David Bowie: A celebration of the much-missed icon

Here's everything you need to know about the superstar

David Bowie in concert, Frankfurt, 1978
Author: Julian MarszalekPublished 8th Jan 2021
Last updated 8th Jan 2021

Having been an indelible fixture on the pop landscape for over fifty years, it’s strange to think that David Bowie is no longer with us. Tributes continue to pour in for him - including a cake disaster on GBBO in 2020, something his son Duncan Jones found rather funny along with the rest of us.

With Bowie-related anniversaries set to take place this weekend – what would have been his 74th birthday on 8th January, the fifth anniversary of his death on the 10th – now is as good a time as any to look back at the incredible life and music of David Bowie.

Who was David Bowie?

Put simply, David Bowie was the most influential solo artist of his generation who came to define the 1970s in much the same way The Beatles did in the previous decade, and the shadow he cast across the musical landscape still reaches to this very day.

Though he’s frequently described as the “chameleon of rock” due his uncanny ability to adapt to differing styles of music and presentation, it’s more accurate to say that Bowie was more of a magpie. His real skill was in spotting trends in music, fashion and art – frequently at their embryonic stage – and re-packaging them in the pop and rock idioms.

A cultural polymath with a keen interest in art, cinema, mime, theatre, fashion and literature, David Bowie was a guiding light for generations of outsiders who identified with his outlier status. Little wonder, then, that subsequent youth cults and fans from punks to new romantics to soul boys to goths and beyond all claimed him as their own.

Where was David Bowie born?

David Bowie was born in Brixton, London, on 8 January 1947. His family moved to Bromley in 1953, and his musical epiphany occurred at the age of nine when he became smitten with Little Richard’s classic rock’n’roll single, ‘Tutti Frutti’.

Did David Bowie have different coloured eyes?

No, he didn’t. But he was left with a permanently dilated pupil when his school mate George Underwood hit him during a fight over a girl. It was this injury that gave the impression of different coloured eyes. While the identity of the girl has been lost in the mists of time, Bowie and Underwood remained lifelong friends. Indeed, Underwood was a backing vocalist throughout Bowie’s career.

What was David Bowie's real name?

His real name was David Robert Jones. He was briefly known as Davy Jones in the 60s, but changed his name to David Bowie to avoid being confused with The Monkees singer Davy Jones

Did David Bowie invent glam rock?

Not quite, but this is where Bowie’s magpie tendencies bloomed. Despite some false starts in the 1960s (‘Space Oddity’ had him down as a one-hit wonder, while the proto-metal of ‘The Man Who Sold The World’ didn’t quite suit), David Bowie properly broke through with his fifth album, 1972’s ‘The Rise And Fall Of Ziggy Stardust And The Spiders From Mars’.

While its predecessor, ‘Hunky Dory’ (1971), was a very much a dry run for what followed, Bowie’s creation – the bisexual alien, Ziggy Stardust - saw him creating a new flamboyant image that rode in on the wake of his friend and rival, Marc Bolan of T-Rex. Bowie’s seminal performance of ‘Starman’ on Top Of The Pops in July 1972 is the moment he broke through.

Bowie killed off Ziggy Stardust at the Hammersmith Odeon in 1973, shortly after the release of ‘Aladdin Sane’. His other glam albums were ‘Pin Ups’ and ‘Diamond Dogs’. He also managed to sprinkle production glitter on Lou Reed’s ‘Transformer’ album (which contained the hit ‘Walk On The Wild Side’) and Iggy And The Stooges’ proto-punk album, ‘Raw Power’.

Ziggy Stardust: he took it all too far, but boy, could he play guitar

What was plastic soul?

Bored of glam, Bowie spotted the early rise of disco and Philly soul, moved to the US and re-invented himself as a soul singer. Working with a brand-new band and collaborating with John Lennon on the hit single, ‘Fame’, Bowie made no pretence at being the real thing and so dubbed the resulting album, ‘Young Americans’ (1975), as “plastic soul”. That said, it was good enough to be featured on US variety show, ‘Soul Train’.

This was swiftly followed by the creation of his next character, the cold and distant The Thin White Duke, and the release of ‘Station To Station’ (1976).

The Berlin Trilogy

Having become aware of the forward-thinking music emerging from Germany in the shape of Kraftwerk, Neu!, Can and others, and wanting to curb his monstrous abuse of cocaine, David Bowie re-settled in West Berlin. Taking Iggy Pop with him, Bowie hooked up with ambient pioneer Brian Eno and producer Tony Visconti.

Together, they distilled the influence of so-called ‘Krautock’ and packaged it as pop. This fecund period saw the release of ‘Low’, ‘Heroes’ (both 1977) and ‘Lodger’ (1979). And if that wasn’t productive enough, he also found time to produce Iggy Pop’s first two classic solo albums, ‘The Idiot’ and ‘Lust For Life’, also in 1977.

