More than any other pop or rock star—in fact, maybe even more than any other star, period—David Bowie always came off as all things to all people. He was male. He was female. He was gay. He was straight. He was white. He was black. He was alien. He was human. Most importantly though, he embodied each point along every spectrum that we use to measure those self-defining outposts while, at the same time, transcending them all.
The being born David Robert Jones on January 8, 1947 (the same birthday as Elvis Presley) famously smashed limitations on gender and sexuality throughout his career. However, he was also a major proponent of music, art, and ideas from all groups that had been particularly sidelined—in particular, women and African Americans.
With that in mind, let’s celebrate 69 little-known winning wonders accomplished in the seemingly superhuman life and career of David Bowie.
1. David Bowie died at age 69. His first hit, “Space Oddity,” launched his career in 1969.
2. When asked who or what made him first want to sing, Bowie said: “Little Richard. If it hadn’t have been for him, I probably wouldn’t have gone into music. When I was nine and first saw Little Richard in a film that played around town—I think it was probably Girl Can’t Help It—seeing those four saxophonists onstage, it was like, ‘I want to be in that band!’ And for a couple of years that was my ambition, to be in a band playing saxophone behind Little Richard. That’s why I got a saxophone.”
3. In 1983, David Bowie socked it to MTV over the network’s shunning of music videos by artists of color.
4. During a Q&A with MTV VJ Mark Goodman, Bowie bluntly asked, “Why are there practically no blacks on the network?”
5. After Goodman fumbled through an answer that MTV’s playlist was the video equivalent of a rock-and-roll radio station, Bowie replied: “Don’t say, ‘Well, it’s not me, it’s them.’ Is it not possible it should be a conviction of the station and of the radio stations to be fair… to make the media more integrated?”
6. Although best known for his early ’70s glam rock breakthrough, by mid-decade David Bowie immersed himself in the world of soul, funk, and rhythm and blues.
7. Diamond Dogs, Bowie’s post-apocalyptic 1974 opus, first saw him incorporate black sounds into his signature sci-fi glitter style.
8. In 1975, Bowie fully hurled himself into soul music, resulting in the masterpiece, Young Americans.
9. Bowie recorded Young Americans in Philadelphia, which was then the world’s reigning capitol of soul and R&B.
10. “Plastic soul” is the term Bowie employed to describe the feel of Young Americans. The phrase was initially used somewhat disparagingly in the 1960s by black musicians in describing white rockers who attempted to emulate their work (the Rolling Stones frequently took the brunt of that description).
11. “Blue-eyed soul” is the gentler version of that concept. In the case of David Bowie specifically, though, due to his two different colored irises, the appropriate terms would have to be “blue-eyed, brown-eyed soul.” Given the commingling of cultures, that phrase actually does seem to work.
12. Elaborating on the interracial aesthetics of Young Americans, Bowie summed the album up as “the squashed remains of ethnic music as it survives in the age of Muzak rock, written and sung by a white Limey.”
13. Legendary soul singer Luther Vandross broke through to big-time music success via Young Americans. Through a happy accident, the up-and-coming belter came to be the album’s vocal arranger.
14. Carlos Alomar, who played guitar on Young Americans, invited his childhood friend Luther to the studio for a recording session. That’s where the young singer met the rock-and-roll megastar.
15. Luther explained what happened in an interview: “I stated making little vocal arrangements… I didn’t know that Bowie had overheard all this. He was sitting right behind me at the board, and he said, ‘That’s a great idea. Put that down.’ So I put it down and next thing you know one thing led to another, and I was doing the vocal arrangements for the whole album. I wrote one of the songs on the album. Bowie overheard it and said, ‘I want to record that. Do you mind?’”
16. “Fascination” is the killer Young Americans song co-written by Luther Vandross.
17. The original incarnation of “Fascination” was a Vandross composition titled “Funky Music.” Luther said Bowie changed the name because, “he didn’t want to be so presumptuous as to say “funky music” since he was a rock artist.”
18. “Fascination” was the last track recorded for Young Americans. In fact, the album had been completed, but Bowie felt the song was too strong not to include, so he added it in collaboration with Luther Vandross as a grand finishing touch.
