As the world wakes up to the news of The Thin White Duke’s passing, here are some little-known facts about the cultural icon that was David Bowie.
Kicking us off is the fact his album ‘The Next Day’ (2013) was created without even his PR team knowing about it. Bowie wanted to keep the album so secret, he recorded in studios using only one or two staff, who each had to sign non-disclosure agreements.
Hansa, the small recording studio where Bowie recorded his ‘Berlin trilogy’ – which used to overlook the Berlin wall – is now a tourist destination, although it’s still a working studio: Supergrass and Snow Patrol have worked there in recent years.
Bowie got the idea for the Ziggy Stardust persona after a chance encounter in London’s Carnaby Street with washed-up pop star and acid freak Vince Taylor. Interestingly, the album cover (pictured) was shot just round the corner, on Haddon Street.
‘TCV15’, a track off the ‘Station To Station’ album, was inspired by a dream in which Iggy Pop saw his girlfriend eaten by a TV set.
Bowie claims he had a ‘horrible’ incident with a cup of tea when he was 5, and refuses to drink it to this day.
David Bowie has influenced countless musicians. To pick just one, here’s Brandon Flowers on his idol: “I didn’t get into him until I was around 19 or 20, but ‘Hunky Dory’ changed my life. He pushed the envelope while remaining accessible.”
Lady Gaga on David Bowie: “I look at Bowie as an icon in art. It’s not just about the music. It’s about the performance, the attitude, the look. And that is where I live as an artist.”
Bowie’s ‘1975’ album ‘Station To Station’ – now getting an anniversary reissue – was fuelled by terrifying quantities of cocaine. Recalls Geoff MacCormack, a backing singer on the album: “Everyone was wandering around with chains round their necks with little coke spoons.”
When Bowie suggested that his fans should vote via phone which tracks he should play for his 1990 world tour, ‘The Laughing Gnome’ was the most requested. Unsurprisingly, he didn’t play it.
Around the same time, Bowie was also lined up to star alongside Elizabeth Taylor in a film called Bluebird. But it wasn’t to be. “The whole film stinks and I turned it down,” he told NME in 1975.
At one point Bowie was lined up to star alongside Michael Caine in The Eagle Has Landed, a film about a plot to assassinate Hitler. Scheduling conflicts nixed it, sadly.
According to a recent piece in The Observer, David Bowie’s iPod currently contains Lorraine Ellison’s ‘Stay With Me’, ‘Dinner At Eight’ by Rufus Wainwright, and ‘Gathering Storm’ by Godspeed You! Black Emperor.
Bowie plays just about every instrument on ‘Diamond Dogs’ – including the famous guitar riff on ‘Rebel Rebel’.
Bowie’s not been seen out and about much lately, but he made a rare public appearance in summer 2009 at the premiere of his son’s acclaimed debut film, Moon, at the Tribeca Film Festival in New York.
The song ‘Under Pressure’ – a collaboration between Bowie and Queen – evolved from a collective jam session at Bowie’s studio in Montreux, Switzerland. He’d originally intended to sing backing vocals on a different Queen song, ‘Cool Cat’.
At the height of cocaine psychosis, Bowie was so addled and paranoid from drugs, he allegedly stored his own urine in the fridge in case a wizard stole it.
Bowie’s right pupil is permanently dilated – a result of his friend George Underwood punching him in the eye while the pair were still at school, in a fight over a girl.
Bearded TV presenter Noel Edmonds travelled to Live Aid with Bowie in 1985, and pronounced the great man to be “a funny, dry, erudite bloke”.
David Bowie’s real name is David Robert Jones. He changed his surname to Bowie to avoid confusion with Davy Jones, then riding high with The Monkees.
Ever the optimist, Simon Cowell told NME last year that he hoped to persuade David Bowie to perform on the ITV talent show. “I think that would be good just because he’s a great songwriter,” Cowell said. Good luck with that.
During his strung-out ‘Station To Station’ period, Bowie planned to star as himself in a biopic film, potentially directed by Ken Russell. “The script is meaningless,” he told the Sunday Times. “But the costumes are nice.”
Backing vocals on 1975 soul album ‘Young Americans’ were supplied by a young Luther Vandross, who would go on to be one the biggest solo stars of the 1980s.
It’s become a well-worn rock tale, but it’s worth repeating – at a gig in Oslo in 2004, Bowie was struck in the eye by a lollipop hurled from the crowd. It became lodged there, before being removed by a member of his road crew. Like a trooper, Bowie then continued with the show.
