There are very few people in the world of music that have made an impact on the industry like David Bowie has. His creative vision and musical skills have put him on the world’s list of the best of the best in the music industry. David Bowie was a star in his own category.
Throughout the years, the star struggled with things that would be difficult in any situation. This musical sensation channeled his struggles through his work and the characters he created along the way. This is the story of how Major Tom came to life – and of the other highs and lows in David Bowie’s Life.
Meet Major Tom
The legend himself, David Bowie, was only 22 years old when he created the iconic Space Oddity. The musical genius created a character who would follow him through three separate albums that would change the course of the music industry for years to come.
David Bowie created a character who went by the name of Major Tom. Major Tom was a fictional character, specifically an astronaut, who made appearances in multiple songs he performed through the years. Major Tom made appearances in “Space Oddity,” “Ashes to Ashes,” “Hallo Spaceboy,” and “Blackstar.” Like many things over time, the character evolved as Bowie did as a person.
Space Oddity Was Timed Perfectly
The legendary song was released on July 11th, 1969, a mere nine days before the Apollo 11 aircraft landed on the moon. On July 16th, 1969, astronauts onboard Apollo 11 made the first moon landing, and Neil Armstrong, Buzz Aldrin became the first people to step foot on another planet.
“Space Oddity” became one of the many theme songs of this historic event. The British Broadcast Company (the BBC) used the song in their coverage of the first moon landing. This would help Bowie come up in the music scene in the U.K. even further. It ended up being his first big hit in the U.K.
Major Tom Wasn’t Alone
Major Tom was often seen as an alternate persona for the rock star. This persona was not his only character or identity. The musical legend sported other personalities, like Ziggy Stardust and The Thin White Duke. These were characters who were inspired by people of the time and came out during his performances.
Ziggy Stardust was a composite of a few people Bowie admired. Bowie confirmed that Ziggy Stardust was inspired by a rock star from the 1950s, Vince Taylor, who was known across the U.K. for his Elvis-like performances. The Thin White Duke was perhaps Bowie’s darkest character; he was brought to life during the peak of Bowie’s drug use.
They say that art imitates life. Many people know that David Bowie struggled with addiction to drugs for years, but fewer know that his characters were created amidst his struggles. The artist referenced his problems in his songs. Bowie channeled what he could through his music.
A specific line identified his struggles with addiction through the character. “Ashes to Ashes” had a notable line – “we know Major Tom’s a junkie” which is followed by “strung out in heaven’s high, hitting an all-time low.”Though this reference was not quite confirmed officially, true Bowie fans are able to see through the reference.
The First Song
The musical star was destined for the world of music from a young age. When he was just 16 years old, he recorded his first song with his first band, The Konrads. This song was recorded, and Bowie had tucked it away for safe keeping. Years later, it was found.
Former manager and drummer of The Konrads, David Hadfield, found the tape with the recording in an old bread box when he was moving homes in the 1990s. The tape went up for sale at an auction in 2018. It sold for nearly £40,000, which is around $50,000 with the exchange rate!
Did you know that David Bowie was friends with Peter Frampton growing up? The pair were friends since they were young, and both attended the same school. Frampton’s father was even Bowie’s art teacher! They were both passionate about music from a young age and shared a bond over it.
Bowie was more than three years older than Frampton, and they remained close from a young age until Bowie’s tragic passing in 2016. Frampton credited Bowie for introducing him to many of the great musicians of their time. Thank goodness their paths crossed!
Another Awesome Duo
It seems that Bowie has remained friends with other industry legends throughout the years. Years and years ago — when Bowie was still known as David Jones, and Elton John went by Reginald Kenneth Dwight — these future legendary musicians were friends as teens. The two future icons bonded quickly over their love of music.
Unfortunately, the two ended up having a falling out and had not been in touch often throughout the recent years. Elton John admitted shortly after Bowie’s death that they had not talked much in the last 40 years. Of course, many friendships have “beef” for so long, especially in the entertainment business!
Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Long-Haired Men
When the star was only 17 years old, he cared about different social causes enough to take action. He formed The Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Long-Haired Men as a result of harsh treatment of men with long hair on the streets of London. He took this seriously.
