15 Fascinating Facts About David Bowie

BERTRAND GUAY/AFP/Getty Images
BERTRAND GUAY/AFP/Getty Images

The music industry lost one of its most iconic artists when David Bowie passed away from liver cancer on January 10, 2016. Bowie’s death came as a surprise to music fans around the world, as he kept his diagnosis quiet. Which isn’t all that surprising when you consider the often-elusive nature of Bowie over the years. Here are 15 things you might not have known about David Bowie, who was born on January 8, 1947.

1. David Bowie changed his name so he wouldn't be confused with Davy Jones of The Monkees.

David Bowie was born in London on January 8, 1947 as David Robert Jones. But as he readied to embark on his musical career as a teen, there was a problem: Davy Jones, the lead singer of The Monkees, was already a known quantity in the music industry, and the aspiring artist was afraid they might be confused. So David Jones changed his name to David Bowie.

In 1967, 14-year-old Sandra Dodd sent Bowie what would be his first fan letter from America, in which she asked him about his name. Bowie quipped: “In answer to your questions, my real name is David Jones and I don’t have to tell you why I changed it. ‘Nobody’s going to make a monkey out of you’ said my manager.”

2. No, David Bowie's eyes WERE not two different colors.

While people often claim that Bowie had heterochromia, a genetic condition that results in having two different colored eyes, that is incorrect. Both of his eyes are blue; the ocular oddity that you do notice is what is known as aniscoria, or a permanently dilated pupil—which happened when Bowie was 15 years old and got into a fight with his friend, George Underwood, over a girl. "I was so aggrieved I walked over to him, basically, turned him around and went 'whack' without even thinking," Underwood explained. (His fingernail sliced into Bowie’s eye.)

Fortunately, there were no hard feelings; the two later collaborated on an album as The King Bees and Underwood went on to design the album covers for some of Bowie’s most famous records, including The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars.

3. David Bowie's eye took a beating on more than one occasion.

In 2004, while performing in Oslo, Norway, a “fan” threw a lollipop onto the stage, which somehow managed to strike Bowie in the eye—and get stuck. A member of his crew was able to remove it, and Bowie went on with the concert. Rebel rebel indeed.

4. David Bowie was boyhood friends with Peter Frampton.

Despite Bowie being more than three years older than Peter Frampton, the two struck up a friendship as youngsters. Both attended Bromley Technical High School, where Frampton’s dad was Bowie’s art teacher. The two shared a unique bond over music, and remained close friends until Bowie’s death. "He really introduced me, along with George Underwood, to Buddy Holly and Eddie Cochran, people I wasn't aware of at that age," Frampton once said of his childhood friend. The two would collaborate a number of times over the years.

5. David Bowie and Elton John were pals as teens, too.

Back in their teens—when Bowie was still known as David Jones and Elton John went by Reginald Kenneth Dwight—the two future rock icons became fast friends and would frequently get together to talk about music. But shortly after Bowie’s death, John admitted that they had a falling out and hadn’t talked much in about 40 years.

“David and I were not the best of friends towards the end,” John said. “We started out being really good friends. We used to hang out together with Marc Bolan, going to gay clubs, but I think we just drifted apart. He once called me ‘rock ’n’ roll’s token queen’ in an interview with Rolling Stone, which I thought was a bit snooty. He wasn’t my cup of tea. No; I wasn’t his cup of tea.”

6. As a teen, David Bowie founded the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Long-Haired Men.

In 1964, when he was just 17 years old, Bowie formed The Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Long-Haired Men, an organization aimed at protesting the treatment that he and other men with long hair received on the streets of London. He took the matter seriously, as you can see from the BBC interview above.

That BBC spot led to an interview with the London Evening News, where Bowie explained that the organization was “really for the protection of pop musicians and those who 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.”

7. His first hit, "Space Oddity," was perfectly timed.

On July 11, 1969, Bowie released the single “Space Oddity.” The timing could not have been more perfect. Nine days after its release, the BBC ran the song over its coverage of Apollo 11’s lunar landing. It would end up being his first big hit in the UK.

