“I’m just an individual who doesn’t feel that I need to have somebody qualify my work in any particular way. I’m working for me.”
The man, the myth, the legend, David Bowie embodied everything we look for in an artist, and pushed the boundaries of culture and society during a fragile time in the world. Here are some intriguing facts about the icon.
27. Another Star is Born
Born David Robert Jones on January 8th, 1947 in London, England, he shares the same birthday as another music icon: Elvis Presley.
26. Sharp Like A Knife
The shape-shifting musician would change his persona many times throughout his career, but the first time proved to be the one we know him by now. After starting his music career, he wanted to avoid confusion with The Monkees star Davy Jones, so he changed his stage name to David Bowie. Why Bowie? Well, because just like the versatile American knife, the name “cut both ways.”
25. Rock Stars Jr.
In high school, Bowie was friends with Peter Frampton, the famed rock guitarist, and Frampton’s father was also Bowie’s art instructor. The two future rock stars would rock out to Buddy Holly songs during lunch time together.
24. Saxophone Man
Bowie received his first saxophone at age 12. After his brother introduced him to modern jazz, he began expanding his musical horizons, becoming enamored with John Coltrane and Charles Mingus. Some people like to say “and the rest is history.” Sure, why not.
23. Long Hair, Don’t Care
The first television appearance of Bowie’s career wasn’t as a musician or even an actor, but instead as the founder of The Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Long-haired Men. The group made an appearance on the BBC’s Tonight show in 1964, where the then 17-year-old Davy Jones was “protesting” the treatment of men with long hair living in a post-Beatles world.
22. Black Eye
Perhaps Bowie’s most famous features are his eyes, which seem to be two different colors. However, while both of his eyes were indeed blue, his left was left permanently dilated after he was punched in the face by a friend over a girl when he was 15 years old, which creates an optical illusion.
21. Not So Good Beginnings
Bowie’s first release was the track “Liza Jane.” It was released under his original name, Davie Jones, and alongside his band The King Bees, in 1964, but did not fair well.
20. Commencing Countdown to Success
Bowie’s “Space Oddity,” was released on July 11, 1969, just five days before the Apollo 11 moon launch. Talk about timing.
19. Bowie as Bi
Notable for his gender-b(l)ending persona, Bowie was one of the first sexually ambiguous pop stars; he declared himself bisexual in 1972 during an interview. Incredibly, this was only five years after the British decriminalized homosexuality.
18. David Bowie, the Painter
Bowie was a true artist, not simply restricting himself to music but living through the creative act in his life. He painted for most of his life, creating post-modern and surreal works of art. For Bowie, like most, it was a form of meditation. In 1998, he told The New York Times that painting “was about problem-solving. I’d find that if I had some creative obstacle in the music that I was working on, I would often revert to drawing it out or painting it out. Somehow the act of trying to recreate the structure of the music in paint or in the drawing would produce a breakthrough.”
17. Thank You Fetus
It’s a nice thing to send a gift to a journalist who took the time to cover you for their publication. And Bowie was a nice guy. Such a nice guy that he once sent Rolling Stone journalist David Wild a pig fetus in a jar as a thank you for Wild’s piece. However, the border police shut that down real quick, and the gift never arrived. Bowie, hoping it would come, checked in on it for weeks and weeks.
16. Film Star
Bowie also appeared in numerous films through the years, earning praise for his roles in The Man Who Fell to Earth, The Last Temptation of Christ, Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me, and The Prestige, in which he played the enigmatic Nikola Tesla. But, for all his classic roles, many remember growing up with him as Jareth the Goblin King in Labyrinth. He also recorded the baby’s gurgles during the “Magic Dance” because the baby wouldn’t perform.
15. A Slash Memory
Famed guitar player Slash has a not-so-fond childhood memory of Bowie. His mother was a costume designer for Bowie during his youth, and one day he walked in on the two, you know, doing stuff. Because that’s how Bowie rolled in those years.
Everyone knows Ziggy Stardust, but Bowie had many different alter egos over the years, including Major Tom, Aladdin Sane, and The Thin White Duke. All of his alter egos took a toll on him, but none more than Ziggy Stardust, who apparently drove Bowie insane.
13. Little Bowie Boy
When Bowie made his appearance on Bing Crosby’s Merrie Olde Christmas in 1977, Bowie was to sing “The Little Drummer Boy” with the legend, but initially refused due to his hatred for the song. Instead, Bowie wrote “Peace on Earth” with songwriter Ian Fraser as a counterpart and a compromise.
12. Punk Precedent
For the recording of his Diamond Dogs album, which was influenced by George Orwell’s dystopian novel Nineteen Eighty-Four, Bowie played to the urban chaos of modern cities. The album is now credited with anticipating the wave of the punk movement.
11. Guitar God
The late great blues guitarist Stevie Ray Vaughan got a nice career bump from Bowie after he was the studio guitarist for Bowie’s album Let’s Dance. Bowie had an eye for talent, and thanks to him, Vaughan was able to build his lasting legacy.
10. Under Pressure
Bowie never played the hit single “Under Pressure” live with Freddie Mercury. Unfortunately, it took Mercury’s death for Bowie to first perform it, which occurred at the 1992 Freddie Mercury Tribute Concert. Annie Lennox famously filled in for the late Queen frontman in the duet.
9. Among the Greats
Bowie is estimated to have sold over 140 million records over his expansive career. Not bad for an androgynous being from outer space who fell to earth.
During a performance in Oslo, Norway in 2004, Bowie was struck in the eye with a lollipop, which then became stuck and had to be removed by a member of the crew. Bowie is no slouch, though, and he simply continued on with the show.
7. Musical Giveaway
Before streaming, torrents, Napster, or Radiohead, David Bowie released his single “Telling Lies” exclusively on his website, making him one of the first major artists to make their music downloadable on the Internet.
6. Not Into the Olympics
When London hosted the Olympics in 2012, Danny Boyle personally asked Bowie to perform his ballad “Heroes” during the Opening Ceremony, but Bowie turned down the offer.
5. Not A Sir
The Olympics weren’t the only time he turned down British honors. In 2000, he turned down the Commander (CBE) title, and in 2003, he denied a chance at knighthood. When asked why, he said, “I would never have any intention of accepting anything like that. I seriously don’t know what it’s for. It’s not what I spent my life working for.”
4. But Oui to the French
Interestingly enough, Bowie did accept a Commander title from the French government, making him Commander of the Ordre des Arts et des Lettres, in 1999.
3. Life After Death
Bowie’s 25th and last studio album, ★ or Blackstar, was released on his 69th birthday, just two days prior to his death. The world was shocked by his passing, as his liver cancer was kept a secret, and the album was written as a swan song and parting gift to his fans. It would become his only album to top the Billboard 200 charts in the US. Those around him said he was full of energy to the end, and didn’t show signs of stopping during his time working on the project.
2. He Is a Star
After his death, astronomers created a “Bowie asterism” of seven stars that were near Mars at the moment of his death and form a lightning bolt constellation in memory of his Aladdin Sane face paint. He also had an asteroid named after him, and even a spider, which goes by the name Heteropoda davidbowie.
Out all of his honors, none may be greater than his appearance on the television film SpongeBob’s Atlantis SquarePantis in 2007, when he voiced the character Lord Royal Highness. You can’t get much higher than that in our culture.