New Romantics and the 80s

The 1980s started on a high for Bowie. Embracing the nascent video age, the promo for No. 1 single, ‘Ashes To Ashes’, saw him give his blessing to the emerging the New Romantics with a guest appearance by Blitz kid Steve Strange and others. Its parent album, ‘Scary Monsters (And Super Creeps)’, topped the UK charts and spawned the singles ‘Fashion’ and ‘Up The Hill Backwards’.

Despite scoring huge international hits with ‘Let’s Dance’, ‘Modern Love’ and ‘China Girl’ in 1983, the rest of the decade saw an artistic decline that dismayed many hardcore fans with albums ‘Tonight’ (1984) and ‘Never Let Me Down’ (1987) failing to pass muster. And despite having a few highlights with rockers Tin Machine and their eponymous 1989, no one was really convinced by a bearded, suited Bowie having a go at alt.rock.

But for all that, his four-song set at Live Aid in 1985 atoned for many of his sins.

David Bowie was the highlight for many at Live Aid in 1985

David Bowie’s artistic re-birth and the 90s

Having worked with Nile Rodgers on 1993’s ‘Black Tie White Noise’, Bowie’s muse was arguably re-activated on the little known 1993 album, ‘The Buddha Of Suburbia’. Inspired by author Hanif Kureishi’s book and TV adaptation of the same name, the book’s theme of escaping the commuter belt struck a chord with Bowie.

This mis-marketed album bombed, but a re-invigorated Bowie teamed up once again with Brian Eno to produce the industrial rock of ‘1. Outside’ in 1995.

1997.s experimental ‘Earthling’ touched upon drum’n’bass, while the laid back ‘Hours’ (1999) reconnected him with a wider audience.

Headlining Glastonbury in 2000

Despite doing his best to avoid being viewed as a heritage acts, David Bowie’s hit-packed Glastonbury headliner in 2000 did much to re-establish him not just in the eyes of his hardcore fans, but also with the general public. But it also gave Bowie a much-needed artistic jolt that resulted in the creditable albums ‘Heathen’ (2002) and ‘Reality’ (2003), which satisfied both sets of fans.

David Bowie headlining Glastonbury in 2000

Was David Bowie married?

David Bowie was married twice. His first wife was Angie Bowie (nee Mary Angela Barnett) and they tied the knot in 1970. They later divorced in 1980 after several years of separation.

He then married Somali-American model Iman at a private ceremony in Lausanne, Switzerland in 1992. They remained together for the rest of his life.

David and Iman married in 1992

Did David Bowie have children?

David Bowie had a son, Duncan, with Angie in 1971. Christened Zowie, he later his changed his name and has gone on to be a successful film director.

David and Iman had a daughter, Alexandria ‘Lexi’ Zahra Jones. She was born in August 2000.

Health scare and retirement from public life

While touring ‘Reality’ in Germany in 2004, David Bowie underwent an emergency angioplasty after suffering heart problems on stage. He returned home to New York and his wife, Iman, and daughter.

Retiring from public life in 2006, very little was heard from David Bowie. Apart from making the occasional guest appearance with the likes of Arcade Fire and Pink Floyd’s David Gilmour, he was also rumoured to have turned down a knighthood.

Which films was David Bowie in?

Amazingly, David Bowie appeared in over 30 films. The quality was variable, ranging from the acclaimed (‘The Last Temptation Of Christ’), the charming (‘Labyrinth’) and the dire (‘Just A Gigolo’).

His most celebrated role was that of the stranded alien, Thomas Jerome Newton, in director Nic Roeg’s 1976 sci-fi classic, ‘The Man Who Fell To Earth’, while 1983’s ‘Merry Christmas, Mr Lawrence’ comes a close second.

He also played Andy Warhol in the biopic ‘Basquiat’ and appeared as himself in the Ben Stiller comedy, ‘Zoolander’.

His comeback with ‘The Next Day’ and farewell with ‘Blackstar’

And then, as if out of nowhere, David Bowie suddenly re-appeared on his 66th birthday with surprise single release, ‘Where Are We Now?’, which was followed by the release of his 24th studio album, ‘The Next Day’. Recorded in secret, the album’s release generation huge amounts of news coverage despite a media silence from Bowie himself.

Released three years later on his 69th birthday, David Bowie’s next album, the brooding and meditative ‘Blackstar’ proved to be another career highlight.

How did David Bowie die?

