David Bowie was a man who lived a life filled to the brim with adventure, mystery, and hair-spray. During his time here on Earth, the Starman accomplished more in a decade of his career than most could in five lifetimes. For this reason, even fans of Bowie aren’t aware of the full scope of the kind of crazy crap he got up to during his half-century-long career.
10. He didn’t know how to pronounce his own name, which he had previously changed twice
Born David Robert Jones, Bowie decided to change his name early in his career to Tom Jones in 1965 to avoid being mistaken for Monkees singer Davy Jones. Just a week after making this decision, Welsh singer Tom Jones released his smash-hit It’s Not Unusual in anticipation of the Carlton dance phenomenon of the ’90s. Annoyed, the young singer changed his name again to David Bowie, after the famous American knife – supposedly because, like him, it had two edges.
The problem was, throughout his entire career Bowie pronounced his last name ‘BOW-ee’, while Jim Bowie, the man the knife is named after, pronounced it ‘BOO-ey’. Something the singer wasn’t aware of until he visited Scotland and heard everyone pronounce it “wrong.” Confused, Bowie came to the conclusion that how his name was pronounced wasn’t as important as people knowing it in the first place.
9. He almost died because he ate nothing but peppers for a month
The album Station to Station is considered one of Bowie’s best. Released in 1976 to rave reviews, Bowie himself remained largely oblivious to the album’s success later in life because he spent much of the recording process blitzed out of his mind on cocaine.
Bowie spent virtually the entire recording process in a state of near-psychosis, surrounding himself with ancient Egyptian artifacts and spending much of his time ranting about witches trying to steal his semen. As a side effect of his cocaine-only diet, Bowie largely lost his appetite and subsisted on nothing but peppers washed down with cold milk. This diet nearly killed the singer, seeing his weight drop to below 100 pounds at one point.
The whole experience shook Bowie, who when asked what he thought of Los Angeles after recording the album there, replied simply, “The f***ing place should be wiped off the face of the earth.” Truer words have never been spoken, Bowie. Truer words.
8. He was voted the best dressed Briton, ever
David Bowie changed his appearance and outfit more times than a indecisive Dark Souls player. He donned everything from suits sharp enough to give a the Statue of David a paper cut to custom made couture dresses, just because he could. In a 2013 poll, Britons recognized Bowie’s commitment to constant reinvention by voting him the best dressed Briton in history.
Bowie managed to walk away with nearly 50% of the vote, beating out everyone from Queen Alexandra to Beau Brummel, aka, the man who invented the suit. It speaks to Bowie’s universal appeal and androgynous appearance that a majority of polled Britons felt that he dressed better than all British royalty as well as the guy who invented the concept of wearing a suit.
7. He’s an integral part of the Metal Gear Solid universe
David Bowie possessed an uncanny ability to alter his physical form like a lizard-man or, if you prefer, man-lizard. Bowie actually changed the way he looked so much that throughout his career he’s inadvertently styled himself to look like every character in the video game series Metal Gear Solid.
As it turns out, this is no accident, and Bowie is a key part of the Metal Gear universe, with key characters and plot points being named after his various alter-egos and songs. As if this wasn’t overt enough, the character Raiden was described as looking exactly like David Bowie in the novelization of Metal Gear Solid 2, while another character called The Fury quotes Bowie as he flies into space and explodes. If this sounds odd, remember that this is a video game series that suggests its main character invented Mountain Dew, Doritos and Axe body spray.
6. He saved the first music video recorded in space
A few years ago real-life spaceman and all-around badass, Commander Chris Hadfield, recorded a cover of David Bowie’s “Space Oddity” in space, making it the first music video ever recorded in, well, space. As an aside, has anyone ever noticed that if you type out and say the same word aloud multiple times in a row it starts to sound weird?
