David Bowie: Little-Known Facts About Everyone's Favorite Starman
When David Bowie suddenly passed away in 2016, his departure sent the world into mourning. The glamorous, gender-bending, glam-rock icon was one of the most influential names in the history of music, evolving seamlessly through every era of changing sounds.
But he wasn’t just supremely talented. His whacky personas and bizarre behaviors further cemented his place in rock star history — and forced him to grapple with the demons that often accompany fame. Here are 30 fascinating, little-known facts about David Bowie, everyone’s favorite Starman.
His Real Name Was David Jones
David Bowie has long been a household name, but he was originally called David Robert Jones. Somehow, it just doesn't have the same rock star glimmer to it, does it? However, Bowie didn't change his name merely to suit his glamorous profile. He altered it to avoid getting confused with another major superstar: Davy Jones.
His Last Name Came from the Famous Bowie Knife
The singer's last name is quirky and iconic, but he didn't pluck the unique moniker from thin air. Teenaged Bowie was drawn to the name for a variety of reasons, including that it was the trademark name of the all-American Bowie knife.
Ziggy Stardust Almost Made Him Insane
Of all Bowie's absurd and unique alter egos, Ziggy Stardust earned the most notoriety. The androgynous, glamorous, lightning-faced ethereal being existed at the forefront of his personality from 1972 to 1973. During this year-long period, Bowie toured as Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars.
The Thin White Duke Was His Deadliest Persona
The next persona that Bowie adopted was the Thin White Duke, which he presented from 1975 to 1976. The Thin White Duke was possibly worse off than Ziggy Stardust, as he existed during a period when Bowie's mental sanity and physical health severely declined. Drugs, depression and paranoia became a part of his everyday life.
He Was Once Obsessed with the Occult and Wizards
During the tumultuous, cocaine-filled 1970s, Bowie began to experience severe bouts of drug-induced psychosis. This wasn’t helped by poor eating habits that led to rapid weight loss and eventually malnourishment. The Thin White Duke was born out of this psychosis, but more came out of it than just the bizarre new persona.
The Moon Landing Earned Him His Fame
To this day, David Bowie's most notorious tune is "Space Oddity." The haunting ballad isn't the type of song that would typically propel a singer like Bowie to fame. Nonetheless, thanks to the BBC's choice of music for their 1969 moon landing footage, he became an instant star.
He Was a Bisexual Icon
Like many great rock stars — Prince, Freddie Mercury and Elton John, to name a few — Bowie was flamboyant, glamorous and gender-bending. With personas like Ziggy Stardust, he pushed the boundaries of gender and sexual expression. Queer fans in his audience were grateful for his tolerant cultural influence. Still, some struggled to distinguish his personhood from his persona.
Bowie Hated the Song Little Drummer Boy
There is no song that marks Christmas quite like the catchy rendition of "Peace on Earth/Little Drummer Boy" as performed by David Bowie and Bing Crosby. The iconic duet wasn’t originally supposed to be a mash-up. Why was "Peace on Earth" added to the performance? Put simply: Bowie hated the pa-rum pum pum pum.
Major Tom Wasn't a One-Time Character
"Ground control to Major Tom! Can you hear me, Major Tom?" Bowie's narrative of the lone astronaut literally launched his career into space, turning him into a superstar overnight. However, "Space Oddity" wasn't the only song that showcased Major Tom. Bowie seemed to understand the significance of the character and featured him in several other tunes.
He May Have Had an Eating Disorder
When the pressures of fame and identity caught up with Bowie, he turned to drugs, booze and other negative behaviors to cope. Many of his fans know about his chronic drug use, yet most don't know about his dangerous dietary habits. At one point in his life, he ate only peppers and milk, resulting in near-fatal malnourishment.
He Formed a Society to Protect Long-Haired Men
When David Bowie was a mere 17 years old, he made his first television appearance on the BBC's Tonight show. However, he wasn't brought on to perform for the crowd. Instead, he was advertised as the spokesperson for a bizarre new group: the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Long-Haired Men.
He Had Anisocoria, Not Heterochromia
Bowie's mystical eyes have always appeared unique — even from one another. Many fans believe that he had a condition called heterochromia, where one eye is a different color than the other. Without the backstory, this explanation for Bowie's eyes (one of which appears blue, one of which appears brown) makes perfect sense.
He Sent a Pig Fetus to Rolling Stone
No matter what you may think, this wasn't a mean-spirited gift. In fact, it was quite the opposite! Bowie was frequently (happily) interviewed by Rolling Stone. During a 1990’s interview with David Wild, he saw that another musician, Tom Petty, had given the journalist a nice present. Bowie felt pressure to send something the writer's way as well.
A Lollipop Got Stuck to His Eye
The tendency of fans to throw objects at their favorite performing rock stars isn't reserved for Bowie. Everything from shoes to water bottles to mud — we're looking at you, Green Day — have been thrown at some of the biggest stars in every musical era. Unfortunately for Bowie, his experience with a candy-tossing fan had some pretty yucky consequences.
