David Bowie: 69 facts

David Bowie in 2002Image source, AFP

Sixty-nine facts about David Bowie, who has died just days after releasing his latest album on his 69th birthday.


1. David Bowie was born David Robert Jones in Brixton, London, on 8 January 1947. He shares the same birthday as Elvis.

2. Bowie's family moved to Bromley when he was six years old.

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Image caption,
David Bowie performing at Wembley Arena in 2003

3. He went to Bromley Technical High School, now called Ravenswood School.

4. Rock guitarist Peter Frampton was Bowie's friend at school - his dad was head of the art department. He's gone on to play guitar with Bowie many times during his career.

5. One of his pupils was permanently dilated - after his friend George Underwood punched him in the eye while the pair were still at school. The fight was over a girl.

6. Underwood and Bowie remained good friends with Underwood doing artwork for some of Bowie's earlier albums.

7. He started playing the saxophone when he was 12 years old.

8. His first-ever release was Liza Jane/Louie Louie Go Home in June 1964, under the name of Davie Jones with The King-Bees.

9. He later changed his name to Bowie to avoid confusion with Monkee Davy Jones.

10. Bowie is pronounced to rhyme with Joey.

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Image caption,
David Bowie with his vintage Rolls Royce

11. At the age of 17, he was interviewed on a BBC programme as the founder of The Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Long-haired Men. He complained: "It's not nice when people call you darling and that".

12. Around 1967, he wrote songs for actor Paul Nicholas of Just Good Friends fame, who was then recording under the name Oscar.

13. He released his debut album, the self-titled David Bowie, in 1967 after playing in a host of pub and club bands.

14. 1967 also saw the release of a single, The Laughing Gnome, which many fans argue is the worst song he has ever recorded.

15. When Bowie suggested that his fans should vote via phone which tracks he should play for his 1990 world tour, The Laughing Gnome was the most requested. He didn't play it.

16. Bowie's first hit in the UK - 1969's Space Oddity - was used by the BBC in its coverage of the moon landing.

17. The fictional character of Major Tom has appeared in three Bowie hits - Space Oddity (1969), Ashes To Ashes (1980) and Hallo Spaceboy (1996).

18. Bowie's first US number one was his single Fame in 1975. It was co-written by John Lennon and features the former Beatle on backing vocals.

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Bowie performs his final concert in the guise of Ziggy Stardust with the Spiders from Mars at the Hammersmith Odeon, London in 1973

19. Model Twiggy features on the cover with him for his 1973 album Pin Ups.

20. Around the time of Bowie's 1975 Young Americans album, Chic founder Nile Rodgers auditioned to play guitar in Bowie's band. He didn't get the part.

21. But Rodgers later produced the biggest-selling album of Bowie's career, 1983's Let's Dance.

22. Bowie is believed to have sold in the region of 140 million albums over his career.

23. He was voted fourth in the BBC's Culture Show public vote in 2006 to discover Britain's greatest living icons. Above him were Sir Paul McCartney (3), Morrissey (2) and Sir David Attenborough at number one.

24. Bowie was hit in the eye by a lollipop while on stage in Oslo, Norway in 2004.

25. Toni Basil of Oh Mickey fame worked as Bowie's choreographer on his Diamond Dogs tour in 1974. She later worked on his Glass Spider tour of 1987.

26. In 1970 when Bowie briefly formed The Hype, everyone in the band dressed up as super heroes. They were booed off everywhere they played.

27. Director Nicolas Roeg cast Bowie in his first leading role, as a stranded alien in the 1976 film The Man Who Fell to Earth. In one scene, shot in a record store, a poster for Bowie's Young Americans album can clearly be seen hanging from the ceiling.

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David Bowie performing in 1976

28. He voiced the character of Lord Royal Highness in US cartoon SpongeBob SquarePants in 2007.

29. In the 1986 Jim Henson movie Labyrinth, Bowie plays Jareth The Goblin King.

30. In 2006, he appeared in The Prestige, alongside Hugh Jackman and Scarlett Johansson.

31. In 1969, Bowie formed his own mime troupe, Feathers, as well as an experimental art ensemble.

32. Bowie appeared as Pontius Pilate in Martin Scorsese's The Last Temptation of Christ.

33. Among his oddest film roles are: The Shark in Yellowbeard and a sinister FBI agent called Philip Jeffries in David Lynch's Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me.

34. David was 5ft 10in (1.78m) tall, according to most sources.

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Image caption,
David Bowie with his wife model Iman

35. He declined the CBE in 2000 and a knighthood in 2003.

36. Bowie married Somalian supermodel Iman in 1992. They have a daughter Alexandria Zahra Jones, born in 2000.

37. Iman has a Bowie knife tattooed on her ankle in tribute to her husband.

38. Bowie's schizophrenic half-brother Terry killed himself in 1985.

39. Nine years older than David, Terry was the inspiration for songs including Aladdin Sane, All The Madmen, The Bewlay Brothers and Jump They Say.