8. David Bowie's brother was a major inspiration for his music.

In 1985, Bowie’s half-brother Terry Burns, who battled mental health issues throughout his life, escaped from the hospital where he had been admitted and killed himself. In Nicholas Pegg's The Complete David Bowie, the writer revealed that Burns had quite an impact on Bowie’s writing. He was reportedly the inspiration for a number of his songs, including “Aladdin Sane,” “All the Madmen,” and “Jump They Say.”

9. Being Ziggy Stardust led David Bowie to question his sanity.

3rd July 1973: David Bowie performs his final concert as Ziggy Stardust at the Hammersmith Odeon, London. The concert later became known as the Retirement Gig
Express/Getty Images

Though Bowie had many alter egos over the years, Ziggy Stardust was the most famous of them. From 1972 to 1973 he toured in character as the glam rock persona until he abruptly announced that he would be retiring Ziggy during a concert in 1973. “Not only is this the last show of the tour, but it's the last show that we'll ever do,” Bowie said of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars.

He later 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."

10. For a time, David Bowie feared a wizard might steal his urine.

Four years after his Ziggy Stardust period, Bowie became the Thin White Duke. It was during this period that he struggled with both drug and emotional problems. In David Buckley’s book, Strange Fascination: David Bowie—The Definitive Story, the author wrote that by 1975, Bowie was "living a cocooned existence [in Los Angeles], disconnected from the real world.” He was apparently subsisting on a diet of peppers and milk, and exhibited some truly strange behaviors—like keeping his urine in his refrigerator so that "no other wizard could use it to enchant him.”

11. David Bowie was a bit of a futurist.

Not only was Bowie ahead of his time when it came to his art, but he also seemed to foretell the rise of the internet. In 1999, while discussing a newfangled invention known as the world wide web with Jeremy Paxman of the BBC, the host suggests that the internet’s potential has been “hugely exaggerated.” Bowie was quick to make it clear that he didn’t agree. “I really embrace the idea that there’s a new demystification process between the artist and the audience,” Bowie said “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.”

12. David Bowie was a pioneer of music streaming.

In September 1996, Bowie became the first major artist to release a single via internet download only with “Telling Lies.” It took about 11 minutes to download. (Times have changed.) That was just the beginning: In 1998, Bowie announced that he’d be launching his own internet service provider, known as BowieNet.

13. David Bowie was a voracious reader.

May 1973: In a black and white horizontally striped jacket with wide lapels glam rock star David Bowie
Hulton Archive/Getty Images

While he was mostly known for his musical output, Bowie was a major bookworm who often read a book a day. In 2013, the curators at the Art Gallery of Ontario compiled a list of the artist’s 100 favorite books as part of an exhibition, “David Bowie Is.” It was an eclectic list, encompassing everything from Alfred Döblin’s Berlin Alexanderplatz to Gustave Flaubert's Madame Bovary to Michael Chabon’s Wonder Boys.

14. David Bowie's son created a book club in Bowie's honor.

In late 2017, Bowie’s son—filmmaker Duncan Jones—announced via Twitter that he would be paying tribute to his father’s love of reading with an online-based book club.

The club kicked off with Peter Ackroyd’s Hawksmoor.

15. A lock of David Bowie's hair sold for $18,750.

In June 2016, just a few months after the singer’s passing, a lock of Bowie’s hair—which had been snipped in 1983 by a wig mistress at Madame Tussauds in London—went up for auction as part of Entertainment & Music Memorabilia Signature Auction held by Heritage Auctions and sold for a hair-raising $18,750.

“David Bowie changed music forever and fans are hungry for related precious objects that bring them closer to their favorite musician," Margaret Barrett, Heritage’s director of entertainment and music auctions, said at the time. "What brings you closer than a lock of hair?" (The bidding started at $2000 and early estimates thought it might only go as high as $4000.)