Bowie loved the cover and personally thanked Hadfield for singing it, calling it the most moving and beautiful rendition of the song he’d ever heard. The problem was, YouTube kept taking the video down because although Bowie wrote and sang the song, he didn’t own the rights to it. This put YouTube in a unique legal quandary as, although Bowie’s publisher was correct in asserting that it owned the rights to the song, said rights didn’t apply in outer space. And that’s an argument Bowie put forward on Hadfield’s behalf, making him instrumental in making sure the first cover recorded in the upper stratosphere stayed freely available for humanity to enjoy. Speaking of covers…
5. He was annoyed by a Nirvana cover
In 1993 Nirvana covered one of the Bowie’s most famous hits, “The Man Who Sold the World”, much to the surprise of the singer who was shocked he was a big enough part of the American musical landscape for Nirvana to even know who he was. After Kurt Cobain passed away, Bowie expressed regret at never being able to pick Cobain’s brain and find out why he chose to cover his song, once saying that simply having the chance to speak to the grunge legend would have been “real cool.”
Although Bowie was ultimately flattered by the cover, he did become somewhat annoyed at its enduring legacy as a “Nirvana song.” Bowie would later note that when he played the song at concerts in the States, younger fans would approach him to talk about how neat it was that he’d covered a Nirvana song. Bowie’s reaction was to call them a “tosser” and tell them to “f**k off.”
4. Christopher Nolan begged him to be Nikola Tesla
David Bowie has had such a commanding screen presence that his cameos often caused the movies he was appearing in to freeze for a moment just to announce that, holy crap, it’s David Bowie. Initially hesitant to appear in movies, Bowie needed to be coaxed into starring in The Prestige by director Christopher Nolan.
According to the director, he never had anyone else but Bowie in mind to play scientist Nikola Tesla, which resulted in him being somewhat upset when Bowie turned the part down. Not willing to take no for an answer, Nolan flew to New York to personally appeal to Bowie, basically begging him to appear in the film. Bowie was swayed by Nolan’s passion and agreed to bless the film with his godly visage.
3. He once played the Elephant Man on Broadway
David Bowie was an astonishingly handsome man, what with his teasing androgynous appearance, cheekbones capable of cutting glass, and soul-piercing stare. Which is why it may surprise you to learn that the Thin White Duke once played a man famous for being so horrendously, upsettlingly ugly he literally earned a living standing completely still and letting people stare at his face: Joseph Merrick, better known by his Wu-Tang name, the Elephant Man.
While little in the way of physical evidence remains of Bowie’s brief tenure as a stage actor, with there only really being promotional photos and publicity stills of Bowie in costume, and a few stray clips here and there, reviews indicate Bowie’s performance was one that cemented his reputation as not just a musician, but a true Renaissance Man who was as comfortable on stage reading lines in a diaper (oh yeah, Bowie’s costume was just a big cotton diaper) as he was playing a guitar. Because apparently just being an internationally recognized sex symbol/rockstar/musical super-genius wasn’t enough for David Bowie.
2. He once finished a set with a lollipop sticking out of his eye
David Bowie’s distinctive, mismatched eyes were a result of a childhood altercation with a friend resulting in his left pupil being permanently dilated. Effectively blind in that eye, Bowie had problems with his peripheral vision, which resulted in him being hit in the eye socket by a lollipop thrown by a fan while performing on stage in Norway in 2004.
The lollipop, which became physically lodged in Bowie’s bad pupil, needed to be forcefully ripped from the singer’s eyeball by a stagehand. An annoyed Bowie chastised the crowd before regaining his composure and joking about how lucky it was that the lollipop hit his bad eye. Bowie then told the crowd he’d punish them by playing an extra long set, presumably featuring the song “The Laughing Gnome” like eight times.
1. He didn’t do any of the contact juggling in Labyrinth
One of Bowie’s most famous film roles is that of Jareth the Goblin King in the film Labyrinth. A question Bowie was asked repeatedly following the release of the film is how long it took him to master contact juggling, a skill Jareth possesses and shows off multiple times throughout the film. Bowie’s response was to laugh and explain that the juggling was actually done by somebody else; specifically, master juggler Michael Moschen.
To achieve the effect that Bowie was able to deftly manipulate a steel ball with his long, slender man-fingers, Moschen hid behind Bowie and put his arms through his Goblin-cape. You know, kind of like what kids do when they’re pretending to be Goro from Mortal Kombat. A testament to Moschen’s skill is that he was able to make an orb of condensed goblin-power dance across his fingertips completely blind. It also speaks to the mystique surrounding Bowie that audiences saw him display a skill nobody had ever seen him talk about or mention before and still assumed it was him, because it does seem like the kind of thing Bowie would be amazing at.