This is all things Bowie – the music, his alter ego, the intricate love stories, and everything in between. So scroll down and get an intimate look at one of music’s most iconic (and most flamboyant) stars.
Born in London on a cold day on January 8, 1947, he was christened under the name David Robert Jones. He went to Stockwell Infants’ School until he was six, and it was there that he earned a reputation as both a gifted child and a “rebellious brawler.” When Bowie attended Burnt Ash Junior School and sang in the school choir, his voice was deemed “adequate.”
When he was nine, his dancing in music class was regarded as “imaginative,” with his teachers calling his interpretations “strikingly artistic.” His poise? “Astonishing” for a young child. It was around this age that his interest in music first began.
Once he was ready to establish himself as a musician, there was one predicament: his name was David Jones, and there already was a Davy Jones, the lead singer of The Monkees, and a well-known name in the music industry. And so, that’s why David Jones changed his name to David Bowie – to bypass any potential confusion.
In 1967, a super fan named Sandra Dodd sent Bowie his first fan letter from the US. In her letter, she asked him about his name. Bowie replied to her with: “In answer to your question, David Jones is my real name and I don’t need to tell you why I changed it.”
People often claim that Bowie had heterochromia – a genetic condition that results in two different colored eyes. But that's actually not true. Both of his eyes are, in fact, blue. The actual condition is called anisocoria, and it manifests in a permanently dilated pupil.
This happened to Bowie when he was only 15 years old as a result of getting into a physical altercation with a friend from school, George Underwood.
Bowie endured a series of operations during a four-month hospitalization period when his doctors ultimately resolved that the damage couldn’t be repaired. Thus, Bowie was left with a pupil that was permanently dilated and faulty depth perception. This became one of Bowie’s most recognizable features.
Then, in 2004, Bowie's eye was involved in another incident. While performing in Oslo, Norway, a crowd member threw a lollipop onto the stage. It managed to strike Bowie right in the eye — and got stuck. A member of his stage crew had to help him remove it, and they could continue with the concert.
High School Friends
Bowie attended Bromley Technical High School, an unusual school, where he studied art, music, and design. His half-brother Terry Burns introduced him to modern jazz, and his mother gave him a Grafton saxophone in 1961. He then took lessons from Ronnie Ross, the baritone saxophonist.
During his school career, Bowie befriended future musician Peter Frampton, whose father was Bowie’s art teacher. They bonded over music and remained close until Bowie’s death.
Becoming Ziggy Stardust
"If someone's wearing a pink hat and a red nose, and it plays a guitar upside down, I will go and look at it. I love to see people being dangerous." This was Bowie's sentiment as he set out to create the most celebrated alter ego the pop world has ever seen: Ziggy Stardust.
By the end of 1972, he rose to stardom. Within a few months, he transitioned from a merely adequate pop singer to a cultural phenomenon in a new form – Ziggy Stardust. Bowie said. “I always felt a bit out of my element, which is a ridiculously [grandiose] way of looking at it. When I look back, I now realize that from ‘72 through to about ‘76, I was the ultimate rock star.”
David and a Couple of Pals
Back in their teens, in the days when Bowie was still David Jones, and Elton John was still Reginald Kenneth Dwight, the rising stars became good friends. But not long after Bowie’s death, John admitted they lost touch and hadn’t spoken much for about 40 years.
Fun fact: Bowie was also a dear long-time friend of Iggy Pop. The two even shared an apartment for some time in Berlin during the 1970s.
When Bowie was 17, he formed an organization centering around something he felt strongly about: The Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Long-Haired Men. The organization aimed to oppose the treatment that he and other long-haired men received while walking about the London streets.
Bowie took the organization he formed very seriously. When speaking with the London Evening News, he said that it was all about “the protection of pop musicians and those who wear their hair long.” In his eyes, any man with the guts to be walking around with hair reaching down to his shoulders eventually goes through hell.
Since we’re on the subject of hair, it's quite interesting that a lock of Bowie’s hair was sold at auction. That’s right. After he passed away, a ringlet of his hair had been put up for auction. It had been snipped by a woman in London back in 1983. It was part of the Entertainment & Music Memorabilia Signature Auction.