He Was a Talented Mime
Mastering consistent stage presence while singing can be difficult for even the most seasoned singers, but Bowie executed this necessary skill with ease. Believe it or not, he was equally skilled at dominating the stage when he was completely silent. How is this possible? Well, in addition to being a talented musician, he was also an incredible mime.
He Was a Prolific Painter
Is there anything that David Bowie couldn't do? In addition to his many other artistic skills, he was a prolific painter. His work was often post-modern, resulting in haunting, trippy and surreal paintings. Many of his greatest pieces were his neo-expressionist self-portraits. Inspired by greats like Picasso and Tintoretto, Bowie produced a plethora of meditative works.
He Performed with 10 Different Bands
Talk about indecisiveness! Bowie rocked as a solo act, but he frequently formed, joined and performed with other rockers, musicians and bands. He was a standing member in 10 bands, including The Hooker Brothers, The Manish Boys, The Lower Third, The Buzz, The Riot Squad, The Konrads, The Hype, The King Bees, Tao Jones Index and Tin Machine.
He Was in a Video Game
When he wasn't starring in films, television, Broadway shows and his own personal performances, Bowie decided to try out another performance medium: video games. Back in 1999, Bowie and his wife, Iman, both starred as featured characters in the video game Omikron: The Nomad Soul.
He Had an Unusual Stalker
Could you imagine being followed across the country by a giant bunny? This may sound like something out of Donnie Darko, yet it was Bowie's reality in 2004. Why was a massive pink rabbit trailing him from city to city on his North American tour? God only knows. Nonetheless, a relatively short individual in a bunny costume kept popping up along his route.
His Childhood B.F.F. Was Also a Rock Star
Many of Bowie's childhood friends had a significant impact on his future. Even Underwood (who gave him his dilated pupil) went on to design several of his album covers. Still, Bowie probably didn't realize at the time that he was constantly in the presence of another superstar. At Bromley Technical High School, he became close friends with future guitar legend Peter Frampton.
He Was Also Buddies with Elton John
When Elton John was still Reginald Kenneth Dwight, he met David Bowie, who was still David Jones. Both were in their tumultuous and evolutionary teenage years when the music-loving duo grew close. They frequently chatted about their favorite music, frequented coffee shops and gay clubs together and soaked up the evolving English rock and pop scenes.
David Bowie's Brother Inspired His Famous Tunes
The name Terry Burns may not mean as much to you as David Bowie, but the man behind that name was a major force in Bowie's career. Burns, who was his half-brother, shaped his lyrics and inspired a plethora of his most insightful songs. Growing up, the brothers often hung out, attended concerts, researched religion and even read novels together.
He Adored the Earliest World Wide Web
Unlike pop stars such as Prince, who despised the influence the internet had on music, Bowie couldn't get enough of the new technology. In a 1999 interview with Jeremy Paxman, he shared that he believed the internet would have "unimaginable" implications on the evolving world.
Bowie's Final Album Was a Farewell to Fans
Was David Bowie psychic? It's hard to know for sure, considering his 25th and final album was released a mere two days before his death. At the very least, the timing of his final body of work was haunting. Audiences across the globe were shocked to learn of his death, as Bowie — suffering from liver cancer — had kept his illness hidden from his fans.
He Declined to Perform at the Olympics
In 2012, the Olympics were held in England's artistic hub, London. The opening ceremony's artistic director, Danny Boyle, could think of no better act to perform a set than the Starman himself. However, when he asked Bowie to sing, he declined the offer. At the time, he hadn't performed live since 2006, and he wasn't eager to do so again.
He Wrote His Own Musical
Many great rock stars of Bowie's age have contributed to the scores used in now-famous musicals, such as Cindy Lauper's Kinky Boots and Sir Elton John's The Lion King. Bowie was inspired to do the same. For one of his final works during his life, he wrote the lyrics and score to his own musical: Lazarus.
He Was Terrified of Tea
Bowie may be as English as they come, yet the star refused to drink a drop of tea. What exactly turned him off the drink that is such a mainstay beverage for his country of origin? Apparently, he didn't have an issue with the flavor or consistency. Instead, a childhood trauma put him off the English staple.
Bowie's First Love Was Jazz
Although Bowie was known for his persona as a glam-rock pop star, he wasn't initially drawn to the musical stylings of other rock artists. In fact, one of his favorite early music genres was jazz. When he was 12, someone gave him a saxophone, and he began to binge on jazz artists like Charles Mingus with his jazz-loving brother.
The Megastar Passed Up Knighthood
The Queen of England has long been known to honor famous musicians by knighting them. Among those receiving this great title are Sir Elton John, Sir John Lennon and Sir Mick Jagger. Of course, David Bowie was certainly influential enough for the Queen to offer him knighthood — but he respectfully declined the honor. Gasp!
He Was in SpongeBob's Atlantis SquarePantis
In addition to an uber-successful singing career, Bowie had a fairly rich history in acting. He is widely recognized for his stellar and spooky performances in films like Labyrinth (1986) and The Man Who Fell to Earth (1976). Did you know that he also lent his heavenly voice to a character in Atlantis SquarePantis (2007)?