Active in five decades of rock music and frequently reinventing his music and image, Bowie is widely regarded as an innovator, particularly for his work in the 1970s. He has been cited as an influence by many musicians. Given his constant reinvention of his persona and musical style, David Bowie has influenced many other musicians and is known for his distinctive voice and the intellectual depth of his work.
Throughout his career he has sold an estimated 136 million albums, and ranks among the ten best-selling acts in music history. In 2004, Rolling Stone magazine ranked him 39th on their list of the 100 Greatest Rock Artists of All Time and the 23rd best singer of all time.
1947–67: Early years
David Bowie was born David Robert Jones; 8 January 1947 in Brixton, London. His mother Margaret Mary Burns, of Irish descent worked as a cinema usherette and his father Hayward Stenton “John” Jones was a promotions officer for Barnardo’s.
Bowie attended a school in Stockwell until he was six years old, when his family moved from Brixton to the suburb of Bromley, Kent, where he attended Burnt Ash Junior School, Rangefield Road, Bromley which is now known as Burnt Ash Primary School. Here he played for the football team in 1957/58. He then went on to attend Bromley Technical High School, now known as Ravenswood School For Boys.
When Bowie was 15 years old, his friend, George Underwood, wearing a ring on his finger, punched him in the left eye during a fight over a girl. Bowie was forced to stay out of school for eight months so that doctors could conduct operations to repair his potentially blinded eye. Doctors could not fully repair the damage, leaving his pupil permanently dilated.
As a result of the injury, Bowie has faulty depth perception.Bowie has stated that although he can see with his injured eye, his colour vision was mostly lost and a brownish tone is constantly present.
Each iris has the same blue colour, but since the pupil of the injured eye is wide open, the hue of that eye is commonly mistaken to be different. Despite the fight, Underwood and Bowie remained good friends, and Underwood went on to do the artwork for Bowie’s earlier albums.
Although he released an album (David Bowie) and several singles earlier, David Bowie first caught the eye and ear of the public in the autumn of 1969, when the song “Space Oddity” reached the top five of the UK Singles Chart.
After a three-year period of experimentation he re-emerged in 1972 during the glam rock era as the flamboyant, androgynous alter ego “Ziggy Stardust“, spearheaded by the hit single “Starman” and the album “The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars”. The relatively short-lived Ziggy persona epitomised a career often marked by musical innovation, reinvention and striking visual presentation.
In 1975, Bowie achieved his first major American crossover success with the number-one single “Fame”, co-written with John Lennon, and the hit album Young Americans, which the singer identified as ‘plastic soul’. The sound constituted a radical shift in style that initially alienated many of his UK devotees.
Not entirely sure what to do next, he spent about a year continuing his funk-influenced act with his last “character”, the “Thin White Duke,” a bizarre, thin, well-dressed European aristocrat who survived primarily on “red peppers, cocaine, and milk.”
He then confounded the expectations of both his record label and his American audiences by recording the minimalist album Low (1977) – the first of three collaborations with Brian Eno over the next two years. The so-called “Berlin Trilogy” albums all reached the UK top five and garnered lasting critical praise.
After uneven commercial success in the late 1970s, Bowie had UK number ones with the 1980 single “Ashes to Ashes” and its parent album, Scary Monsters (and Super Creeps). He paired with Queen for the 1981 UK chart-topping single “Under Pressure”, but reached a commercial peak in 1983 with the album Let’s Dance, which yielded the hit singles “Let’s Dance”, “China Girl”, and “Modern Love”.
He had a few more film roles, including Nikola Tesla in The Prestige. (His other later acting credits include Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me, Absolute Beginners, The Last Temptation Of Christ.) He also had a cameo playing himself in the film Zoolander.
He married Somalian supermodel / actress Iman. And in music, he fronted the short-lived rock band Tin Machine, tried releasing an electronic album then decided “Bugger it, I’ll make some more albums with Tony Visconti”.
Throughout the 1990s and 2000s, Bowie continued to experiment with musical styles, including blue-eyed soul, industrial, adult contemporary, and jungle. His last recorded album was Reality (2003), which was supported by the 2003-2004 Reality Tour.