The music world is reeling with shock and grief after learning that legendary singer, songwriter, and performer David Bowie has passed away at the age of 69. Bowie, who was known for his flamboyant style, immaculate artistry, and innovative music, fought an 18-month battle with cancer that was hidden from the public. The loss hasn’t quite set in for many.
With countless hits such as “Space Oddity,” “Modern Love,” and “Ziggy Stardust,” and appearances in movies from Labyrinth to Zoolander, Bowie was one of the most iconic personas in pop history. Here are 23 surprising facts you might not have known about the man nicknamed the Thin White Duke.
RIP, David Bowie 1947-2016.
24. He has a “forgotten” album
David Bowie does not have any recollection of creating his critically acclaimed album Station to Station, which includes the hit song “Golden Years.” This is because he was in a psychotic state of terror, fueled by an astronomical cocaine habit.
23. He and Peter Frampton were childhood friends
The two met at Bromley Technical High School in London. David Bowie’s favorite teacher at school was the art department head Owen Frampton, Peter’s dad.
After news of Bowie’s death broke, Peter said “I am in shock hearing this news about David. He was a dear friend and mentor to me. He gave me help when I most needed it. My thoughts are with his wife and children on this very sad day.”
22. Bowie performed at the Berlin Wall before it was torn down
David Bowie performed at the Berlin Wall, while East Germans gathered to listen behind. “And we would hear them cheering and singing along from the other side. God, even now I get choked up. It was breaking my heart. I’d never done anything like that in my life, and I guess I never will again.”
21. “Under Pressure” was written in 24 hours
In 1981, David Bowie and Queen wrote the hit during a 24-hour wine and cocaine marathon. That’s some serious pressure.
20. Dropping the “e”
After David Bowie released his album Low, Nick Lowe responded by releasing an album named Bowi. “Lowe had decided that as Bowie had made an album with his name, but without the finale, he would make a record with Bowie’s name, also lacking the finale.”
19. Freddie Mercury once sold him shoes
In 1970, an unknown Freddie Mercury was working as a London shoe stall assistant. He once fitted David Bowie for a pair of suede boots — over 10 years before “Under Pressure” was recorded.
18. He kept a fur-covered pit in his living room for orgies
According to Mick Jagger, Bowie kept a four-foot-deep, fur-covered bed – nicknamed “the pit” – in his living room for orgies with famous friends.
17. He doesn’t have two differently colored eyes
Although he’s well-known for having one eye that appears to be brown and one that’s blue, the effect is actually due to one eye being permanently dilated. George Underwood, a childhood friend, punched him in the eye during a fight over a girl and Bowie’s left eye has never looked the same.
After the incident, Underwood said “Oh God my stomach was turning. That was the last thing I wanted. But anyway we made up and years later he told me I did him a favor so I don’t feel so bad about it now!”
16.Bowie the baby
The baby noises heard in “Magic Dance” in The Labyrinth movie were dubbed over by David Bowie himself because he felt the actual baby didn’t perform as required.
15. He was targeted by an assassin
David Bowie was second on a hitlist of targets of John Lennon’s assassin, Mark David Chapman.
14. He declined Knighthood
David Bowie joined the ranks of Stephen Hawking, John Lennon, Aldous Huxley, Rudyard Kipling, Ralph Vaughan Williams, George Bernard Shaw, and H.G. Wells, when he declined knighthood in 2003. He said “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.”
13. Bowie had an awkward moment with Andy Warhol
When David Bowie played “Andy Warhol” to the song’s namesake, Warhol did not like it. When the song had finished playing, Warhol and Bowie reportedly just stared at each other for a while until Warhol said “I like your shoes” and the pair then had a conversation about shoes.
12. He inspired a comic book character
Neil Gaiman demanded that DC Comic’s Lucifer character be drawn to look like David Bowie, saying “You must draw David Bowie. Find David Bowie, or I’ll send you David Bowie.”
10. He’s a multi-instrumentalist
A true musician, David Bowie plays guitar, piano, saxophone, harmonica, synthetizers, vibraphone, xylophone, koto, drums, viola and cello.
9. He once hoaxed the art world
In 1998, Bowie and writer William Boyd created a fictional (hoax) artist called Nat Tate with an aim to expose the pretensions of the art world. The two even wrote a fake biography called Nat Tate: An American Artist 1928–1960 and held a lavish book release party for it.
8. Slash once found his Mom naked in bed with David Bowie.
In a Rolling Stone interview, Slash recounted about his mother Ola Hudson and Bowie: “I caught them naked once. They had a lot of stuff going on, but my perspective at eight was limited. Looking back on it I knew exactly what was going on.”
Despite the shenanigans, Slash has nothing but fond memories of Bowie.
7. “Heroes” didn’t make the cut for Pretty in Pink
The original ending for Pretty in Pink had Molly Ringwald reject Andrew McCarthy to dance with Jon Cryer to David Bowie’s “Heroes.” Test audiences booed this outcome, and John Hughes was forced to reshoot the ending, with Ringwald and McCarthy getting back together to the OMD song “If You Leave.”
6. He once wasted away to under 100 lbs
In the mid 1970s, Bowie weighed just 95 pounds due to a cocaine addiction and a diet of only milk and peppers.
The Thin White Duke, indeed.
5. His music inspired a children’s book
David Bowie’s “Space Oddity” has been made into a picture book for kids:
4. He wrote the Frank Sinatra hit “My Way”
David Bowie wrote lyrics set to a French song “Comme d’habitude” which was discarded and then later rewrote and released as “My way” made famous by Frank Sinatra.
3. Vanilla Ice owns the publishing rights to “Under Pressure”
After he was successfully sued for sampling the Queen and David Bowie song in his hit “Ice Ice Baby,” Vanilla Ice avoided having to perpetually pay royalties for the song by buying the rights.
2. David Bowie’s son directed the movie Moon.
Bowie’s son Duncan Jones directed the well-received science fictiondrama in 2009. He also directed Source Code in 2011, and Warcraft, which will be released later this year.
Duncan’s birth was the inspiration for Bowie’s song “Kooks,” on his 1971 album Hunky Dory.
1. Though they wrote the song together, Freddy Mercury and David Bowie never had a chance to perform “Under Pressure” together.
Queen played “Under Pressure” at every single concert from 1981 until the last day they toured, but Bowie never actually played the song live until a Freddie Mercury tribute concert in 1992. After that he played the song at nearly all of his live performances. Sadly, the two never got a chance to perform the hit together live.
What a pity. Perhaps they’re performing it in heaven now.