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21 Surprising Facts About David Bowie That Will Make You Love Him Even More

January 8th is David Bowie’s birthday: Here are a few things you probably never knew about his life.

Jack Shepherd · 9 months ago

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It’s David Bowie’s birthday today, which makes it a perfect time to celebrate the creativity, playfulness, and inventive spirit that makes him such a beloved icon, whatever your age or musical taste. Take some time to enjoy his music with the family today, and while you do, check out these fascinating facts about his life and work. 

1. David Bowie’s birth name was David Robert Jones, but he changed it so he wouldn’t be confused with Davy Jones of The Monkees.

2. In a letter to his first American fan, Bowie explained his decision: “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.” 

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3. Bowie chose his surname in tribute to Jim Bowie, the Texan pioneer portrayed in the 1960 film The Alamo

4. Bowie was close friends with legendary guitarist Peter Frampton at school. Frampton’s dad was their art teacher. 

5. The pair remained friends as they grew up, and Bowie even saved Frampton’s life by pulling him out of his private plane when it caught fire. 

6. Bowie and Elton John were also friends as teens (when they were still Davy Jones and Reginald Dwight), though they later had a falling out.

7. At the age of 17, he founded “The Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Long-Haired Men.” Although there was a playful aspect to his campaign, there was a serious side too, as it was a brave rejection of repressive social norms dictating how men should behave and look.

8. One of Bowie’s first singles, in 1967, was called “The Laughing Gnome.” It was described in a review as "a heavy-handedly facetious number which ... steadfastly remained the flop it deserved to be."

9. In 1990, Bowie announced that fans could vote on the setlist for his greatest hits tour. The voting was rigged to push “The Laughing Gnome” to the number one choice. Bowie did not play the song. 

10. Bowie’s famous dilated pupil was caused by a punch in the face by his friend George Underwood when he was 15. The fight was over a girl.

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Photo: Avro via CC BY-SA 3.0 NL

11. Despite the injury, the pair remained friends, and even later collaborated on an album as The King Bees.

12. In fact, Underwood would go on to design two of David Bowie’s most iconic album covers, for “Hunky Dory” and “The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars.”

13. “Space Oddity” is not the only appearance of the character Major Tom. The astronaut is also referred to (though not always by name) in 1980’s “Ashes to Ashes,” 1994’s “Hallo Spaceboy,” and 2015’s “Blackstar.”  

14. The character “Ziggy Stardust” was influenced by Vince Taylor, a British rocker from the ‘50s who had a dramatic rise and fall.  

15. David Bowie’s older brother Terry, who struggled with mental health issues, was a major inspiration for his music, shaping his tastes at a young age and likely inspiring a number of different songs. 

16. Bowie’s 1979 song “Move On” is actually a backwards version of “All the Young Dudes,” a song he wrote for Mott the Hoople in 1972.

17. Bowie was very early to the concept of music streaming. In 1996, he released the single “Telling Lies” as an Internet-only release, becoming the first major artist to do this. It took 11 minutes to download. 

18. In 2003, David Bowie declined a knighthood from the Queen, saying "I seriously don't know what it's for."

19. David Bowie loved to read. In 2013, as part of an exhibition, two curators compiled his 100 favorite books.

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20. He was also an accomplished painter and sculptor. 

21. He lives on in the stars. In 2016, the Belgium-based MIRA observatory teamed up with a local radio station to register an asterism in Bowie’s honor. It’s in the shape of the lighting bolt from Aladdin Sane.