10 Interesting David Bowie Facts You May Have Not Known

Highlighting only 10 facts about David Bowie‘s remarkable life proved to be a tougher task than I had imagined.

Ultimately, we are talking about one of the most influential and unique artists of the previous six decades. Therefore, narrowing it down to only 10 facts feels like a betrayal to the myriad of interesting events from his rich and colorful life.

But let’s not dwell on this and move on to the main reason why you are here – the facts!

Tip: If you just want to quickly read some David Bowie facts without additional information, then the following section is for you

  • His real name wasn’t David Bowie
  • He declined a knighthood 
  • Bowie had dilated pupils, not heterochromia
  • He was part of an experimental theater 
  • Had multiple “alter egos” throughout his career
  • Gave controversial statements on fascism & Nazism
  • Bowie starred in the Broadway Show ‘The Elephant Man’
  • Four of the Top 500 Rock and Roll Hall of Fame Songs are his
  • Won an award for best actor
  • Sold more than 100 million records worldwide 

However, if you want to know the full backstory behind these David Bowie facts, then continue reading because in the next segment we’ll expand on them and go into the details.

10 Interesting Facts About David Bowie

1. His real name wasn’t David Bowie

While this David Bowie fact may seem obvious to many – Bowie was only his stage name. The iconic rockstar was born as David Robert Jones on 8 January 1947, in London, England.

But what’s interesting about this fact is the reason behind the name change.

During the early stages of Bowie’s career in the 1960s, he wasn’t the only David Jones on the music scene. There was also The Monkee‘s singer David “Davy” Jones. Consequently, to avoid confusion and establish himself in the industry, he adopted Bowie as his stage name.

The name Bowie was inspired by the popular knife of the same name and its creator James Bowie.

2. Declined a knighthood

If you ever wondered why David Bowie wasn’t knighted like fellow rock giants Mick Jagger, Paul McCartney, or Elton John, that’s because he declined it.

In 2000 he was first offered the royal honor of Commander of the order of the British Empire (CBE) which he rejected, and three years later in 2003, he was offered a knighthood which he also turned down.

According to Bowie, he declined the honors because he didn’t know what they are for and that they are not something he spent his life working for.

Interestingly, in 1999 he accepted the Commander of the Ordre des Arts et des Lettres order by the French government.

3. Bowie had dilated pupils, not heterochromia

Contrary to popular belief, David Bowie did not have heterochromia – a variation in coloration that leads to a person having two different eye colors. David Bowie’s eyes were in fact both the same color – blue!

However, when we look at a photograph of Bowie, we can notice the color dissimilarity in his eyes. But why is that?

The visual contrast in his eyes is a consequence of a fight he had as a teenager. Namely, David and his friend George had a scuffle over a girl they both liked. The fight ended with George hitting Bowie in the eye and permanently damaging his pupil. But despite the quarrel, the two reminded good friends and even collaborated on a few projects.

4. He was part of an experimental theater

Before indulging in the music world professionally, David Bowie was an actor in an experimental theater under the tutelage of Lindsay Kemp.

In 1967, his mentor gave him the opportunity to play a role in a theatrical production. Bowie played the character “Cloud” in Kemp’s stage play ‘Pierrot in Turquoise.

The experience Bowie acquired in the avant-garde theater had a great influence on his music career and future projects.

5. Had multiple “alter egos” throughout his career

When I said the experimental theater had a great influence on Bowie’s career, this is what I meant – his alter egos/characters. Now, the longtime David Bowie fans are surely aware of his various personalities and their origin, but for newer fans, this might be brand new information.

However, even among older fans, I wonder how many know that the flamboyant glam alien character ‘Ziggy Stardust’ predates his musical career and originated in the theater? Yes, the character that launched Bowie into stardom was a result of his obsession with creating different personas in the theater.

But most of the characters he created suffered a theatrical death after a certain period and never returned. It didn’t take long before the alter ego Ziggy Stardust was retired and a new one was introduced – Alladin Sane.

In the following years, the world met many other David Bowie characters as well. Characters such as The Thin White Duke, Jareth – The Goblin King, Halloween Jack, and so on.

6. Gave controversial statements on fascism & Nazism

This David Bowie fact is somewhat a continuation of the previous two facts. Why? Because it’s directly related to one of the characters he created at the time –The Thin White Duke.

The glam rock star and face of the LGBT community in the 1970s shocked the public and his fans after a highly controversial interview for Playboy in 1974 in which he claimed that Adolf Hitler was “one of the first rock stars”.

In the following two years, Bowie continued giving outrageous statements such as ‘Britain could benefit from a Fascist leader’, and even was detained on the Polish border for carrying Nazi memorabilia with him.

But to understand why he was doing this, we need to look into The Thin White Duke character. This was a character born during a period in Bowie’s life when he struggled with heavy substance abuse, stress, and poor nutrition. He also described The Thin White Duke as a “very Aryan, fascist type” of character.

Bowie was in such a bad state physically and mentally in late 1976, that he had to leave the USA and basically retire for two years in order to rehabilitate.

In later interviews, he claimed that the character was “a piece of work by an entirely different person” and that all of the remarks he made were purely theatrical.

Read more about the Thin White Duke & David Bowie’s characters

7. Bowie starred in the Broadway Show ‘The Elephant Man’

In 1980, after a decade-long hiatus, Bowie returned to the theater. However, this time he wasn’t performing at a small avant-garde theater, but on Broadway.

He played the role of Joseph Merrick who was known as The Elephant Man due to his severe deformities. Bowie starred in the Broadway show 157 times, and celebrities such as John Lennon could have been often spotted in the audience during his performances.

Here’s a 10-minute excerpt of Bowie playing the Elephant Man

YouTube player

8. Four of the Top 500 Rock and Roll Hall of Fame Songs are his

If we take into account the number of musicians/bands and the amount of music they have produced, a solo artist like David Bowie having four songs included in the Top 500 Rock and Roll Hall of Fame Songs that Shaped Rock and Roll is an astonishing achievement.

The four Bowie songs that made the cut were ‘Changes’, ‘Fame’, ‘Space Oddity’, and ‘Ziggy Stardust’. These songs are exhibited and immortalized in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame museum.

9. Won an award for best actor

After talking so much about his passion for acting and creating characters, this David Bowie fact might not even surprise you.

In 1976, Bowie starred in the science fiction movie ‘The Man Who Fell to Earth’. He played a humanoid alien by the name of Thomas Jerome Newton that crash-landed on Earth while trying to ship water back to his planet that was hit by a severe drought.

Bowie’s portrayal of the humanoid alien Thomas won him the Saturn Award for Best Actor. The award was first introduced in 1975 to honor the best works in fantasy, horror, and science fiction films.

10. Sold more than 100 million records worldwide

The last, and probably one of the most amazing facts about David Bowie is the fact that he sold over 100 million records worldwide. This makes him one of the best-selling artists of all time. Which is an extraordinary achievement considering that he viewed himself more as an actor and writer than a musician.

Bowie’s Top 3 best selling albums are ‘Let’s Dance’ with certified 10.5 million copies sold, ‘Ziggy Stardust’ with 7.5 million, and ‘Aladdin Sane’ with 4.5 million sales.

Also, recent data shows that David Bowie is the best-selling vinyl artist of the 21st century, beating The Beatles for the top spot.