According to the director of the auction, Bowie garnered admiration across the musical spectrum, with fans wanting anything that might bring them closer to their favorite artist. “What can bring you closer than a lock of hid hair?” The bidding started at $2000 and made it up to an incredible price of $18,750.
Ziggy Stardust Raised Some Sanity Questions
Over the years, Bowie had several alter egos, but Ziggy Stardust was the most memorable of them all. In 1972 and 1973, he toured as the glam rock persona until he abruptly announced at a performance that he would be putting Ziggy and the Spiders from Mars to rest.
Bowie later admitted that Ziggy would not leave him alone for years. His alter ego was lingering around, and that is when it soured. “It became very dangerous,” he described. “I had misgivings about my sanity.” Four short years after the Ziggy Stardust period, he then became the Thin White Duke.
The Thin White Duke
It was in late 1974 when an early version of this character started to appear. His hair was still glowing orange but shorter, and his stage costumes went from vivid glam outfits to conventional formal suits.
During his “Thin White Duke” period, he struggled with substance abuse and emotional problems. He was apparently living on a diet of milk and peppers. He did some bizarre things, like keep his urine in his refrigerator so that “no other wizard could use it to enchant him.”
Bowie first released his famous single Space Oddity on July 11, 1969. Timing turned out to be nothing short of perfect — nine days after it was released, the BBC used the song when they covered Apollo 11’s lunar landing. The hit ended up being Bowie’s first major success in the UK.
The song was inspired by the film "A Space Odyssey," which is about a fictional astronaut, Major Tom, and his launch into space. In 2013, the song saw renewed popularity when Canadian astronaut Chris Hadfield performed the song aboard the International Space Station, which was the first music video ever shot in space!
Not only was Bowie considered innovative and forward-thinking when it came to his music, but he also envisioned the potential surge of the internet. In 1999, he discussed the latest invention known as the “worldwide web” with Jeremy Paxman of the BBC. Paxman proposed that the internet’s potential was being “hugely exaggerated.”
Bowie promptly made it clear that he disagreed with him, saying how he was embracing the idea “that there’s a new demystification method between the artist and audience.”
A Match Made in Tabloid Heaven
Seeing the music superstar tie the knot with one of the world’s most recognized supermodels was just part of the package for many fans.
But Bowie’s relationship with Iman Abdulmajid was very private, which is presumably why it lasted so long. Their wedding in 1992 looked like a match made in heaven.
Many people were confused by Bowie when it came to his love life. He declared he was homosexual in an interview in 1972 during his debut as Ziggy Stardust. According to the author David Buckley, if Ziggy succeeded in confusing his audience, a big part of it centered on the topic of his sexual preferences.
Before Iman, David Bowie was married to Mary Angela Barnett. They had an open marriage, and she fully supported his claim of bisexuality and affirmed that Bowie even had a relationship with Mick Jagger.
His Big Mistake
To add to the confusion, Bowie told 'Rolling Stone' in 1983, that his public declaration of bisexuality turned out to be “the biggest mistake I ever made.” Bowie then appended that he was always a “closet heterosexual.”
Bowie stated that he had no issue with people thinking that he was bisexual. But he also didn’t want to hold any flags or be a representative for other groups. All he wanted was to be a songwriter and musician – he didn’t appreciate being pigeonholed into a category.
A Marriage of Convenience
Mary Angela Barnett described their marriage as convenient. She said that they got married in order for her to be able to secure a work permit. She also acknowledged the fact she didn’t believe it would last. Apparently, Bowie told Barnett before they got married, “I’m not really in love with you.”
Bowie said that living with Barnett was “like living with a blow torch.” In 1971, they had a son together. The couple named him Duncan, but he was more commonly known as Zowie. In 1980, when Bowie and Barnett divorced, he gained custody of Duncan. Barnett went on to write a memoir called "Backstage Passes: Life on the Wild Side With David Bowie," in which she described their tumultuous marriage.
Immediate and All-Encompassing
Bowie and Iman met for the first time at a dinner party in 1990. Iman had just retired from modeling and was introduced to her future husband by her hairdresser. Bowie stated emphatically that it was indeed love at first sight. He said his attraction to her was “immediate and all-encompassing,” and that he couldn’t sleep due to the anticipation of their first date.