Unfortunately, ‘Blackstar’ was his last album – David Bowie died from liver cancer two days after its release. Recorded under a veil of secrecy, producer Tony Visconti called the album a “parting gift” for his fans, while the haunting video for his final single, ‘Lazarus’, saw Bowie rising from his sick bed before retreating into a closet.

We’ll not see his like again.

Now read up on the childhood homes of famous rock stars:

John Lennon’s childhood home

Now a lovingly restored Grade II listed building preserved by the National Trust, John Lennon lived at 251 Menlove Avenue in Liverpool with his Aunt Mimi from 1945 to 1963. It featured on the cover to Oasis single 'Live Forever' in 1994 and in 2000 it was adorned with an English Heritage blue plaque.

Paul McCartney’s childhood home

Sir Paul McCartney's childhood home at 20 Forthlin Road in Allerton, south Liverpool. It became a listed building in 2012 and is owned by the National Trust. The Trust markets the house as "the birthplace of the Beatles" as it was where McCartney and Lennon penned the earliest Beatles songs.

Ringo Starr’s childhood home

Ringo Starr (aka Richard Starkey) spent his very early childhood years at a terraced house on Madryn Street in Liverpool but moved to at two-up, two-down house 10 Admiral Grove in Dingle when he was 3 with mum Elsie when his parents separated. He lived there for the next 20 years. Pictured is 10 Admiral Grove in 1964.

David Bowie’s childhood home

40 Stansfield Road in Brixton where a young David Jones - aka David Bowie – lived until he was six years old. The house became a shrine for Bowie when the music legend died in January 2016.

Kurt Cobain’s childhood home

Kurt Cobain's childhood home in Aberdeen, Washington. Nirvana fan Lee Bacon bought the house in 2018 for $225,000 (around £170,000) and told Rolling Stone: "My goal is to preserve and restore it for my generation and for my kids."

Kurt Cobain’s childhood home

Kurt Cobain's Led Zeppelin graffiti is still on the walls in his attic bedroom.

Little Richard’s childhood home

The late rock and roll pioneer was brought up alongside his eleven siblings in this detached home in the Pleasant Hill neighbourhood of Macon, Georgia in the 1930s and 40s. Now named The Little Richard Resource Center, the home is now open to the public and hosts a number of community events.

Bruce Springsteen’s childhood home

Bruce Springsteen grew up in this home at 39 1/2 Institute Street in Freehold, New Jersey from the years 1955 to 1962. It was while living at this house aged 7 in 1956 that Springsteen witnessed Elvis Presley on The Ed Sullivan Show and decided he wanted to be a musician himself.

Johnny Cash’s childhood home

Meticulously restored in 2014 thanks to funds from Arkansas State University, Johnny Cash's boyhood home is in the tiny town of Dyess, Arkansas.

Jim Morrison’s childhood home

Jim Morrison's home in Albuquerque, New Mexico where he lived in his teens while his dad worked at the nearby Kirtland Air Force Base.

Bono’s childhood home

Paul 'Bono' Hewson's parents bought this house on Cedarwood Road, Dublin seven weeks after his birth in 1960 and he spent his entire childhood here. The U2 song 'Cedarwood Road' on their 2014 album 'Songs of Innocence' is a nostalgic musical celebration of Bono's boyhood abode.

Freddie Mercury’s childhood home

Aged 17, Freddie Mercury and his family fled the Zanzibar revolution to live at 22 Gladstone Avenue in Feltham, West London. Pictured is Queen's Brian May and Freddie's younger sister Kashmira Cooke at the unveiling of a Blue Plaque at the house in September 2016.

Ozzy Osbourne’s childhood home

One of six children, Ozzy Osbourne spent his formative years in this small two-bedroom terraced house on Lodge Road in Aston. Ozzy told Huffington Post in 2014: "I've been back to that house a few times over the years and I can't believe there were eight of us living in a two-and-a-half-bedroom house. It is tiny! I have wardrobes bigger in my house."

Lars Ulrich’s childhood home

Lars Ulrich lived in this uniquely designed property in Hellerup, Denmark with his family until he moved to America aged 17.

Mick Jagger’s childhood home

Sir Mick Jagger was brought up in this semi-detached house in Dartford, Kent. His future bandmate Keith Richards lived just around the corner.

Keith Richards’ childhood home

Keith Richards spent the first six years of his life living in this two-bedroom flat above a florists in Dartford, Kent.

Axl Rose’s childhood home

Axl Rose lived at this humble Lafayette, Indiana house from 1962 to 1982 before moving to Los Angeles in his early twenties.

Marc Bolan’s childhood home

The young Mark Field (Marc Bolan) lived at this terraced property on Stoke Newington Common, London from his birth in 1947 to aged 15 in 1962. In 2005, the London Borough of Hackney honoured Bolan with a plaque outside the property.

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