7 Weird Super Bowl Halftime Acts

Al Bello, Getty Images
Al Bello, Getty Images

Shakira and Jennifer Lopez seem like natural choices to perform the halftime show at this year’s Super Bowl, but the event didn’t always feature musical acts from major pop stars. Michael Jackson kicked off the trend at Super Bowl XXVII in 1993, but prior to that, halftime shows weren’t a platform for the hottest celebrities of the time. They centered around themes instead, and may have featured appearances from Peanuts characters, Jazzercisers, or a magician dressed like Elvis. In honor of Super Bowl LIV on February 2, we’ve rounded up some of the weirdest acts in halftime show history.

1. Return of the Mickey Mouse Club

The era of Super Bowl halftimes before wardrobe malfunctions, illuminati conspiracy theories, and Left Shark was a more innocent time. For 1977’s event, the Walt Disney Company produced a show that doubled as a squeaky-clean promotion of its brand. Themed “Peace, Joy, and Love,” the Super Bowl XI halftime show opened with a 250-piece band rendition of “It’s a Small World (After All).” Disney also used the platform to showcase its recently revamped Mickey Mouse Club.

2. 88 Grand Pianos and 300 Jazzercisers

The theme of the halftime show at Super Bowl XXII in 1988 was “Something Grand.” Naturally, it featured 88 tuxedoed pianists playing 88 grand pianos. Rounding out the program were 400 swing band performers, 300 Jazzercisers, 44 Rockettes, two marching bands, and Chubby Checker telling everyone to “Twist Again."

3. Elvis Impersonator Performs the World’s Largest Card Trick

Many of the music industry's most successful pop stars—like Prince, Madonna, and, uh, Milli Vanilli—were at the height of their fame in 1989, but none of them appeared at Super Bowl XXIII. Instead, the NFL hired an Elvis Presley-impersonating magician to perform. The show, titled “BeBop Bamboozled,” was a tribute to the 1950s, and it featured Elvis Presto performing “the world’s largest card trick.” It also may have included the world's largest eye exam: The show boasted 3D effects, and viewers were urged to pick up special glasses before the game. If the visuals didn't pop like they were supposed to, people were told to see an eye doctor.

4. The Peanuts Salute New Orleans

Super Bowl XXIV featured one of the last halftime acts that was completely devoid of any musical megastars. The biggest celebrity at the 1990 halftime show was Snoopy. Part of the show’s theme was the “40th Anniversary of 'Peanuts,'” and to celebrate the milestone, performers dressed as Peanuts characters and danced on stage. The other half of the theme was “Salute to New Orleans”—not necessarily the first thing that comes to mind when you think of the comic strip.

5. A Tribute to the Winter Olympics

Super Bowl XXVI preceded the 1992 Winter Olympics—a fact that was made very clear by the event’s halftime. The show was titled “Winter Magic” and it paid tribute to the winter games with ice skaters, snowmobiles, and a cameo from the 1980 U.S. hockey team. Other acts, like a group of parachute-pants-wearing children performing the “Frosty the Snowman Rap,” were more generally winter-themed than specific to the Olympics. About 22 million viewers changed the channel during halftime to watch In Living Color’s Super Bowl special, which may have convinced the NFL to hire Michael Jackson the following year.

6. Indiana Jones and the Temple of the Forbidden Eye

“Peace, Joy, and Love” wasn’t the only Disney-helmed Super Bowl halftime. In 1995, Disney produced a halftime show called “Indiana Jones and the Temple of the Forbidden Eye” to tease the new Disneyland ride of the same name. It centered around a skit in which actors playing Indiana Jones and Marion Ravenwood stole the Vince Lombardi Trophy from an exotic temple, and it included choreographed stunts, fiery special effects, and a snake. Patti LaBelle and Tony Bennett were also there.

7. The Blues Brothers, Minus John Belushi

The 1990s marked an odd period for halftime shows as they moved from schlocky themed variety shows to major music events. Super Bowl XXXI in 1997 perfectly encapsulates this transition period. James Brown and ZZ Top performed, but the headliners were the Blues Brothers. John Belushi had been dead for more than a decade by that point, so Jim Belushi took his place beside Dan Aykroyd. John Goodman was also there to promote the upcoming movie Blues Brother 2000. The flashy advertisement didn’t have the impact they had hoped for and the film was a massive flop when it premiered.