19. Although Bowie has never performed “Fascination” in concert, the song does get spun by longtime collaborator Iggy Pop on a fictional radio station that’s part of the video game, Grand Theft Auto IV.
20. During the Young Americans tour, Luther Vandross opened up for Bowie, singing several songs each night for arenas packed with not always patient fans.
21. Luther’s confidence got shaken (understandably) when the crowds yelled, “Bowie!” during his performances, prompting him to flee in terror from live performing—almost.
22. David Bowie’s tough love for Luther enabled the singer to tap into his talent and ultimately win over the audience. As Vandross recalled, “I said to him, ‘Listen, man, if you want to kill me, just use cyanide, but don’t send me out there again.’ And Bowie just said, ‘Hey, I’m giving you a chance to get in touch with who you are. Their reaction isn’t the point. What you do is the point.’”
23. Station to Station (1976) extended Bowie’s foray into black music, combining it with European synthesizer sounds and the Germanic electronic music known as Krautrock.
24. Ever one to upend expectations, Bowie’s character incarnation on Station to Station was “The Thin White Duke.”
25. Although David Bowie’s best known duets are with Freddie Mercury, Mick Jagger, and Bing Crosby, check out “Tonight,” his gorgeous 1984 tete-a-tete with Tina Turner.
26. Upon hearing of his death, Kanye West proclaimed that David Bowie was one of his most profound influences.
28. Bowie’s embrace of black music continued unabated to his final album, the perhaps tellingly titled Blackstar.
29. Longtime Bowie collaborator and Blackstar producer Tony Visconti has revealed that Kendrick Lamar made a massive impact on David’s parting project.
30. Lamar’s album To Pimp a Butterfly proved especially influential on Blackstar.
31. As Tony Visconti explained, “We were listening to a lot of Kendrick Lamar. We wound up with nothing like that, but we loved the fact Kendrick was so open-minded and he didn’t do a straight-up hip-hop record. He threw everything on there, and that’s exactly what we wanted to do. The goal, in many, many ways, was to avoid rock & roll.”
32. David Bowie was a fan and proponent of hip-hop for decades.
33. In 1993, Bowie proclaimed on The Today Show that rappers represented the forefront of musical creativity.
34. Explaining his stance, Bowie said, “The quality and significance of the social message has moved very much to the black and Hispanic market. And that’s where the new force of music is coming from… With black music, there’s a very strong social point to make. There’s a means of discovery and a purpose.”
35. Bowie immediately brought up black music in 1997, while talking about his last big hit, “I’m Afraid of Americans.” He said: “I had America-mania when I was a kid, but I loved all the things that America rejects. It was black music, it was the beatnik poets, it was all the stuff that I thought was the true rebellious subversive side. To almost disown that and to give us back McDonald’s and Disney is not fair, and it’s not a true representation of what makes America great. What makes America great is its pioneer, independent spirit, not its corporate togetherness.”
36. After defining the 1970s, David Bowie took over the ’80s by purposefully embracing, and even largely inventing, the genre “dance rock.” Naturally, the album that catapulted him—and the rest of us—into the next decade was titled Let’s Dance.
37. Chic guitarist and all-around musical visionary Nile Rodgers produced Let’s Dance, infusing Bowie’s ever-evolving rock with his own post-disco, state-of-the-art know-how and cutting edge talent.
38. Nile Rodgers had previously auditioned to play guitar on Young Americans. He didn’t get the gig—but the two musicians became friends and stayed in touch.
39. Six-string slayer Stevie Ray Vaughn plays guitar on Let’s Dance.
40. Bowie was blown away by Stevie Ray’s 1982 performance at the Montreux Jazz Festival, and the two bonded over their love of “funky Texas blues and its roots.”
41. Godfather of Soul James Brown and keyboardist Bill Doggett, a Philadelphia giant of jazz and R&B, ranked high among Bowie’s officially declared influences on Let’s Dance.
42. Let’s Dance topped out at #4 on the album charts in the U.S., but consistently hit #1 worldwide.
43. To date, Let’s Dance remains David Bowie’s single bestselling album.
44. David Bowie first met his Somali supermodel soulmate Iman in 1990. They remained inseparable to the very end of his life.