For Bowie, getting married was a done deal. Iman happened to have a strong impact on the otherwise smooth Bowie. According to Iman, the singer told her he was so nervous when, after the first date, he asked her to have “tea” with him. “He doesn’t drink tea; he never drinks tea. He had coffee,” Iman later recalled of their first date.
Actions That Speak Louder Than Words
Within a couple of weeks, Iman and Bowie were in a serious relationship. She said that his actions spoke louder than words. Iman described the time she arrived at the Los Angeles airport. The doors opened, she came out of the plane, and all these people were taking photos of him, he was just standing there, greeting her with flowers in hand, without any security.
She knew then that he was a keeper, and they got married two years after their first date. Their first public appearance was at an AIDS benefit in 1990. Iman was still hesitant, though, about getting married to a rockstar. In a 2004 interview with The Guardian, she said that she “fell in love with David Jones. I did not fall for David Bowie, that's just his persona."
The two wanted their relationship to be kept as private as they could. The way they saw it, their marriage was personal and only to be shared with each other – not for the general public. Aside from the rare public happenings, the couple kept the papers and their private lives separate.
One of the only times they were photographed together as a couple was in a Vogue magazine shoot, after their daughter, Alexandria (nicknamed Lexi) was born in 2000. When it came to parenting, Iman said Bowie was “contained, sensible” but also “relaxed and fun.” She, on the other hand, is the disciplinarian. Sweetly, even after 20 years of marriage, Iman told Bazaar that she was still fascinated with her husband.
The Public Had No Idea
Sadly, Bowie passed away in 2016, two short days after his 69th birthday and the Blackstar album release. The singer died in his New York City apartment, 18 months after he had been diagnosed with liver cancer, without the public being aware.
Before his death, Bowie worked with Belgian theater director Ivo van Hove for his Off-Broadway musical 'Lazarus.' According to van Hove, Bowie couldn't attend some of the rehearsals due to the declining situation of his health. Still, he tried his best to keep working throughout.
After His Death…
Following his passing, thousands of fans gathered at impromptu street memorials in cities all over the world. After the news of his passing, sales from all his albums and singles soared. Bowie was determined to not have a funeral. Instead, his body was cremated in New Jersey. As specified in his will, his ashes were dispersed in Bali, Indonesia, in a Buddhist ceremony.
Even Bowie’s close collaborators were unaware of his diagnosis. Iman avoided any public talk on the subject. She still honors their love on social media and posts about Bowie. She also vowed to never remarry. “I mentioned my husband the other day with a friend, and they said to me, ‘You mean your late husband?’ I said, no, he will always be my husband.”
Bowie Was Also an Actor
Many people forget that Bowie was also an actor. While fundamentally a musician, the natural performer garnered acting roles throughout his career as well. He appeared in over 30 films, TV shows, and theatrical productions. His acting career, however, was very particular and in a healthy way.
Bowie avoided starring roles and rather opted for smaller cameos and supporting roles. Many critics maintain that had he not pursued music, he would have been a very successful actor.
Bowie the Theater Star?
Bowie's acting career actually predated his breakthrough as a musician. He had studied avant-garde theater and mime, taking the role of Cloud in Kemp's 1967 play "Pierrot in Turquoise." In 1976, Bowie received acclaim for his first significant film role in "The Man Who Fell to Earth," as the alien Thomas Jerome Newton.
Bowie later revealed that his medication use during the filming left him in a very flimsy state of mind, so much so that he barely understood the movie.
The Elephant Man
Bowie played Joseph Merrick in Broadway's "The Elephant Man," which he did wearing no stage make-up. His powerful performance earned him much praise. After all, he played the part over 150 times between 1980 and 1981.
But Bowie declined the role of the villain Max Zorin in "James Bond: A View to a Kill" in 1985. His other roles consisted of the hitman Colin in the 1985 John Landis film "Into the Night" and Goblin King in Jim Henson's dark symphonic fantasy "Labyrinth."
In 2017, director Denis Villeneuve mentioned that his original plan was to cast Bowie in his movie "Blade Runner 2049" as the lead villain, Niander Wallace. But since Bowie passed, Villeneuve was compelled to look for another actor with similar "rock star" qualities and chose Jared Leto.