14 Amazing Facts About Lin-Manuel Miranda

Roy Rochlin/Getty Images
Roy Rochlin/Getty Images

Do you follow Lin-Manuel Miranda on Twitter? If not, you should. The Pulitzer Prize-winning creator of Hamilton tweets prolifically—and delightfully—about his life and his work, dropping in inspirational messages along the way.

Twitter isn't the only place you can get a dose of Miranda these days: In addition to making the rounds at awards shows for his work as an executive producer on Fosse/Verdon (where he also made a memorable cameo as Roy Scheider), Miranda had a major role as Lee Scoresby in HBO's adaptation of His Dark Materials and had some fun playing a soldier in Star Wars: The Rise Of Skywalker.

This summer, Miranda will produce and star in the big-screen adaptation of his play In the Heights and is preparing to make his directorial debut with an adaptation of Jonathan Larson's musical tick, tick… BOOM. In celebration of Miranda's 40th birthday (Miranda was born in New York on January 16, 1980), here are some fun—and surprising—facts about the creative Renaissance man.

1. As a kid, Lin-Manuel Miranda couldn’t make it all the way through Mary Poppins.

A photo of Lin-Manuel Miranda at an event for Mary Poppins Returns.
Gareth Cattermole, Getty Images for Disney

In 2018, Lin-Manuel Miranda starred alongside Emily Blunt in Mary Poppins Returns—but he didn't see the original movie all the way through until he was an adult. Miranda recalled to Vanity Fair how, as a kid, certain songs would make him “burst into tears.” Those songs included Stevie Wonder's “I Just Called to Say I Love You,” Simon & Garfunkel's "Bridge Over Troubled Water," and a track from Mary Poppins.

“I couldn’t get through ‘Feed the Birds,’” he told Vanity Fair. “I was very sensitive to minor-key music, and that song was so sad that I don’t think I saw the ending of Mary Poppins until I was grown, because I would just cry. I loved ‘Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious.’ I loved Dick Van Dyke. I loved the whole movie but then that one song was so sad I kind of never survived it.”

2. Lin-manuel Miranda's talent for the dramatic was clear from an early age.

Miranda’s father, Luis, wanted his son to be a lawyer—but according to Playbill, it was clear after a young Lin-Manuel filmed an “infamous” video book report about Jean Merrill’s The Pushcart War in the third grade that he was destined for the stage, not the courtroom. Miranda posted the video to YouTube noting, “I got an A.” (You can enjoy it for yourself above.)

3. Lin-Manuel Miranda faked an injury to get out of summer camp.

Miranda—who was born and raised in New York City—did not enjoy his trips to summer camp. “Sending me to a place without electricity was a very bad idea,” he told Jimmy Kimmel.

Miranda wrote his parents letters from camp describing his malaise, and his flair for the dramatic was on full display: “Dear Mom and Dad, Please come and take me back to New York, away from this hellhole,” he wrote in one letter. In another—in which he called himself “the kid you ditched in the woods for a month”—he drew “a picture to remind you of me”: an image of himself jumping off a building. Miranda recounted to Kimmel that he finally escaped from summer camp by faking a spinal cord injury—and had to keep up the act all summer long.

4. Lin-Manuel Miranda was profoundly influenced by Rent creator Jonathan Larson’s work.

In a 2004 essay application for the Jonathan Larson Grant, Miranda wrote that seeing Larson's rock musical Rent on his 16th birthday “simply changed everything … Never had I seen a show that spoke to me so directly, that used fresh, new music as a way of addressing contemporary concerns in an honest way. By writing about his friends with the problems and anxieties he faced, Jonathan Larson gave me permission to write about my life, hopes, and fears.” The show inspired Miranda to write his first musical (more on that in a minute), which was then performed at his high school. After that, he never stopped writing.

It wasn’t the last time Larson’s work would inspire Miranda. After graduating from Connecticut's Wesleyan University, Miranda saw Larson’s tick, tick… BOOM!—the story of an aspiring musical theater composer struggling to make it—which, Miranda wrote, “spoke to me and strengthened my resolve.”