Bowie appeared in an interview with the BBC (the British Broadcast Company), which led to another interview with the London Evening News. He explained that the organization was really built around protecting pop musicians and others who choose to wear their hair long. “Anyone who has the courage to wear their hair down to his shoulders has to go through hell. It’s time we were united and stood up for our curls.”
Bowie in the Driver’s Seat
When Elon Musk launched a Tesla Roadster into space, the entrepreneur claimed that Bowie’s Space Oddity was playing on the stereo system in the vehicle at the time. He said that the album was playing the entire journey up there. His work really expanded out of this world!
Musk claims that the song was playing on the stereo system and that the dummy in the car was given the name “Starman” after a similar outer-space-themed song the artist produced in 1972. The dummy was named after the iconic album The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars.
David Bowie grew up with a half-brother who struggled with mental health issues his entire life. He struggled so much that he was committed to a mental hospital. His brother broke out of the hospital and completed suicide. His brother, Terry Burns, had a great impact on Bowie.
Much of Bowie’s writing is reportedly inspired by his late brother. His brother had such an impact on him that some of his songs were inspired by him, including “Aladdin Sane,” “All the Madmen,” and “Jump They Say.” He used the tragedy to become something great.
It is often rumored that Bowie had two different colored eyes. Many might have even looked past his visual problems when they learned about his drug-laden past. His eyes were not two different colors — he had an “ocular oddity” called anisocoria, a permanently dilated pupil.
This condition was caused when his friend whacked his eye, scraping his eye with his fingernail. Two 15-year-olds might have taken their playful fighting a little too far this time. Fortunately, it did not keep them from collaborating later to create the covers for some of Bowie’s most famous records.
Tough on His Eyes
This star did not have a ton of luck with his eyes! In the early 2000s, he played a show and got seriously injured but managed to keep on going. He took a minute to compose himself, and then he carried on like it was no one’s business!
While playing a show in Oslo, Norway, back in 2004, a spectator threw a lollipop on stage, which managed to strike the rock star in the eye. It actually got stuck! Fortunately, a member of the crew was able to assist in removing the sweet treat. Bowie went on with the concert, like the true legend he was.
David Bowie’s Many Alter Egos
Along with many of his albums came a new personality type to match. He created characters that he would often present himself as during performances. He created things that were super strange to even the biggest of his fans! We love diversity in performance.
While he was recording his debut album, he taught himself music theory out of a book. This is when he created his first alter ego, the Laughing Gnome, which was also a single in 1967. His song The Laughing Gnome was also said to be inspired by his love for Anthony Newley, who wrote The Oompa Loompa Song from Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory.
Questioning His Sanity
Though he had many alter egos throughout the years, Ziggy Stardust was the most famous. Creating this alter ego led the star to question his sanity. He toured between 1972 to 1973 as the rock persona, and then he abruptly announced Ziggy’s last ever show. It became too much for him to handle.
Bowie later would speak out about this. He admitted that Ziggy “wouldn’t leave me alone for years. That was when it all started to go sour… my whole personality was affected. It became very dangerous. I really did have doubts about my sanity.” Good thing he was able to identify the issue!
Fears of a Urine Thief
While Bowie was living his life as the Thin White Duke, his alter ego who followed Ziggy Stardust, he was still struggling with drugs and emotional problems. According to David Buckley’s book Strange Fascination: David Bowie, Bowie was shut off from the outside world.
“He was living a cocooned existence in Los Angeles, disconnected from the real world. He was living on a limited diet, something strange like peppers and milk and had strange behaviors to match. He supposedly kept urine in a jar in the refrigerator so “no other wizard could use it to enchant him.” Wow, that’s weird!
Space Oddity Barbie
You might not think of the well-known child’s toy, the Barbie doll, as something related to this famous musician. Maybe there were some really cultured little kids that wanted to embrace the artist, but maybe the creators of the toy just saw the opportunity to profit from him; either way, it’s pretty cool that Bowie had his own Barbie doll!
