13 David Bowie Stories From His Biggest Fans
David Bowie was a multi-talented artist, a chameleon who experimented with both his image and sound, and was never afraid to push boundaries. According to firsthand stories from fans and peers who had encounters with him over the years, the star was also a charming, friendly, down-to-earth person who took time to speak to and connect with his admirers.
These are just a few anecdotes people have shared about meeting the legendary artist, who passed at age 69 on January 10, 2016.
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For A Starman, He Was Surprisingly Down-To-Earth
Eleanor Smith saw Bowie in concert several times. But the most memorable was when she won a contest sponsored by a beer company that gave her the opportunity to go backstage and meet Bowie after his show at the Hammersmith Apollo. Smith recalled:
I remember being absolutely terrified and worried, too. I was worried I would meet him and he would be cold or uninterested, but he was anything but. He could obviously see I was petrified so cracked a few jokes to put me at ease, putting his arm around me and happily posing for photos. The best thing about Bowie is that, although he seems ethereal and like something from beyond the stars, he is actually very warm and down-to-earth. A true gentleman.
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He Wrote A Heartwarming Response To His First American Fan Letter
How many people write fan letters to their favorite celebrities, hoping to get any kind of reply, even a form letter? Sandra Dodd got far more than that when she reached out to a still-unknown Bowie.
In December 1967, Bowie received what he called his first American fan letter from the 14-year-old Dodd, who had received a promotional copy of the artist's first album from her uncle (who managed a radio station). She wrote Bowie telling him his music was as good as that of The Beatles, and offered to start a fan club in the States for him.
Bowie was so happy to receive a fan latter from the US that he sent her a personal response, including his hopes for the future and self-aware typos:
When I called in this, my manager’s office, a few moments ago I was handed my very first American fan letter - and it was from you. I was so pleased that I had to sit down and type an immediate reply, even though Ken is shouting at me to get on with a script he badly needs. That can wiat (wi-at? That’s a new English word which means wait).
I’ve been waiting for some reaction to the album from American listeners. There were reviews in Billboard and Cash Box, but they were by professional critics and they rarely reflect the opinions of the public. The critics were very flattering however. They even liked the single “Love You Till Tuesday.” I’ve got a copy of the American album and they’ve printed the picture a little yellow. I’m really not that blond. I think the picture on the back is more ‘me’. Hope you like those enclosed.
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. My birthday is January 8th and I guess I’m 5’10”. There is a Fan Club here in England, but if things go well in the States then we’ll have one there I suppose. It’s a little early to even think about it.
I hope one day to get to America. My manager tells me lots about it as he has been there many times with other acts he manages. I was watching an old film on TV the other night called “No Down Payment” a great film, but rather depressing if it is a true reflection of The American Way Of Life. However, shortly after that they showed a documentary about Robert Frost the American poet, filmed mainly at his home in Vermont, and that evened the score. I am sure that that is nearer the real America. I made my first movie last week. Just a fifteen minutes short, but it gave me some good experience for a full length deal I have starting in January.
Thank you for being so kind as to write to me and do please write again and let me know some more about yourself.
(Signed, ‘David Bowie’)
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A Reporter Was Just As Flustered By His Charm On The Third Interview
The first time David Thomas interviewed Bowie, the reporter was just 24 years old and so nervous about meeting a hero of his that his palms were sweaty. He took out a handful of tissues to dry them, only to have the tissues flutter to the floor when the men went to shake hands. That broke the ice for that interview.
When he interviewed Bowie for a third (and final) time in 1996, Thomas jokingly told Bowie he would try to do a better job to resist the artist's charm. When asked what he meant by this comment, the reporter continued:
"Well," I said, "it's just that you're so f*cking charming and always it makes me think, "He likes me! He likes me!" and then I don't ask any really tough questions."
"Hmm..." [Bowie] pondered. "Of course there is another possibility."
"I may not actually dislike you."
In an article written for The Independent shortly after Bowie's passing, Thomas used this anecdote as an example of what the reporter referred to as the artist's "pure distilled charm."