Villeneuve said that Bowie actually influenced Blade Runner's character in many ways — that he embodied the Blade Runner spirit. David Lynch, the director, also wanted Bowie to reprise his role from "Fire Walk with Me" for his film "Twin Peaks: The Return," but Bowie's illness prevented it. His character was consequently portrayed through archival footage.
Apart from his acting roles, many people don’t know that Bowie was also an artist and painter. He moved to Switzerland in 1976 and lived in a chalet in the foothills of Lake Geneva. There, his dependency on medication diminished, and he found time for other pursuits outside of music and began painting.
His favorite paintings were post-modernist, and he would take his sketchbook with him and photograph scenes to paint later. In 1990, one of his pieces sold at auction for only $500 – much less than what a lock of his hair was valued at…
The Only Thing He Wanted
Bowie once asserted in an interview that art was “seriously, the only thing I’d ever wanted to own.” One year later, in another interview, he said the only thing he buys “obsessively and addictively” is art. His artwork collection, which included Frank Auerbach, Damien Hirst, Henry Moore, and Jean-Michel Basquiat, was valued at over £10 million in 2016.
Following his passing, his family sold most of his collection. Why? Because they “didn’t have enough space” to file it all. The auctions took place in London and attracted 51,470 visitors along with 1,750 bidders. The auctions earned a total of £32.9 million.
What Are Bowie Bonds?
"Bowie Bonds" served as an early example of celebrity bonds – asset-backed securities of current and future revenues of David Bowie's 25 albums (287 songs) that were recorded before 1990. These bonds were issued in 1997 and were bought for $55 million by the Prudential Insurance Company of America.
Have you ever heard of BowieNet? As strange as it may seem, Bowie launched his own Internet service provider and dubbed it BowieNet. The dial-up service was developed with Robert Goodale and Ron Roy in 1998. BowieNet patrons were offered the BowieNet email address, and, of course, internet access. Not surprisingly, the service was closed by 2006.
Peace on Earth
Bowie once made an appearance on Bing Crosby's "Merrie Olde Christmas" back in 1977; Bowie was set to sing "The Little Drummer Boy," but he initially declined due to his contempt for the number.
Instead, Bowie decided that he would write another song, titled "Peace on Earth" with English songwriter, composer, and music director Ian Fraser.
In His Honor
Following his death, a group of astronomers created a "Bowie asterism." An asterism is a prominent pattern of stars that is smaller than a constellation. Bowie's asterism consists of seven stars that were found near Mars at the moment of his death. They formed a lightning bolt constellation reminiscent of his Aladdin Sane face paint.
Bowie also had the honor of having an asteroid named after him, and even a spider, which is named Heteropoda davidbowie.
Out of all of the many honors bestowed upon Bowie, he also had an appearance on the television film "SpongeBob's Atlantis SquarePantis" in 2007. Bowie voiced the character, Lord Royal Highness.
The character emerges as the main antagonist in the final episode and main character of the episode "Atlantis SquarePantis."
In 1984, Bowie was one of many performers who started a campaign to fight starvation with the single, “Do they Know It’s Christmas?” He continued raising funds for famine relief in Ethiopia in 1985 by performing at the Live Aid series of concerts.
Bowie also became an ardent advocate for Keep a Child Alive (KCA), a nonprofit established by Leigh Blake and Alicia Keys. Bowie also contributed to an extensive variety of causes like; Save the Children, War Child, and multiple other organizations that received his support over the years.
Regrettably, it took Freddie Mercury’s passing for Bowie to first perform their song "Under Pressure" at the 1992 Freddie Mercury Tribute Show.
Bowie worked on the song with Queen in the recording studio, but they never performed it together in front of an audience. Annie Lennox filled in for the late Queen lead singer in their duet.
At age 18, Bowie's son Zowie reverted back to the name Duncan Jones. He became a distinguished director for movies like "Moon", "Source Code", and "Mute". Duncan Jones married Rodene Ronquillo on November 6, 2012.
Duncan shares his middle name "Haywood" with his father and his grandfather (whose first name was Haywood).
Duncan Jones has named his daughter Zowie, the name his late father, David Bowie, called him. Duncan first announced his daughter’s name in a heartfelt tweet, in which he mentions his legendary father.
