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20 Images Show the Many Personas and Wild Evolution of David Bowie

Steve Palace
The many faces of David Bowie

David Bowie (1947 – 2016) brought so much to the table at the feast of rock and roll. He was perceived as an alien, yet the reality is that of a musical innovator and all-round friendly guy. Even several years after his death, Bowie’s absence is keenly felt.

Born in Brixton, his real name was David Robert Jones. He was the child of Margaret, a waitress, and Haywood, a charity worker. The young Jones took his iconic name from the Bowie knife, associated with James Bowie the 19th century pioneer.

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David Jones in 1965 (Photo by CA/Redferns via Getty Images)


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Portrait of David Bowie photographed in 1967.; (Photo by King Collection/Photoshot/Getty Images)

But the changes didn’t end there. His show business persona was constantly adapting, and this need to evolve would inform his entire career. Bowie wasn’t an overnight success. It took him a while to find his groove, quite literally. But when he did hit the big time, it was under another identity.

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Bowie in 1970 (Photo by Hulton Archive/Getty Images)


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David Bowie plays an acoustic Espana 12-string guitar to promote the release of his album “Space Oddity” in November 1969 in London, England. (Photo by Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images)

When his self-titled 1967 debut album failed to catch fire, he reinvented himself, studying dance and drama under the tutelage of influential artist Lindsay Kemp.

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A pre-glam David Bowie jams at a party thrown by publicist and future nightclub impresario and DJ Rodney Bingenheimer in January 1971, in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Earl Leaf/Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images)


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Bowie poses for a portrait to promote the release of his “Hunky Dory” album in December 1971 in London, England. (Photo by Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images)

Inspired by the business of character creation, he went on to portray infamous rock star Ziggy Stardust, central figure of 1972 release The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars. wrote that the flamboyant and tragic Stardust “signaled a new age in rock music, one that seemed to officially announce the end of the 1960s and the Woodstock era.”

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David Bowie performs on stage on his Ziggy Stardust/Aladdin Sane tour in London, 1973. (Photo by Michael Putland/Getty Images)


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David Bowie performs ‘Rebel Rebel’ on the TV show TopPop on 7th February 1974 (Photo by Gijsbert Hanekroot/Redferns)

For Bowie, a brilliant but self-deprecating performer who found it difficult appearing as himself, Ziggy was a perfect solution. He drew on various influences for the character’s look. “I mean he was half out of sci-fi rock and half out of the Japanese theater,” he told PBS. “The clothes were, at that time, simply outrageous.”

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David Bowie performs onstage during his “Ziggy Stardust” era in 1973. (Photo by Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images)


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Bowie performing live onstage at final Ziggy Stardust concert (Photo by Debi Doss/Redferns)

The road to Ziggy Stardust began back in 1969 with Space Oddity, a track inspired by Stanley Kubrick’s 2001. It focused on an astronaut called Major Tom who would recur through Bowie’s subsequent work. In 1996 he remixed the song Hallo Spaceboy with the Pet Shop Boys, who suggested he include Space Oddity lyrics in the recording. Bowie agreed and gave a new lease of life to the stranded character. Despite the star’s shifting trajectories over the years, these fictional creations were clearly a part of him.

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Angie Bowie, Zowie Bowie (Duncan Jones) and David Bowie appear at a press conference at the Amstel Hotel on 7th February 1974 in Amsterdam, Netherlands. (Photo by Gijsbert Hanekroot/Redferns)

Aladdin Sane was an extension of the Stardust persona. Notable for the lightning streak across his face, he adorned the cover of Bowie’s 1973 album of the same name.

The singer’s explanation of the image was typically off-beat: “I thought he would probably be cracked by lightning,” he said to Rolling Stone. “Sort of an obvious-type thing, as he was sort of an electric boy.” A teardrop was added by photographer Brian Duffy to complete the much-copied look.

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Bowie becomes the Thin White Duke in 1976 (Photo by Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images)


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David Bowie performing live at Wembley stadium during his 1976 ‘Station To Station’ tour. (Photo by Evening Standard/Getty Images)

Sci-fi themes were a constant of Bowie’s time on this planet. His approach to music was often compared to that of an actor, so it made sense he was cast in Nicolas Roeg’s The Man Who Fell To Earth (1976). The movie followed an extraterrestrial visitor, who tries to save his home world with humanity’s help and winds up losing everything in the process. He later revisited the character for his musical Lazarus, which starred Dexter’s Michael C. Hall in the lead role.

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A poster for Nicolas Roeg’s 1976 science fiction film ‘The Man Who Fell to Earth’ starring David Bowie. (Photo by Movie Poster Image Art/Getty Images)

It wasn’t all face paint and glitter. From 1975 – 76 Bowie took on what appeared to be a relatively human character for his album Station to Station, though he was given the memorable title of the Thin White Duke.

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David Bowie performs as the Thin White Duke at Boston Garden, March 17, 1976 (Photo by Ron Pownall/Corbis via Getty Images)

Bowie trod a fine line between world famous musician and cult favorite. These 2 areas were occupied when he took the role of Goblin King in Labyrinth (1986). The movie, directed by Jim Henson, saw the man who fell to earth working alongside puppets who rose from the floor. It wasn’t a box office success but went on to become a big part of many people’s childhoods.

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David Bowie and Jennifer Connelly in a scene from the movie ‘Labyrinth’, 1986. (Photo by Stanley Bielecki Movie Collection/Getty Images)

Chatting to, Brian Henson – who worked on the film – said of Bowie, “he played this wonderful role where he’s kind of making fun of the personality of a rock star. He plays this overly flamboyant, spoiled rotten, self-centered King of the Goblins…. I think he knew he was kind of making fun of himself, in a fun way.”

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Bowie in the 80s, performing live onstage on the Serious Moonlight tour (Photo by Ebet Roberts/Redferns via Getty Images)


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Bowie performing on stage during the Serious Moonlight World Tour, 1983. (Photo by Michael Putland/Getty Images)

This self-mockery appeared to come easily to Bowie. In his PBS interview, he revealed feelings of “inadequacy”, which the invention of Ziggy Stardust helped address. He also referred to himself as a “moderately good” singer who was more comfortable writing for others than himself. That certainly explains his reliance on such memorable characters.

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Bowie and wife Imam in 1997 (Photo by UK Press via Getty Images)


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David Bowie during is ‘Reality’ Tour in 2003 (Photo by KMazur/WireImage)

Ultimately he showed bravery throughout his creative and personal life. Some could argue David Bowie hid behind a variety of masks. But he also took musical risks and wasn’t afraid to fail. That’s what made him who he was, and what makes him such an inspiration to successive generations of artists.

Related Article: The Awkward Reason why David Bowie Refused the Role of a Bond Villain

After having fallen to Earth the chameleon spaceboy David Bowie left this Earth on January 10, 2016 just after releasing his final album Blackstar.