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He Gave A Magical Mask To A Boy At A Screening Of 'Labyrinth'
In 2017, novelist Paul Magrs blogged about an encounter a friend of his had as a boy with Bowie at a screening for Labyrinth in 1987.
His friend, who has autism, related that because he was so shy (which is how his autism was described back then), he'd been put in a room by himself after the screening, and it was there that he met Bowie. The friend told Magrs that Bowie, who portrayed the Goblin King, spent 30 minutes with him and passed along his secret "invisible mask":
He took it off his own face and looked around like he was scared and uncomfortable all of a sudden. He passed me his invisible mask. "Put it on," he told me. "It’s magic." And so I did. Then he told me, "I always feel afraid, just the same as you. But I wear this mask every single day. And it doesn’t take the fear away, but it makes it feel a bit better. I feel brave enough then to face the whole world and all the people. And now you will, too."
Magrs's blog about this account drew the attention of many, including Bowie's widow, Iman. The author's friend was delighted by the attention his story received. Magrs ended up turning an expanded version of the meeting into a short story called Stardust and Snow.
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Black Flag's Henry Rollins Was Starstruck Upon Crossing Paths With His Hero
It turns out "regular" people aren't the only ones who freak out when meeting their heroes or favorite celebrities - famous people do it as well. Henry Rollins, frontman for the punk rock band Black Flag, revealed this during his 2018 show, Henry Rollins: Keep Talking, Pal, when he discussed meeting Bowie for the first time at a music festival:
[Bowie] looks fantastic, hair perfect, suit perfect. I go rigid like an officer on deck. I just stand there silent as can be because I don’t want to be the thing that makes David Bowie fly away like a rare bird.
Rollins described the inner monologue he had with himself after spotting his hero:
David Bowie is walking by me. I am such a fan; this is all I need. Twenty years later, I’ll be standing on a stage with cameras rolling saying, "David Bowie walked by me, and I was fine." I don’t need to meet him; I just like to be near him, fine.
But Bowie didn't just walk by. He stopped and greeted his fellow musician. In his show, Rollins recounted how Bowie's music had saved his life, so when he had the chance to speak to his idol, he was tongue-tied. It turned out Bowie was a fan of Rollins's work, even telling him, "I read all your interviews; you’re very interesting."
Rollins's lasting thought about this encounter? "Kill me! Because my life is never getting better than this!"
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He Would Visit His Friend's Dumpy Apartment After Performing In 'The Elephant Man' To Chill Out
Shortly after Bowie's passing, a reader identified as "bookmanjb" told The Guardian about his brief friendship with the artist in the late 1970s and early '80s.
After initially meeting Bowie at a party at Jimmy Destri's (the keyboard player in the band Blondie), bookmanjb was invited to have dinner with Bowie at his hotel suite. "I thought, 'Wow. A party at Bowie’s place. I can’t wait to see who’s gonna be there,'" they recounted. "Followed immediately by, 'Wait a minute. I’m nobody. Why have I been invited?'"
It was only when bookmanjb showed up that they realized they were the only guest invited, and shared an intimate dinner with Bowie and his assistant. The two bonded through their conversation about books and music, and when Bowie returned to New York to appear in a stage version of The Elephant Man, they resumed the friendship:
Once a week or so, he’d call me up after a performance, still adrenalined out, and ask to come over to my dumpy little apartment and shoot the breeze until he got tired. We became good friends. He came to my birthday party that year and gave me a signed first edition of an Edward Gorey book, which he, David, inscribed to me.
Unfortunately, the two lost touch after the early 1980s. But the writer forever treasured their friendship:
I can’t express adequately how much our short friendship way back then meant to me and still means to me. His conversation and opinions were fascinating and opened a number of artistic and philosophical doors for me. I wasn’t flattered by his friendship, I was improved by it. I guess what I’d like to say is that those qualities of his that stood out to me were that he was unpretentious... intellectually hungry, and straight-up honest. An extraordinary man, truly.