30 Facts About David Bowie

The world lost one of its greats on Monday. David Bowie had been privately battling cancer for 18 months and passed away yesterday, surrounded by friends and family; his illness was not made public until the announcement of his death. He was 69.

To reflect on his life and legacy, we have collated 30 facts about the innovative musician, lauded actor and fashion icon.

(1) The video for Lazarus, released last week, depicted a bandaged David Bowie in a hospital bed singing, “Look up here, I’m in heaven.”


(2) He was born David Robert Jones on January 8, 1947, in Brixton, London. His mother Margaret was a waitress and his father John was a promotions officer for Barnardo’s. His father’s collection of American singles sparked his love for music. “I saw God” he revealed when he first heard Little Richard’s Tutti Frutti.

(3) The musical chameleon was a sci-fi creature, glam-rocking bisexual, hippie songwriter, dance performer, thin white duke, plastic soul man, industrial stylist, adult contemporary crooner and jungle experimentalist. He even did a Christmas duet with Bing Crosby. His records made it into various US charts: pop, dance club, alternative songs, mainstream rock. R&B/hip hop… and even reached #12 on the rap charts in 1990 with a reworking of Fame with Queen Latifah.

(4) It is estimated he sold 140 million records through his career. His new album Blackstar (his 29th) was already set to have a high debut on the world charts – now a definite in the outpouring of grief after his death on the weekend aged 69.

(5) He dropped his birth name Davy Jones to avoid confusion with the Monkees member, and took his stage moniker from the 19th century US frontiersman Jim Bowie, inventor of the Bowie knife.

(6) By the age of nine, teachers were marvelling at the invention of his dance movements and sense of creativity. That would be unleashed further by his mentor Lindsay Kemp. He’d often talk of his humble beginnings in south London, saying it inhibited his vision because “I know my place.” But his art school background made it easy to combine theatrical elements and collaborate with photographers, fashion designers, filmmakers and visual artists.

(7) After moving to Switzerland in 1976, purchasing a chalet in the hills to the north of Lake Geneva, he took up painting again and produced some post-modernist pieces, and started an intensive self-improvement course in classical music and literature.

(8) There are many pronounced similarities between Robert Heinlein’s 1961 Stranger in a Strange Land and the Ziggy Stardust storyline, though Bowie claims to dislike the book.

(9) In the 1960s, while working on his music career, Bowie appeared in a Lyons Maid ice cream commercial but was rejected for a Kit Kat ad.

(10) No less than 433 movies used his music on their soundtracks.

(11) His first hit song, Space Oddity, came out in July 1969, and went Top 5 in the UK. According to biographer David Buckley, The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars “challenged the core belief of the rock music of its day” and “created perhaps the biggest cult in popular culture”.

(12) During the androgyny period, he took to wearing a dress at interviews. The critics acclaimed his vision but out in the street, a man produced a gun and told him to “kiss my ass.”

(13) On March 19, 1970 he married Mary Angela Barnett (Angie Bowie) in London. They had a son Zowie Bowie (now Duncan Jones, film maker). They got divorced in 1980 but as late as last week were exchanging barbs in the UK newspapers. She had accused him of alienating Duncan from her.

He married Somali-born supermodel Iman in 1992. They met two years before. “I was naming the children the night we met … it was absolutely immediate.” Their daughter Alexandria ‘Lexi’ Zahra Jones was born in 2000.

(14) In 1972 he told Melody Maker he was gay. In September 1976, he stated in Playboy he was bisexual – an admission he later admitted in Rolling Stone in 1980 was the “biggest mistake” he’d made and and “I was always a closet heterosexual.”

(15) He and Iman appeared as characters in the 1999 computer game Omikron.

(16) In 2004, he suffered a heart attack during a German tour.

(17) Bowie was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1996 and awarded the Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award on February 8, 2006. He was voted best dressed Briton in history in a reader’s poll by BBC History Magazine in October 2013. Last year he was listed as one of GQ’s 50 best dressed British men.

(18) In 2014, when he trumped the Best British Male category at the Brit awards (the oldest recipient to win one) he got Kate Moss to pick it up for him.

(19) In 2004, Rolling Stone ranked him 39th on its list of the “100 Greatest Artists of All Time” and 23rd on its list of the best singers of all time.

(20) He turned down the offer to play the villain Max Zorin in the James Bond film A View to a Kill(1985).

(21) Australian ties: the video for Let’s Dance worked around a young Aboriginal couple in love, while the recording of the first Tin Machine album in Sydney was said to be heavily “inspired” by Sydney band Celibate Rifles who were recording in the same studio.

(22) Among the tributes flowing in were British Prime Minister David Cameron who tweeted, “I grew up listening to and watching the pop genius David Bowie. He was a master of re-invention, who kept getting it right. A huge loss.”

(23) Bowie Quote: “It didn’t occur to me that rock and roll ever had a life that long, you know? Nobody at that particular time really thought it would become something … myself and my contemporaries at my age … I guess it’s new ground to us. We’re just learning what to do with it … at this age and still playing rock and roll.”

(24) His school friend George Underwood who in 1962 left him with a permanently dilated pupil after punching him in the left eye during a fight over a girl, later became a close friend and designed the art work for his early albums.

(25) In his movies, he played real life people as Andy Warhol in Julian Schnabel’s 1996 Basquiat,inventor Nicola Tesla in Christopher Nolan’s The Prestige (2006) and himself in Ben Stiller’s Zoolander(2001). In other movies he played a Japanese prisoner of war, a goblin king, an alien from a dying planet, a whinging restaurant employee, a manic FBI agent, a feared gunfighter and an ageing gangster.

(26) He offered Golden Years to Elvis Presley first but the King rejected it.

(27) The video for Ashes To Ashes (1980) remains one of the most inventive of all time. It was to put a spotlight on the underground New Romantics movement when he turned up to the Blitz club in London and chose some of its patrons – including Steve Strange from Visage – to feature in it.

(28) Over the years he claimed to be a Buddhist, an atheist, and dropped to his knees at Live Aid to recite the Lord’s Prayer.

(29) Bowie who took his sci-fi vision from Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968), releasedSpace Oddity five days before the launch of Apollo 11 in 1969 and adopted the futuristic droogs costumes from A Clockwork Orange (1971) for his own look. He is acknowledged as the musician who contributed most to the changing concept of sci-fi and of aliens, portraying them as detached and disorientated, filled with doomed arrogance and anguished super-beings.

(30) Bowie on Ziggy Stardust: “The time is five years to go before the end of the earth. It has been announced that the world will end because of lack of natural resources. Ziggy is in a position where all the kids have access to things that they thought they wanted. The older people have lost all touch with reality and the kids are left on their own to plunder anything.

“Ziggy was in a rock-and-roll band and the kids no longer want rock-and-roll. There’s no electricity to play it. Ziggy’s adviser tells him to collect news and sing it, ’cause there is no news. So Ziggy does this and there is terrible news. ‘All the young dudes’ is a song about this news. It is no hymn to the youth as people thought. It is completely the opposite.”

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