David Bowie biography
David Bowie was born in South London on January 8, 1947. His first hit was the song "Space Oddity" in 1969. The original pop chameleon, Bowie became a science fiction character for his breakout Ziggy Stardust album. He later co-wrote "Fame" with John Lennon which became his first American No. 1 single. An accomplished actor, Bowie starred in The Man Who Fell to Earth in 1976. He was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1996.
Known as a musical chameleon for his ever-changing appearance and sound, David Bowie was born David Robert Jones in Brixton, South London, England, on January 8, 1947.
David showed an interest in music from an early age and began playing the saxophone at age 13. He was greatly influenced by brother Terry, who was nine years older and exposed young David to the worlds of rock music and beat literature.
But Terry had his demons, and his mental illness, which forced the family to commit him to an institution, haunted David for a good deal of his life. Terry committed suicide in 1985, a tragedy that became the focal point of Bowie's later song, "Jump They Say."
After graduating from Bromley Technical High School at 16, David started working as a commercial artist. He also continued to play music, hooking up with a number of bands and leading a group himself called Davy Jones and the Lower Third. Several singles came out of this period, but nothing that gave the young performer the kind of commercial traction he needed.
Eventually, Bowie went out on his own. But after recording an unsuccessful solo album, Bowie exited the music world for a temporary period. Like so much of his later life, these few years proved to be incredibly experimental for the young artist. For several weeks in 1967 he lived at a Buddhist monastery in Scotland, and in 1968 he started his own mime troupe called Feathers.
Around this time he also met the American-born Angela Barnett. The two married on March 20, 1970, and had one son together, Zowie, in 1971, before divorcing in 1980.
By early 1969, Bowie had returned full-time to music. He signed a deal with Mercury Records and that summer released the single "Space Oddity." Bowie later said the song came to him after seeing Stanley Kubrick's 2001: A Space Odyssey. "I went stoned out of my mind to see the movie and it really freaked me out, especially the trip passage."
The song quickly resonated with the public, sparked in large part by the BBC's use of the single during its coverage of the Apollo 11 moon landing. The song enjoyed later success in the U.S., when it was released in 1972 and climbed to No. 15 on the charts.
Bowie's next album, The Man Who Sold the World (1970), further catapulted him to stardom. The record offered up a heavier rock sound than anything Bowie had done before and included the song "All the Madmen," about his institutionalized brother, Terry.
In addition the album also featured two hits: "Hunky Dory," a tribute to Andy Warhol, the Velvet Underground and Bob Dylan; and "Changes," which came to embody Bowie himself.
Meet Ziggy Stardust
As Bowie's celebrity profile increased, so did his desire to keep fans and critics guessing. He claimed he was gay and then introduced the pop world to Ziggy Stardust, Bowie's imagining of a doomed rock star, and his backing group, The Spiders from Mars.
His 1972 album, The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars, made him a superstar. Dressed in wild costumes that spoke of some kind of wild future, Bowie, portraying Stardust himself, signaled a new age in rock music, one that seemed to officially announce the end of the 1960s and the Woodstock era.
But just as quickly as Bowie transformed himself into Stardust, he changed again. He leveraged his celebrity and produced albums for Lou Reed and Iggy Pop. In 1973, he disbanded the Spiders, shelved Stardust and announced he was through with live shows.
Around this time he showed his affection for his early days in the English mod scene and released Pin Ups, an album filled with cover songs originally recorded by a host of popular bands, including Pretty Things and Pink Floyd.
By the mid 1970s Bowie had undergone a full-scale makeover. Gone were the outrageous costumes and garish sets. In two short years he released the albums David Live (1974) and Young Americans (1975). The latter album featured backing vocals by a young Luther Vandross and included the song "Fame," co-written with John Lennon, which became Bowie’s first American number one single.
In 1980 Bowie, now living in New York, released Scary Monsters, a much-lauded album that featured the single "Ashes to Ashes," a sort of updated version of his earlier "Space Oddity."
Three years later Bowie, with a new contract with RCA, recorded Let's Dance (1983), an album that contained a bevy of hits such as the title track, "Modern Love" and "China Girl," and featured the guitar work of Stevie Ray Vaughan.
Of course, Bowie's interests didn't just reside with music. His love of film helped land him the title role in The Man Who Fell to Earth (1976), and later The Elephant Man (1980).
Over the next decade, Bowie bounced back and forth between acting and music, with the latter especially suffering. Outside of a couple of modest hits, Bowie's musical career languished. The albums Tin Machine (1989) and Tin Machine II (1991) proved to be flops, while his much-hyped album Black Tie White Noise (1993), which Bowie described as a wedding gift to his new wife, supermodel Iman, also struggled to resonate with record buyers.
Oddly enough, the most popular Bowie creation of late has been Bowie Bonds, financial securities the artist himself backed with royalties from his pre-1990 work. Bowie issued the bonds in 1997 and earned $55 million from the sale. The rights to his back catalog were returned to him when the bonds matured in 2007.
In 2004 Bowie received a major health scare when he suffered a heart attack while onstage in Germany.
He made a full recovery and went on to work with bands such as Arcade Fire and with the actress Scarlett Johansson on her album Anywhere I Lay My Head (2008), a collection of Tom Waits covers.
Bowie, who was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1996, was a 2006 recipient of the Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award.