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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
. Bowie 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 has two different colored eyes. In fact, both are 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 3 days to replace Vaughn.
Bowie appeared at London's Wembley Stadium on July 13, 1985, as part of Live Aid charity concert. Bowie 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 has had an enviable acting career. In 1980, Bowie 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 have one daughter, 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 ten 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, Bowie said: "I tell you what...I won't be writing a song about this one."
Since his heart surgery, Bowie has laid low, with one biographer, Paul Trynka, claiming he has "retired." Bowie is rarely seen in public nowadays - 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. He plays 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 draws, sculpts and paints in his spare time. His favorite artists include Tintoretto, John Bellany, Erich Heckel and Picasso.