40. In 2004, Bowie underwent emergency heart surgery in Germany to treat a blocked artery.

41. Bowie and Iman resided primarily in Manhattan and London.

42. Bowie co-produced some of the best tracks on Lou Reed's legendary album Transformer.

43. His hit Ziggy Stardust is about Vince Taylor, who wrote Brand New Cadillac - later covered by The Clash.

44. Bowie recorded a version of Space Oddity in Italian titled Ragazzo Solo, Ragazza Solo - which literally means Lonely Boy, Lonely Girl.

45. The track Move On, from the album Lodger, is a backwards rewrite of his All The Young Dudes.

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Bowie wowed Glastonbury in 2000

46. He was in 10 bands - The Konrads, The Hooker Brothers, The King Bees, The Manish Boys, The Lower Third, The Buzz, The Riot Squad, The Hype, Tin Machine and Tao Jones Index. (Some of these performed under other names).

47. Bowie's song The Man Who Sold The World has been covered by Lulu and Nirvana.

48. Bing Crosby recorded his last-ever single with David Bowie. Their duet version of The Little Drummer Boy was recorded for Christmas 1977. It was a hit five years later.

49. Bowie wrote the soundtrack for the 1993 dramatisation of Hanish Kureishi's novel Buddha Of Suburbia.

50. Bowie played the saxophone on To Know Him Is To Love Him from Steeleye Span's Now We Are Six album.

51. He plays just about every instrument on Diamond Dogs - including the famous guitar riff on Rebel Rebel.

52. He was the final guest on Marc Bolan's ITV music show, Marc, in 1977. Bolan was killed in a car crash in south-west London shortly afterwards.

53. Steve Strange, the frontman of 1980s pop group Visage, was in the video for Bowie's 1980 number one hit Ashes To Ashes.

54. Arcade Fire and TV On The Radio are two of Bowie's favourite bands of the last 10 years.

55. Mary Hopkin of Those Were The Days fame sings the "doo doo doo" backing vocals on Sound And Vision.

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Bowie and Zoe Wannamaker in a BBC production of Brecht's Baal

56. Almost a decade before The Cocteau Twins popularised the approach, Bowie sang in a completely self-invented language on the 1977 Low album track, Subterraneans.

57. His image appears on every single one of his album covers - except the UK release of The Buddha Of Suburbia and his final album, Blackstar.

58. He is mentioned in Kraftwerk's song Trans Europe Express ("Meet Iggy Pop and David Bowie - TRANS EUROPE EXPRESS!") and Backside by the Strawbs ("The boy stood on the burning deck, his back against the mast. He did not dare to turn around till David Bowie passed").

59. In September 1996, David Bowie broke new ground, yet again, with the internet-only release of his single Telling Lies. It would have taken more than 11 minutes to download over a dial-up internet connection. A year later, he launched his own internet service provider, Bowienet.

60. Bowie drew, painted, sculpted and wrote in his spare time. His favourite artists were Tintoretto, John Bellany, Erich Heckel, Picasso and Michael Ray Charles.

61. David got one O-Level - in art.

62. In 2004, Rolling Stone ranked him 39th on their list of the 100 greatest artists of all time, and 23rd on their list of the best singers of all time.

63. Bowie appeared in series two of Ricky Gervais and Stephen Merchant's programme Extras in 2006 where a random encounter with Bowie in a pub ends with Bowie at a piano singing a song - Chubby Little Loser - which ridicules Gervais' character Andy.

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David Bowie in the 2006 episode of Extras

64. The opening sequence of the 2009 film Watchmen shows actors portraying David Bowie as Ziggy Stardust and Mick Jagger from The Rolling Stones outside New York's legendary nightclub Studio 54.

65. David Bowie was immortalised in stone by artist Ed Chapman, 40, who created a tile mosaic of the Starman to celebrate his 65th birthday.

66. The David Bowie exhibition at London's V&A in 2013 was the fastest-selling in the museum's history. It featured more than 60 stage costumes including Ziggy Stardust bodysuits (1972) designed by Freddie Burretti, Kansai Yamamoto's flamboyant creations for the Aladdin Sane tour (1973) and the Union Jack coat designed by Bowie and Alexander McQueen for the Earthling album cover (1997).

67. Just over a month before his death, Lazarus - a stage show co-written by Bowie - opened off-Broadway at the New York Theatre Workshop. Inspired by The Man Who Fell to Earth, it focuses on the character of Thomas Newton, played by Bowie in the 1976 film directed by Nicolas Roeg.

68. Lazarus, a song from the stage show, was released as a single on 17 December 2015. It also featured on Bowie's last album, Blackstar.

69. Bowie turned 69 on 8 January 2016. He released Blackstar on the same day.

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