Three years after the rock star passed away, “Space Oddity” had its 50th anniversary. A Barbie doll was created to commemorate this anniversary, and the toy resembled Ziggy Stardust in some ways. The toy rocked Ziggy’s flame-red hair, gold forehead astral sphere, black nail polish, platform boots, and psychedelic space suit. The packaging that the doll came in had a collage of Bowie photographs!
The star once told highly esteemed photographer Justin de Villeneuve, who was the ex-boyfriend of famous model Twiggy, that he wanted to be the first male on the cover of Vogue Magazine. The photographer set up a shoot for Bowie and Twiggy with the magazine, but the photoshoot didn’t have the results he hoped for.
Well, it worked out for Bowie. Twiggy just returned from vacation, looking very tan, whereas Bowie was very pale, so they did not look great together. The photographer thought to paint masks on the two for uniformity, and Bowie actually asked to use it for the sleeve of his record. De Villeneuve allowed it, and Vogue never spoke to him again!
The rock star was ahead of his time in so many areas. His art and music were timeless, though they were certainly ahead of their time. The artist somehow knew something about the rise of the internet as a tool that the rest of us did not know. Seriously, though — how did he do it?
In his interview with BBC’s Jeremy Paxman, the pair discussed the new invention known as the world wide web. The host believed that people were making too much of a big deal of the internet, meanwhile Bowie had other thoughts. “The interplay between the user and the provider will be so in sympatico it’s going to crush our ideas of what mediums are all about!”
Full Stream Ahead
The legendary Bowie seemed to know so much more about the inventions to come than anyone could have imagined. He was onto something by making his albums available on different platforms, before they were even a thing! The star somehow knew something of the next big thing: streaming.
In 1996, he made history by becoming the first major artist to release a single via internet download. He released “Telling Lies” available only with an internet download, and it took about eleven minutes to download! He was also on to something with what came next; the star launched his own internet service — Bowienet.
The Rise of Bowienet
Imagine if your favorite artist had their own internet service. Imagine that favorite artist is David Bowie, and you’ve got it: BowieNet! BowieNet was a competitor of America Online, which was the leading service at the time. BowieNet required a paid subscription for services.
For $19.99 a month, BowieNet users had access to any part of the internet through the service. Their landing page would be DavidBowie.com, their emails were unique, with @davidbowie.com addresses. They also had a decent amount of storage at the time. Bowie himself supposedly interacted with fans on the site!
Lord Royal Highness of Atlantis SquarePantis
Children of the early 2000s were often consumed with the hilarious hijinks of Spongebob Squarepants, the sponge who lived in a pineapple under the sea. Back in 2007, David Bowie took the opportunity he had been given to voice a character on the children’s show!
Bowie voiced a character called Lord Royal Highness, who was an emperor of the Atlanteans of Atlantis. He also held the world’s oldest bubble in his possession! While this episode was not musical — Bowie did not sing — he was cool in passing on wisdom to the characters. His phrase, “art is what happens when you learn to dream,” will follow Spongebob viewers forever.
Bowie Was a Bookworm
Many artists draw inspiration from literature. David Bowie was an avid reader and while he was known for his musical vision, he was also known to consume a book in a day. In 2013, the Art Gallery of Ontario compiled his 100 favorite books and did something awesome with it.
The gallery created an art exhibit out of his favorite stories. The exhibition, “David Bowie Is,” was an eclectic list which highlighted his exquisite taste in literature. The list had everything from Madame Bovary to Wonder Boys.
Bowie’s Book Club
The late rock star’s son, filmmaker Duncan Jones, announced online that he would be creating a book club in his father’s honor and memory. He referred to his father as “a beast of a reader” and kicked off the club with selections by one of his father’s favorite writers, Peter Ackroyd.
His son announced on Twitter that he wanted to go on the same literary journey his father went on. He wanted to engage in the same type of marathon reading that his father did. He kicked off the book club with Peter Ackroyd’s Hawksmoor.
A music journalist published a book that focused on the books Bowie spent his time reading. In 2019, John O’Connell published “Bowie’s Bookshelf: The Hundred Books that Changed David Bowie’s Life.” Every title in the book came with a reflective essay.
