David Bowie was born David Robert Jones on January 8, 1947, in Brixton, London to Margaret Mary "Peggy" Jones, a cinema usherette, and Haywood Stenton "John" Jones, a publicity director for an orphanage. Haywood helped organize charity shows in the '50s and introduced his son to all the stars, giving David an early look into the entertainment industry.
David Jones changed his name in 1966 to avoid confusion with Davy Jones of The Monkees
. He told Rolling Stone
the name comes from the Bowie knife: "I was into a kind of heavy philosophy thing when I was 16 years old, and I wanted a truism about cutting through the lies and all that."
Bowie attended Bromley Technical School in London, where he was taught art by Peter Frampton
's father, Owen.
Bowie's half-brother, Terry Burns, helped turn him onto modern jazz when he was growing up. Burns, who was Bowie's mother's son from a previous marriage, was severely schizophrenic. Having previously attempted suicide by jumping from a window in the hospital in which he lived, Burns succeeded in killing himself in 1985 after escaping the grounds of the hospital and laying down on some railroad tracks. He was 47. Bowie didn't attend the funeral because he didn't want it turned into a media frenzy. Bowie wrote several songs about his brother's struggle with mental illness, including "All The Madmen
" and "Jump They Say
Bowie grew up fascinated by American culture, including football. He used to listen to the games as a teenager and once wrote to the US embassy in London, who sent him a football uniform.
It is a myth that Bowie had two different colored eyes. In fact, both were blue, but the pupil of Bowie's left eye became enlarged and frozen after a fist fight with his best friend in school, George Underwood (it was over a girl). He and George stayed friends, however, and played in a band together as teens. In 2004, during a concert in Norway, a lollipop was hurled on stage and wedged itself in Bowie's left eye. Thankfully, Bowie escaped serious injury.
Bowie was a big fan of dance and he was trained in mime by Lindsey Kemp, who also taught Kate Bush
. In 1969, Bowie would do a mime act before the folk band, Tyrannosaurus Rex (who would later become the glam rock band, T. Rex) came on stage.
Bowie's first commercial breakthrough came in 1969, with the song "Space Oddity
," which was rush-released to coincide with the Apollo 11 moon landing.
Bowie met his first wife, Angela, at a King Crimson concert in 1969. The relationship didn't end well, and she would later sue Bowie for $56 million. David said being married to her was "like living with a blowtorch." When he divorced Angela in 1980, she signed a 10-year gag order prohibiting her from talking about Bowie. When the order expired in 1990, she went on The Joan Rivers Show and claimed she once found Bowie and Mick Jagger in bed together, naked. Bowie and Jagger strongly denied the story.
Bowie and Angela had one child, Duncan Zowie Haywood Jones, in 1971. Jones has since gone on to become a successful film director and is the brain behind Moon (2009) and Source Code (2011). Jones has a tempestuous relationship with his mother, with Angela telling The Guardian in 2010: "I haven't heard from Zowie, or Duncan as he calls himself now, for five years. He emailed me but the relationship didn't progress and I think reconciliation is unlikely."
In 1972, Bowie released The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars, a concept album about a rock star named Ziggy Stardust. Bowie adopted this persona, iconic for his wild costumes and makeup, for two years. In 1972, Bowie announced he was bisexual in the English magazine Melody Maker while in character as Ziggy Stardust. Bowie later explained that he could say things like that as Ziggy because he was less inhibited. Other personas Bowie adopted include Halloween Jack and The Thin White Duke. Bowie later claimed he was painfully shy and that is why he took on personas: "I didn't really have the nerve to sing my songs onstage, so I decided to do them in disguise."
Bowie began writing and composing the music to a musical version of George Orwell's 1984
but this was scrapped due to the Orwell estate's refusal to give authorization. Some of the songs turned up on the 1973 album, Diamond Dogs
, where there is a strong 1984
theme, especially on songs like "Big Brother
" and "We Are The Dead
." Several other outtakes have circulated that were apparently intended for the musical. (thanks, Charlie - Stittstown, Canada)
Bowie made his feature film debut in the 1976 movie, The Man Who Fell to Earth, about an extraterrestrial who crash lands on Earth while seeking water for his planet. Bowie also wrote and recorded the soundtrack to the film in demo form with Paul Buckmaster, but it was turned down in favor of a more bluesy Americana soundtrack put together by John Philips. Bowie's original soundtrack (rumored to contain the blueprints to one or two of his released songs) is one of the most sought after rarities by his fans.
Bowie developed a severe cocaine addiction in the mid '70s. He claimed he lived on a diet of "peppers, cocaine and milk." At the time, he suffered with paranoia and reportedly kept his urine in the fridge in case someone stole it. Bowie also became obsessed with black magic and, following a visit from Led Zeppelin
guitarist Jimmy Page, he exorcised his house as he believed Page brought poltergeists to the place.