He was workshopping what would become his first Broadway show, In the Heights, when he wrote that essay; though he ultimately didn’t get the grant, Miranda tweeted that “it turned out okay anyway. Don’t give up. Don’t you dare.”

Miranda is currently in pre-production on a movie adaptation of tick, tick… BOOM! The film will mark his feature directorial debut.

5. The first musical Lin-Manuel Miranda ever wrote was about … a dissected fetal pig.

Writer/actor Lin-Manuel Miranda attends the curtain call for the opening night of 'In The Heights' at the Richard Rodgers Theatre March 9, 2008 in New York City
Steven Henry, Getty Images

According to Miranda, the show “involved a dissected fetal pig rising up for revenge.” It was directed by Chris Hayes—yes, MSNBC host Chris Hayes, who was then a senior in high school—and ran about 20 minutes. “I can still hum the tunes of that show,” Hayes said in 2017.

6. Before he was a Broadway star, Lin-Manuel Miranda was a substitute teacher.

After college, Miranda “taught 7th grade English for a year,” he tweeted in 2016. “[T]hen I was a professional substitute teacher UNTIL I got Heights on Broadway.” He was subbing at his old high school, Hunter College High School, for a while, he told Playbill, when he was asked to “stay on to continue to teach part-time.” At that point, one of the future producers of In the Heights had also reached out to Miranda because he was interested in his writing.

Unsure of what to do, Miranda asked his father: “Should I keep teaching or should I just kind of sub and do gigs to pay the rent and really throw myself into writing full time?”

Luis wrote his son “a very thoughtful letter, in which [he] said, 'I really want to tell you to keep the job—that's the smart 'parent thing' to do—but when I was 17, I was a manager at the Sears in Puerto Rico, and I basically threw it all away to go to New York, [and] I didn't speak a lot of English. It made no sense, but it was what I needed to do ... It makes no sense to leave your job to be a writer, but I have to tell you to do it. You have to pursue that if you want.’ That was very opposite advice from, ‘Be a lawyer,’ and I'm glad I took it.”

7. Lin-Manuel Miranda wrote music for local politicians.

Luis is a political consultant, and while his son was working on getting In the Heights to Broadway, he used his connections to get Lin-Manuel gigs writing music for ads for many of New York's leading politicians, including former governor Eliot Spitzer. “He’d say, ‘I have a Sharpton radio ad—I need 60 seconds of smooth jazz,'" Miranda told The New York Times in 2012.

According to Miranda, the music he composed was “generally accompanied by footage of the candidates shaking hands, doing very task-oriented things,” so the music needed to be “generally hopeful.” Music accompanying an attack ad, on the other hand, would have “sad strings” before transitioning to something more upbeat. “It’s a little like movie scoring,” Miranda told the Times. “If you’ve got a scary scene, you’ve got to write music for the scary scene.”

8. The version of In the Heights that Lin-Manuel Miranda wrote in college is drastically different from what ended up on Broadway.

Writer/actor Lin-Manuel Miranda attends the after party for the opening night of 'In The Heights' at the Richard Rodgers Theatre March 9, 2008 in New York City
Steven Henry, Getty Images

Miranda began writing In the Heights as a sophomore at Wesleyan. The college version, he told The Guardian, “was really just a love story set in” New York City's Washington Heights neighborhood. But when he came back home after college and saw the changes happening in the neighborhood, that began to change, and the show became, “In a sense ... a time capsule of a Washington Heights that's not going to exist in 10, 15 years,” he said. “All I know is I wanted to write a little show that captures what it was like, as I remember it. And so that will exist. My little memory of the neighborhood, through the show.”

In the Heights—which Miranda also starred in for a time—ran on Broadway from 2008 to 2011; it was while Miranda was on vacation between the show’s off-Broadway and Broadway runs that he read the biography by Ron Chernow that would lead him to Hamilton.