Every book title is paired with an essay that explores the potential ways that book might have been reflected in Bowie’s work and public life. This book takes a deep dive into what specific parts of all different types of stories may have had the biggest impact on his life. One question posed is “how did the power imbued in a single suit of armor in The Iliad impact a man who loved costumes, shifting identity, and the siren song of the alter-ego?” That’s very on the nose!
Lightning Bolt in London
When the pop icon tragically passed away in 2016, his fans wanted to erect some type of memorial to him in his hometown. The star was born in Brixton, South London, and in tribute to the musician, locals wanted to honor him in the best way they could. They planned to build a giant red and electric blue lightning bolt.
The tribute to the late and great David Bowie would unfortunately never be built. They initially wanted to make the lightning bolt statue based on the picturesque cover of his album Aladdin Sane. Crowdfunding efforts began back in 2017, but they fell short of their fundraising goal by around $40,000.
Thousand Dollar Locks
Did you know that a lock of Bowie’s hair was sold at auction? Just a couple of months after Bowie passed away, a lock of his hair — which was snipped by a wig mistress back in 1983 at Madame Tussauds in London — sold for a pretty penny at a memorabilia auction.
His locks sold for $18,750 at the Entertainment & Music Memorabilia Signature Auction. Wow. All that money, just for a lock of hair? The director of auctions for entertainment and music stated that his impact on music changed the industry forever, and their buyers wanted ways to feel closer to their favorite artists. “What better way than a lock of hair?”
The star refused one of the biggest honors anyone can receive in the United Kingdom. Bowie was one of eight musical artists to turn down knighthood, so we know he is not alone. He has turned down multiple awards from the British monarchy, starting with a CBE in 2000 before turning down knighthood in 2003.
The artist declined knighthood the same year that Mick Jagger was knighted. He told The Sun that he had no intention of ever accepting awards of that nature. “I seriously don’t know what it’s for. It’s not what I spent my life working for. It’s not my place to make a judgment on Jagger, it’s his decision. But it’s just not for me.”
David Bowie is credited as being one of the first artists to openly live his sexuality. He came out as bisexual in an interview in 1972. He was one of the first gender-benders in the industry. When Bowie declared his sexual preferences to the world, he was one of the first as he came out during a tumultuous time.
Bowie came out just a couple of years after England decriminalized homosexuality. There was unfortunately a time when the world was not as understanding, but luckily, we have moved forward since then. The artist came out shortly after marrying Angie Bowie, and not long after fathering future filmmaker Duncan Jones.
Bowie the Painter
It should not come as a surprise to know that Bowie was an artist of many types. He was musical, of course, but he also had a knack for the visual arts. Bowie was a painter for most of his life, starting in his youth. He did not restrict himself to music but also delved into the world of painting.
His 1998 interview with The New York Times describes his passion for different art mediums in a unique way. He said that painting “was about problem-solving. I’d find that if I had some creative obstacle in the music that I was working on, I would often revert to drawing it out or painting it out. Somehow the act of trying to recreate the structure of the music in paint or in the drawing would produce a breakthrough.”
I’m Sorry, What?!
What is the weirdest gift you have ever received? Maybe your first thought is of an itchy sweater your grandparents knit for you. Maybe it was a math video game you were given on your seventh birthday, maybe it was something you actually enjoyed. Well, David Bowie sent a journalist who covered him a very… unique gift.
David Bowie once sent the strangest gift you’ve ever heard of. He sent a pig fetus in a jar to Rolling Stone journalist David Wild to say “thanks” for covering him in the publication. We do not know if this was an act of love, but we do know that border police shut it down. Bowie was disappointed to learn his gift never arrived!
David Bowie is one of a kind. It should not come as a surprise to know that he has graced the silver screen on more than one occasion. We may know him as a musician, but this rock star had many film credits to his name.
This man has played many roles that have earned him praise and acclaim through the years. Some of his notable roles include The Man Who Fell to Earth, The Last Temptation of Christ, Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me, and The Prestige. He is best known to many for his eerie role in the film Labyrinth.
David Bowie played a truly terrifying role in the film Labyrinth. The star played Jareth the Goblin King, who originally would not have shown up until halfway through the film and would have been just another non-human character. However, the creative forces calling the shots had something else in mind.
