David Bowie, Ziggy Stardust, Goblin King, the Sovereign. The man born David Robert Jones in 1947 has had many names (though, to be fair, that last one was from The Venture Brothers cartoon). Since his debut as a musician in 1962 at the age of fifteen, Bowie has changed his identity like the rest of us change our clothes. Yet, throughout his career, Bowie has managed to remain timeless. He has branched out as many of his contemporaries have into different styles and even different mediums. So what don’t you know about a man with so many roles he may as well be a real-life changeling?
Bowie’s strange look is compounded by the fact that his right eye is permanently dilated. This is the result of a fight over a girl with his schoolmate George Underwood when the pair was fourteen years old.
What’s in a Name?
As you can tell from the intro, Bowie isn’t his real name. The reason for the change actually has to do with another singer/actor, Davy Jones. At the time Bowie’s career was beginning, Jones was already gaining fame as a notable stage actor on his way to joining television band The Monkees. He tried the name “Tom Jones” for about three weeks before obvious reasons forced another change. Ultimately, he decided on Bowie because it was “the ultimate American knife” and the name, just like the knife, “cut both ways”. Bowie’s wife, the supermodel Iman, has a Bowie knife tattooed on her ankle in his honour.
We Can Be Absent
Danny Boyle personally asked Bowie to perform “Heroes” for the 2012 Olympics’ Opening Ceremony, but Bowie turned it down. The song was an unofficial anthem for the Summer Olympics that year.
Duet with Bing? Can It Be?
In September 1977, American crooner Bing Crosby was in London as part of a tour and to film his Christmas special for that year. Crosby wanted to have a duet with a younger star and someone suggested Bowie. While the American hadn’t heard of Bowie, his kids had and persuaded their father to do the duet. Bowie agreed because his mother was a fan of Crosby. Bing Crosby chose “Little Drummer Boy” for the duet, but Bowie didn’t like the song as he felt it didn’t show off his vocal skills well enough. The writers then came up with “Peace on Earth”. Bing Crosby died a month after the segment was recorded and for years, the song was only available as a bootleg single on the b-side with “Heroes” until it was released on its own in 1982.
It’s a Hit
David Bowie has had 23 Top Ten hits in the UK and 2 no. 1 singles in the United States. His best selling album was Let’s Dance, which sold 8 million copies internationally.
The Oddity of a Spaceman
Bowie supposedly conceived of the idea for alter ego Ziggy Stardust after running into washed-up pop star and acid freak Vince Taylor in London’s Carnaby Street. Dying his hair red, wearing makeup, and putting on striking costumes, Ziggy was as much a commentary on stardom as it was an artistic expression–and was a persona that nearly threatened to overshadow its creator. While Bowie only kept the Stardust identity for his 1972-73 tour, he later stated that it “wouldn’t leave me alone for years. That was when it all started to sour….My whole personality was affected. It was very dangerous. I really did have doubts about my sanity.”
I’m Not Really Afraid of Americans
David Bowie had a fascination with America as a child, even going so far as to write the American Embassy in London. The embassy sent him a football uniform with their response.
Bowie the Actor
As an actor, Bowie has certainly had a number of iconic roles over the years. His first notable role was as the alien Thomas Jerome Newton in The Man Who Fell to Earth. He also played Pontius Pilate in The Last Temptation of Christ. Additionally, he’s played himself in Zoolander, Nikola Tesla in The Prestige, and even voiced Lord Royal Highness on Spongebob Squarepants. His most iconic role is still that of Jareth the Goblin King in Jim Henson’s Labyrinth. The commercial failure of the film essentially led to the decline of his acting career, even though it would become a cult classic in part because of his performance (as well as gratuitous crotch shots). Bowie also composed many of the songs for the film, and when he couldn’t get a baby to gurgle for the song “Magic Dance”, he decided to do it himself. Interestingly enough, he actually turned down the role of Max Zorin in the James Bond film, A View to a Kill, because he didn’t like the script.
The crotch shots in Labyrinth are so gratuitous, a subculture has built up amongst the film’s fans. His crotch is referred to by these fans as “The Area” and has its own website as well as its own religion. Don’t go googling it unless you have a strong constitution, it gets a little weird.
Memorial Under Pressure
While his duet with Queen, “Under Pressure”, was a huge hit, Bowie didn’t perform the song live until Queen singer Freddie Mercury’s memorial concert on 20 April 1992. He sang the duet with Annie Lennox while backed by the surviving members of Queen.