9. Lin-Manuel Miranda was really nervous when Hamilton author Ron Chernow came to see In the Heights.

Christopher Jackson, who played Benny in In the Heights and George Washington in Hamilton, recalled to Rolling Stone how Miranda told him about the idea for his next musical just a few days after he got back from vacation: “When Ron Chernow came to see Heights, I had never seen Lin that nervous,” Jackson told Rolling Stone. “He said, ‘Ron Chernow’s here!’ I said, ‘What does that mean?’ And he said, ‘The show needs to go well today.'”

10. Lin-Manuel Miranda's favorite Hamilton verse is in “WE Know.”

The moment occurs when Hamilton is accused of embezzlement. “I decided that when Hamilton is backed into a corner, he gets super internal rhymey,” Miranda told Katie Couric. As he’s telling Jefferson, Madison, and Burr about the Reynolds Affair, Hamilton raps:

She courted me
Escorted me to bed and when she had me in a corner
That’s when Reynolds extorted me
For a sordid fee
I paid him quarterly
I may have mortally wounded my prospects
But my papers are orderly
As you can see I kept a record of every check in my checkered history
Check it again against your list n’ see consistency
I never spent a cent that wasn’t mine
You sent the dogs after my scent, that’s fine.

“Those are enormous fun to put together,” Miranda said. “When Hamilton’s mad, it’s, like, Super Eminem, I’m going to destroy you with my mind.”

11. Lin-Manuel Miranda identifies with The Little Mermaid’s Sebastian.

“As a child, the [character in The Little Mermaid] I related to the most was Sebastian the crab, and I think as an adult he’s still the one I relate to the most,” Miranda said in WIRED’s autocomplete interview. “He just wanted someone to sing in his concert, poor guy. He’s a frustrated musician! I relate.”

12. Lin-Manuel Miranda compares himself to other people, just like the rest of us.

Miranda has packed a lot into his 40 years. To name just a few of his accomplishments: He has created Hamilton and In the Heights, co-written the music and lyrics for Bring It On: The Musical, penned a mini-musical called 21 Chump Street for This American Life, and translated the lyrics of West Side Story into Spanish for a 2009 Broadway revival. He has also appeared in The Sopranos, Modern Family, the revival of The Electric Company, and Sesame Street, among other shows.

While starring in Hamilton, Miranda wrote songs for Disney’s Moana (with Opetaia Tavita Foa‘i and Mark Mancina) and composed music for a scene in J.J. Abrams’s Star Wars: The Force Awakens. He co-wrote Hamilton: The Revolution, wrote a book with illustrator Jonny Sun, and somehow finds time to do monthly "Hamildrops" of remixes and new music inspired by the show.

But despite all Miranda has done, that doesn’t stop him from comparing himself to other people, just like the rest of us.

“I’ve seen people my age and younger shoot to success, and I measure myself against people by age,” Miranda told Rolling Stone in 2016. “Paul McCartney had already ended the Beatles and was midway through Wings when he was my age! Like, the entire Beatles, and he was not 30 yet. There’s always someone to measure yourself against when you’re like, ‘F***, what am I doing with my life?’”

13. Lin-Manuel Miranda keeps a high school math trophy next to one of his Grammys.

Composer, actor Lin-Manuel Miranda celebrates GRAMMY award on stage during 'Hamilton' GRAMMY performance for The 58th GRAMMY Awards at Richard Rodgers Theater on February 15, 2016 in New York City
Theo Wargo, Getty Images

In his career, Miranda has been nominated for an Oscar, won a Pulitzer Prize and a MacArthur Genius Grant, and taken home three Tony Awards, two Laurence Olivier Awards, four Drama Desk awards, three Grammys, and an Emmy (among other awards). But, as he told Variety in 2016, he’s “just as proud” of a trophy he won for math in the 11th grade, “Because I got straight C’s in math all through high school.” The award, he said, “is on my shelf next to my Grammy.”

14. Lin-Manuel Miranda works hard to stay grounded.

Despite all that he has accomplished, Miranda doesn’t intend to get a big head. “I think the trap is in getting caught up in the importance of those titles and letting that make you think you’re important. I try very hard to fight against that,” he told Variety. “I have friends who are very happy to remind me that I’m myself,” adding that most of his friends “roast” him whenever they see him: “That’s why they’re my friends.”

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