In a webchat with fans, Bowie admitted one of his favourite comics was Harry Hill.
Despite popular belief, David Bowie’s eyes are not different colours. They only appear so because one eye has a permanantly dilated pupil, the result of a fight.
It was a heart attack requiring emergency surgery in 2004 that caused David Bowie to cancel the remaining 15 dates of what had been his biggest – and best-received world tour in years. Since then, his live appearances have been sporadic.
Interesting Bowie fact: he is 5 feet and 10 inches (178cm) tall.
When Bowie was working on the film Prestige, producers made sure he traveled in a blue helicopter. They’d heard that he would refuse to travel in anything else. However, upon seeing the helicopter’s customised décor, he told them he didn’t really give a shit.
A teenage Bowie was interviewed on a BBC programme as the founder of The Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Long-haired Men. He complained: “It’s not nice when people call you darling and that”.
Peter Frampton – of ‘Baby I Love Your Way’ fame – was Bowie’s friend at school – his dad was head of the art department.
Bowie plays saxophone on ‘To Know Him Is To Love Him’ from Steeleye Span’s Now We Are Six album.
Bowie has played Glastonbury twice. His first appearance was in 1971, when he played at 5am. His second, in 2000, has gone down in Glastonbury lore as one of the greatest sets the festival has seen. Persistent rumours Bowie might be playing the 2010 bash proved to be unfounded.
Here’s David Bowie at London’s Rules Restaurant, 1973, after receiving a presentation of six discs from RCA Records. The occasion? He had an incredible six albums in the charts that year.
Bowie is a big fan of Placebo, citing them as one of his favourite bands. He also enjoyed Oasis, before they split.
Bowie’s mid-70s drug use wasn’t exactly joyous hedonism. “I didn’t really use drugs for hedonistic purposes,” he explained in 2000. “I didn’t go out very much. I was really just working. I’d work days in a row without sleep.”
Paul Weller on Bowie: “I think everyone is influence by him. ‘Low’ has always been my favourite record.”
Of Montreal’s Kevin Barnes on Bowie: “He is a singular genius. His oeuvre is an incredible gift to the human race. He’s the Muhammad Ali of art freaks.”
Everything Everything’s Jeremy Pritchard on Bowie: “With Bowie, ‘reinvention’ wasn’t contrived. He did all these things first and established the route that any long-living pop artist is going to have to travel down.”
MGMT’s Andrew VanWyngarden on Bowie: “I could pick a song from every different era and incarnation of David Bowie, and it won’t sound dated. He’s really good at that I think.”
Around the time of Bowie’s 1975 Young Americans album, Chic founder Nile Rodgers auditioned to play guitar in Bowie’s band. He didn’t get the part.
Bowie to make a live comeback? Dream on. Optimistic internet rumours suggested that Bowie might be planning to resurrect his legendary alter-ego Ziggy Stardust to play Coachella in 2010. “Bollocks, of course,” was the succinct response of NME’s Barry Nicolson.
Bowie tends to produce his best work when he collaborates with Tony Visconti. After a gap of 20 years, Bowie was reunited with the man who produced his classic ‘70s albums, for the acclaimed albums ‘Heathen’ (2002) and ‘Reality’ (2003).
Bowie left school with just one qualification, an O Level in art.
A fake Twitter account was set up in David Bowie’s name in January 2009. Despite it only ever having featured one tweet (“Cheers from a snowy Berlin! Working on some new material!”), the account has over 41,000 followers.
‘Space Oddity’ gave Bowie his big break. This now-famous track was used by the BBC in its coverage of the moon landing in 1969. Bowie was practically unknown back then – the song became his first UK hit.
In 2006, Bowie announced he was “fed up with the industry, and I’ve been fed up for some time”. Which hasn’t stopped fans speculating – against all available evidence – that he’s poised to make a triumphant comeback.
At the height of his cocaine addiction, during the 1974 ‘Diamond Dogs’ tour, Bowie weighed just 95 pounds and supposedly lived on a diet of peppers and milk. All the major food groups covered, then.
Franz Ferdinand frontman Alex Kapranos was overwhelmed upon meeting his idol in 2004. “There’s no actor who’ll ever come close to influencing me as much as Bowie,” he said.
Bowie’s last film role was in The Prestige, a 2006 thriller about rival magicians. Adopting a truly terrible European accent, he played the role of Serbian inventor Nikola Tesla.
In case you’ve ever wondered, Bowie is pronounced to rhyme with Joey – not Howie, or Wowee.