In 1976, Bowie moved to West Berlin in an attempt to kick his cocaine habit. It was here he recorded the "Berlin Trilogy" - Low
- three albums recorded in collaboration with former Roxy Music keyboardist, Brian Eno. While in Berlin, Bowie rented an apartment with Iggy Pop
In 1977, Bowie featured on Bing Crosby
's television special, Bing Crosby's Merrie Olde Christmas
. The pair were meant to sing "The Little Drummer Boy
," but Bowie hated the song, so new lyrics were swiftly written for him titled "Peace on Earth." Crosby died on October 14th, just five weeks after recording the special. In the UK, "The Little Drummer Boy/Peace on Earth" became an unlikely hit five years later, and has been an enduring Christmas classic ever since.
Bowie's 1983 album, Let's Dance
features Stevie Ray Vaughan
on guitar. Bowie invited Vaughan to play for him after he saw him at a festival a year beforehand. Vaughn was also the original guitar player for Bowie's 1983 Serious Moonlight
tour, but due to conflicts between management he left, and guitarist Earl Slick learned the show in three days to replace Vaughn.
Bowie appeared at London's Wembley Stadium on July 13, 1985, as part of Live Aid charity concert. He also recorded a cover of "Dancing in the Street
" with The Rolling Stones
' Mick Jagger, with all proceeds from the duet going to the Live Aid charity.
Alongside his music, Bowie had an enviable acting career. In 1980, he played John Merrick in the Broadway play The Elephant Man. Films that Bowie has appeared in include Nagisa Oshima's Merry Christmas, Mr. Lawrence, Jim Henson's Labyrinth, Martin Scorcese's The Last Temptation of Christ, David Lynch's Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me, Ben Stiller's Zoolander and Christopher Nolan's The Prestige. In 2008, Bowie voiced the Lord Royal Highness in SpongeBob's Atlantis SquarePantis. He was once asked to play the villain in the James Bond movie A View To A Kill, but Bowie turned it down. The role was eventually given to Christopher Walken.
On April 24, 1992, Bowie married the supermodel Iman at a registrar office in Lausanne, Switzerland. June later that year, the couple renewed their vows in Florence, Italy, after doubting the legality of their wedding in Switzerland. David and Iman had one child, Alexandria Zahra Jones, born in 2000.
In 1996, Bowie was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. In 2002, he ranked at #29 on BBC's The 100 Greatest Britons poll. In 2004, Rolling Stone magazine placed him at #39 on their list of the 100 Greatest Rock Artists of All Time, and in 2006, he was awarded the Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award.
Bowie intended to deliver a new album titled Toy in 2001, but it was never officially released, with Bowie blaming "scheduling conflicts." Toy leaked on to the internet 10 years later, much to excitement of Bowie's fans.
Bowie was one of the first artists to realize the power of the internet. In 1997 he broke new ground with the internet-only release of his single "Telling Lies." Bowie once programmed three internet radio stations on to his website. Two were available to members only, while the other played kids' songs inspired by his daughter, Alexandria.
In 2004, Bowie had emergency heart surgery after he developed a blocked artery. Upon recovery, he said: "I tell you what... I won't be writing a song about this one."
After his heart surgery, Bowie laid low, with one biographer, Paul Trynka, claiming he has "retired." Bowie was rarely seen in public from that point forward - the last time he performed live was with Alicia Keys
at the Black Ball, a New York charity event, in 2006.
In 2003, Bowie turned down a knighthood from the Queen. Bowie told The Sun why he shunned the chance to be a "Sir": "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."
Bowie started playing the saxophone at the age of 12, after his mother gave him a cream-colored plastic alto sax as a Christmas present. He got himself a part-time job as a butcher's delivery boy to pay for the cost of tuition.
He played the instrument on Steeleye Span's version of "To Know Him Is To Love Him
," which can be found on their 1974 album, Now We Are Six
Bowie drew, sculpted and painted in his spare time. His favorite artists included Tintoretto, John Bellany, Erich Heckel and Picasso.
Bowie would often use a "cut up" technique to compose his lyrics, creating snippets out of poems or other bits of his writing with scissors and then randomly arranging the phrases. "The unconscious intelligence that comes from those pairings is really quite startling sometimes. Quite provocative," he said.
Later on, a friend created a computer program to do this for him: Bowie could enter his text and hit a button that would randomize the phrases for him.
David Bowie had an astute business brain and was financially savvy. When he signed his first record deal, the young singer took less up front and negotiated to get his masters back.
Bowie also pioneered celebrity bonds in 1997 with rock and roll investment banker David Pullman. His Bowie Bonds were asset-backed securities of current and future revenues of the 287 songs that the singer recorded before 1990. The bonds carried a 7.9 percent interest rate, fully maturing in 15 years. In return, Bowie received a payment of $55 million up front from the investor, Prudential Insurance Company of America.
David Bowie died from liver cancer at his New York apartment on January 10, 2016, two days after the release of his Blackstar album. After his passing, Bowie's family revealed that he had been diagnosed 18 months earlier.
The day following Bowie's death, fans flocked to VEVO and streamed his music videos a total of 51 million times in 24 hours. In doing so Bowie became the artist to achieve the most amount of streams on the VEVO platform during a 24-hour period. Adele previously held the record with a total of 36 million views across her catalog on VEVO within a 24 hour period.
Bowie appeared in a 1969 television commercial
for Lyons Maid Luv ice lollies. The ad was directed by Ridley Scott, who later found fame as the director of such blockbuster movies as Blade Runner
Blackstar was his only album in which he does not appear on the cover.