, Bowie wore a large tear-away garment that looked part bathrobe, part cape. Translations vary, but apparently, the garment had Japanese characters that said, “Fiery vomiting and venting in a menacing manner.”
David Bowie’s eyes explained
That’s English model Twiggy who posed with Bowie in Paris in 1973 for the cover of his Pin Ups album. We’re used to weird looks from Bowie by now, but why is his left pupil always dilated? It contributes to his one of a kind look, and for a while, many people thought they were two different colors.
ImagesWhen Bowie was just 15 years old, he got into a scuffle with his friend George Underwood. Evidently, they were both sweet on the same girl, and Underwood was so infuriated that he approached Bowie, and decked him with a left hook. The two remained friends long after, even though Bowie’s right eye became permanently dilated.
Bowie appeared on a TV show called “Top Pop” in early 1974, which was a variety show in the Netherlands. In this sensational photo, we see Bowie performing perhaps his greatest hit, “Rebel, Rebel.” As you can see, he’s feeling the fire of his notes, and very much enjoying gripping his … guitar.
“Rebel, Rebel” came off of Bowie’s album titled, Diamond Dogs, which saw Bowie embrace sounds of soul and funk in his music. The music reflected ideas stemming for post-apocalyptic or dystopian futures, which is reflected in the lyrics: “They put you down, they say I’m wrong; You tacky thing, you put them on.”
Bowie may have popped up on the radar when he started the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Long-Haired Men, but it was the release of his song “Space Oddity” and the timing of it that catapulted him into stardom in July 1969.
There was another, more historical moment that happened in July 1969, and that would be the Apollo 11 moon landing. Nine days after “Space Oddity’s” release, the historic mission touched on the surface of the moon, and while covering the event, the BBC played his song over footage of the actual mission. It launched Bowie into stardom.
When you hear the term “Glam Rock,” David Bowie is the quintessential artist that defined the era. During that time, which started in the early 1970s, predominantly British rock stars were wearing makeup, wacky hairstyles, glitter, and as you can see from the photo below, platform shoes.
Glam rockers were the antithesis to the anti-establishment rock-n-rollers of the 1960s. They loved material goods and the glitzy side of rock ‘n roll life. Bowie once said in 2003, “You would think that a rock star being married to a supermodel would be one of the greatest things in the world … it is.”
This one time backstage …
The word around the campfire is that Bowie was very hospitable, and was nice to strangers too. One time in England in the 1980s, Bowie commissioned The Beat to play with him at one of his shows, and the trombone player, who was an elderly Jamaican man, complained that they were owed another tray of Red Stripe beer.
Evidently, the man had no idea who Bowie was. Bowie nodded and said, “right,” then left the room. Everyone in the room erupted at the old man for disrespecting the rock legend. But Bowie, ever the cool cat, came right back in the room with two trays of Red Stripe and was all smiles. “Top Man,” said The Beat’s Ranking Roger.
David Bowie the futurist
Bowie was quick to get into electronic music when it hit the mainstream in the early 1990s, and he was way ahead of his time on other things as well. Chiefly among them was the advent of the internet and information age.
In 1996, Bowie released the first song ever, “Telling Lies” that was strictly for download (it took 11 minutes). Then, two years later, not only did he become an early advocate of the internet, but in 1998 he launched his very own internet service provider. They provided exclusive content, but were no match for the likes of Google, and shut down in 2006.
Bowie joined fellow British musicians from the band Queen in 1981, as he was hired to sing back up vocals on one of their songs. Surprisingly, it actually didn’t go very well, and Bowie was so unsatisfied with his performance that he insisted it not be included in the album.
Distraught from this setback, a moment of improvisational brilliance brought about what would be one of the best tracks any of the musicians every produced. Controversy swirls around who created what, but members of Queen blame creative differences between Freddie Mercury and Bowie for it not being a better song.
“You remind me of the babe (what babe?) The babe with the power (what power?)” When you combine George Lucas with Jim Henson and then sprinkle in David Bowie for what amounted to one of the weirdest movies ever, you get the musical classic Labyrinth. Labyrinth was not his first movie, nor his last, but this one is his most memorable roles.
Bowie acted in The Last Temptation of Christ and The Prestige and played human characters, but in Labyrinth, he plays the Goblin King. The film was an absolute box office flop and contributed to a difficult time in Henson’s career. However, the movie has since gained a large cult following, and in 2016 there were rumors that a remake was in the works.
Bowie and the Greek newspaper
Bowie was one of the most famous and successful rock stars on the planet, and while that put him a rare company of stars, he did many things that were down to earth. Bowie took to riding in taxi cabs, which a friend named William Boyd took note of, and later said, “he happily used cabs and subways.”
The only thing that was odd to Boyd is that when he saw Bowie he noticed that he had a Greek newspaper. After asking Bowie why he had it, Bowie explained that he used it as a tactic to throw people. People think,” said Boyd. “That’s David Bowie, surely? Then they see the Greek newspaper – no, can’t be, just some Greek guy who looks like him.
Thin White Duke, with an emphasis on “Thin”
Here we are back where we started, with Bowie attending the 17th Annual Grammy Awards while dressed as his figure Thin White Duke. If he looks skinny it’s because his substance abuse problems were starting to adversely affect his health. In the mid-1970s, the British rock superstar overdosed several times.
“I was out of my mind, totally crazed. The main thing I was functioning on was mythology … I’d discovered King Arthur.” He also blamed living in Los Angeles, saying, The [expletive] place should be wiped off the face of the Earth. To be anything to do with rock and roll and go and live in Los Angeles is … just heading for disaster.”
David Bowie and Mick Jagger?
This story has been met with controversy and may not necessarily be true, but there are curious aspects that are interesting. Bowie was not only a chameleon with his looks, but also with his music, and was able to combine with some of the greatest musicians over multiple eras.
One of those musicians was Mick Jagger, and according to Bowie’s wife Angie, she caught the two in bed one time (there are also rumors that Jagger may have had a relationship with Angie). She later walked back her story, with the most curious detail being her reaction to seeing this sight: She left the room and made breakfast.
Bowie died on Jan. 10, 2016 from liver cancer, and the news was a shock to fans. His final recorded track was a song named “Blackstar,” which one music critic said was “maybe the oddest work yet from Bowie,” which is really saying something. The song was released one day after his death.
The song and the album Lazarus are full of references to his impending demise. As he grappled with his mortality he poured his creativity into his music and produced something magical. Evidently he planned on living a few more months, as he died while making a follow-up album.