45. Iman sports an ankle tattoo of a Bowie knife.
46. Bowie and Iman have one daughter, Alexandria Zahra Jones, who was born in 2000.
47. Duncan Zowie Haywood Jones is Bowie’s 44-year-old son from his 1970-80 marriage to Angela Bowie. Zulehka Haywood is Iman’s 36-year-old daughter from her 1977-87 to NBA star Spencer Haywood.
48. During his childhood, Duncan was referred to be his middle name and his father’s stage moniker, making him, yes, “Zowie Bowie.”
49. At 12, perhaps miming his dad’s penchant for reinvention, Duncan asked people to stop calling him Zowie Bowie. Instead, for a while, he became “Joey Bowie.”
50. Duncan Jones is an acclaimed, esteemed filmmaker who wrote and directed the science fiction cult hits Moon (2009) and Source Code (2011). He is behind the big-screen video game adaptation, Warcraft (2015). David Bowie could not have been prouder of his son.
51. David Bowie himself, of course, changed his professional name from Jones to Bowie back in the ’60s to avoid being confused with another UK music sensation: the Monkees’ Davy Jones.
52. Bowie’s famous embrace of androgyny dates back to at least 1964. That’s when, at age 17, he appeared on TV as the founder of an organization called The Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Long-Haired Men.
53. In the 2000s, David Bowie championed Arcade Fire and TV on the Radio as great rock bands.
54. David Bowie broke through to film stardom in director Nicolas Roeg’s 1976 cult sci-fi mindblower, The Man Who Fell to Earth.
55. Bowie stars in Man as a space explorer overwhelmed by the human race, expanding on ideas and aesthetics he explored in the classic songs, “Space Oddity,” “Starman,” “Life on Mars?”, and “The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust.”
56. Bowie’s Ziggy Stardust character is named, in part, for one of his most off-the-wall influences: a freakout-inducing, war-whooping, guitar-mangling “psychobilly” pioneer called The Legendary Stardust Cowboy.
57. After The Man Who Fell to Earth, Bowie went on to a fittingly unique side-career as a movie actor.
58. Among Bowie’s most notable roles are that of a decrepit vampire in The Hunger (1983) and Jareth the Goblin King in Labyrinth (1986).
59. Numerous movie soundtracks incorporate David Bowie songs including, memorably, 1995’s Clueless (“Fashion”) and 2015’s The Martian (“Starman”).
60. Hits songs Bowie wrote and performed for films include “Cat People (Putting Out Fire With Gasoline)” for Cat People (1982) and “This Is Not America,” collaboration with guitarist Pat Metheny for The Falcon and the Snowman (1985).
61. David Bowie staunchly supported greater access and viability for women in music.
62. Bowie especially sang the praises and had high hopes for the 1970s all-female combo, Fanny.
63. In 1999, Bowie said of Fanny: “One of the most important female bands in American rock has been buried without a trace. And that is Fanny. They were one of the finest… rock bands of their time, in about 1973. They were extraordinary: They wrote everything, they played like motherf-ckers, they were just colossal and wonderful. They’re as important as anybody else who’s ever been, ever; it just wasn’t their time. Revivify Fanny. And I will feel that my work is done!”
64. Unlike his friends Paul McCartney, Mick Jagger, and Elton John, David Bowie repeatedly turned down the opportunity to be knighted by the Queen of England.
65. In 2013, Bowie collaborated with his fellow British shape-shifter and androgynous icon, actress Tilda Swinton. She portrays Bowie’s wife in the music video for his single, “The Stars (Are Out Tonight).”
66. A year later, Bowie and Swinton dressed up as one another for a PSA campaign that declared, “Gender is between your ears, not between your legs.”
67. Beyond just the arts, David Bowie innovated technology. In 1996, he became the first major name to release an Internet-only single, “Telling Lies.”
68. In 1997, Bowie not only designed and released his own website, he launched his own Internet Service Provider, Bowienet.
69. David Bowie sold more than 140 million records in his lifetime. The hearts, minds, and souls all that music touched can never be fully calculated, but it will always be appreciated.