They knew they wanted to have one of the best musical stars of the time playing this role, and they decided to make it musical. He almost lost the role to another big shot in the music industry – Michael Jackson!
Competition: Michael Jackson or David Bowie?
Fans of Bowie and the famous creepy film Labyrinth probably could never imagine anyone other than him in the role of Jareth the Goblin King. Did you know that the producers almost went with another eclectic and legendary musician instead? That’s right – Michael Jackson almost took that role!
Bowie ultimately earned the role because he met with the director a number of times over the years before the film was produced. Jim Henson outlined the movie with Bowie because they had met, and he gave him development updates about the film. It took a while for Bowie to agree to participate.
Lexi Jones, Bowie’s Daughter
Alexandria Zahra Jones, also known as Lexi, was Bowie’s second child. She was born thirty years after her older brother, Duncan Jones. She was only sixteen at the time of her father’s death. Though he was still making music in 2000, he became a stay-at-home dad.
Lexi did not grow up in the same spotlight that her older brother did. Her father stayed home to raise her, and she was kept out of the spotlight, within good reason. Her life was virtually private when her father passed, but now she is a young adult living her best life, showing off her artwork for purchase on her Instagram account.
Duncan Jones, Bowie’s Son
The now critically acclaimed filmmaker was lucky to be born to a father with all the connections the entertainment business had to offer. Duncan Jones recalled his father encouraging him to try different musical instruments, to follow in his footsteps. Since music didn’t quite take, Jones decided to make a name for himself elsewhere.
Jones had grown up on movie sets and in recording studios. He was exposed to the backstage life early on, and Bowie’s interest in film sparked his son’s fascination with the art form. This fascination and his access to the industry’s best allowed Jones to become the successful Hollywood director he is today!
Awards Run in the Family
It should not come as a shock to know that Bowie collected a ton of awards. He was first nominated for a Grammy in 1979 and took home his first Grammy in 1985 for Best Short Form Music Video. He took home multiple Grammys between 1985 and 2017, winning every single nomination he had in 2017.
Bowie also took home Daytime Emmys, BAFTAs, and MTV Video Music Awards. His son, Duncan Jones, also took home some of the same awards his father did. Jones took home the BAFTA for his work directing the film Moon.
Born Mary Angela Barnett in Cyprus, Angela Bowie is an American-based actress, model, and journalist. She married Bowie and just months later, he came out as bisexual. We cannot say that Angie was quite thrown off – she seems to be pretty eclectic herself.
David Bowie fathered his son Duncan Jones with Angie, and they were married for ten years. She recently spoke out against the biopic Stardust, which is centered on Bowie’s life. She told The Mirror that her late ex-husband would not have watched it. “It was boring. I didn’t find it entertaining at all. It’s more dreary than a one-star documentary. It was too neutral and bland and without the music, there is nothing.”
The Second Wife, Iman
When Bowie passed on, he was still married to his second wife, Somali American supermodel Iman. The two welcomed a child together in 2000. Iman still wears a gold pendant that reads “David” around her neck and corrects anyone who calls Bowie her “late husband” – she tells them that “he will always be my husband.”
The musician and supermodel were married for 24 years prior to his death in 2016. The supermodel holds firm with her lack of interest in remarrying now that her husband has died. “I will never remarry,” she told the Net-a-Porter editorial team in 2018. They share a daughter together, and she has another child from a previous relationship.
Hall of Fame
David Bowie is not alone when it comes to not being present for Rock-and-Roll Hall of Fame inductions. The music sensation was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 1996 but was unable to attend because he was touring in Helsinki, Finland. Madonna accepted on his behalf, and Marianne Faithful performed Rebel Rebel in his honor.
The star joined many others in failing to attend their own induction. Paul McCartney was inducted on the same night as the Beach Boys. Jerry Garcia of The Grateful Dead and Van Morrison also failed to attend their inductions. Diana Ross and Rod Stewart also missed out on their inductions. Fortunately this isn’t a deal breaker, and all remain in the Hall of Fame anyway!