He wrote. “It didn’t occur to me until now that when I named my daughter Zowie I would ultimately be writing “To Zowie, from Dad,” exactly like my dad did for me when I was little.”
Although Lexi Jones is the only child from their marriage, both Iman and David had children from prior relationships. Lexi's half-brother Duncan Jones is Bowie's son from his first marriage to Angie Bowie.
Her half-sister Zulekha Haywood was from Iman's marriage to Spencer Haywood, the famous American athlete.
To honor the second anniversary of her father David Bowie's passing, Lexi Jones and her mother Iman both got tattoos dedicated to the singer.
Lexi chose a detailed crescent moon enveloped around the words 'Daddy xx 1947-2016', while Iman picked a dagger illuminated with 'David' on her ankle.
Lexi the Artist
In addition to her personal Instagram, Lexi Jones also has a separate account dedicated to her artwork, suitably called @unsettling.art. Her account highlights her signature satirical illustrations.
In May 2020, the Sun stated that Lexi has moved to Los Angeles and sells her artwork and customized clothing for up to $250.
Back in 2003, Bowie had a chance at knighthood but he said no when the late Queen Elizabeth offered to knight him.
He politely declined, saying, "I would never have any intention of receiving anything like that. I seriously don't know what it's for."
Before there was even a whisper of online streaming, torrents, or even the infamous Napster, Bowie released his hit single “Telling Lies” exclusively on his website.
This was quite momentous at the time as it meant he was one of the first artists to make their music available for download on the Internet.
Not Really an Olympian
When it was London's turn to host the Olympic events in 2012, Danny Boyle, the famous film and stage director, personally asked Bowie to perform his song "Heroes" during the Opening Commemoration.
Even though it would have been a great honor, Bowie wasn't keen and turned down the offer.
The French Title
Bowie may not be a fan of Knighthood and performing at the Olympics games, but he did accept a Commander title from the French government, making him Commander of the Ordre des Arts et des Lettres in 1999.
The Order of France was founded in 1957, with the intent to recognize significant contributions to the arts, literature, or the proliferation of these fields.
Many people don't know this, but David Bowie was in 10 bands during his career: The Konrads, The Hooker Brothers, The King Bees, The Manish Boys, The Buzz, The Lower Third, The Riot Squad, The Hype, Tin Machine, and Tao Jones Index.
He also had a considerable influence on generations of musicians. They were seeing someone who was not afraid to be odd, different, and "out there," and paved the way for many others to do the same.
Spanning Musical Genres
David Bowie's influence spanned a wide spectrum of Western music. While many rock stars are appropriately recognized for their impact and influence, Bowie maintains a more distinguished tier entirely.
He's not just an influential rocker among rock stars — Bowie inspired more musical genres than anyone else. He is, in that regard, the most influential rock star.
In 2013, an exhibition was held in Bowie's honor at London's V&A was the fastest-selling in the history of the museum.
It featured more than 60 of his stage costumes, including Ziggy Stardust bodysuits from the 70s and Kansai Yamamoto's extravagant creations for the Aladdin Sane tour, his Union Jack coat created by Bowie and Alexander McQueen for the cover of the Earthling album.
His Latest Album
Even after his passing, there are still many of Bowie's recordings that haven't been published yet. With that being said, there is a new David Bowie album that is being released in November 2020; it's titled 'No Trendy Réchauffé.'
The album will arrive via Parlophone as a part of the 'Brilliant Live Adventures' physical series, and it contains six previously unreleased live recordings by the late star between the years 1995 and 1999.
After the turn of the century, Bowie spent most of his time enjoying life out of the public eye, appearing only for a handful of rare live performances. For two years, he pledged his support to the Tibet House benefit concerts at New York's Carnegie Hall to aid the Free Tibet campaign.
Each year saw an appreciably different performance: 2001 featured Moby on guitar for a rocking version of "Heroes." There was also a precious performance of Silly Boy Blue. 2002 saw a unique Space Oddity arrangement featuring the Kronos Quartet along with Adam Yauch on bass.
A True Legacy
David Bowie has garnered such an influential and diverse musical range of work throughout his life, that he leaves behind him a catalog that remains unrivaled.
His musical performances, multi-generational influence, legacy of innovation, and endless reinvention will live on forever through his body of work.