Professor Plans to Live as David Bowie for a Year. Here's Why It Won't Be Easy

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British singer David Bowie poses during the 31th Cannes Film Festival on May 30, 1978.  ( Photo by Ralph Gatti/AFP/Getty Images)

In the world of interesting-but-creepy news, Will Brooker, a professor of cultural studies at England’s Kingston University recently announced that he is spending the year dressing and acting like David Bowie for his research. For each stage of Bowie’s music career -- starting from his first garage groups in the late ‘60s all the way through to present day -- Brooker has been wearing recreations of Bowie’s wild and constantly changing wardrobe, following an approximation of Bowie's diet (red peppers and milk) and even moving to areas around England that Bowie lived in.

It’s a little hard to believe that such an experiment exists or is needed, but he’s been commissioned to write an account of his research, so that means somebody wants to know. Then again, who wouldn’t want to know what it’s like to be the guy that created Ziggy Stardust?

There’s no debate: Bowie is one of the greatest songwriters of the 20th century. So great that, in 1997, he sold “Bowie bonds” to those who wanted to profit from his music. (When he went public with his publishing royalties that year, he made $50 million.)

He’s also married to the model Iman, continues to make great music and doesn’t need to talk to the press to sell his albums. But it hasn’t always been easy for Bowie; there have been quite a few moments in his life that he probably doesn’t wish on his worst enemies. Here are some of them that Prof. Brooker should consider before taking on a task as mammoth as living as Bowie:

1. He was punched in the face so hard his eyes are mismatched

David Bowie smiles as he meets fans and signs copies of his new album "Heathen" at HMV Oxford Street September 9, 2002 in London, England. (Photo by Scott Barbour/Getty Images)

If you’ve seen photos of David Bowie, you've probably noticed one of his most striking features: he appears to have differently colored eyes. He was not born this way. When he was 14, he was in a fight with his friend George Underwood over a girl and Underwood was so mad at Bowie (then David Jones) he punched him in the face, right in his left eye. Underwood sliced Bowie's peeper, possibly with a ring he was wearing, and Bowie's injury was so bad that doctors thought he would be blind in that eye. After being hospitalized for four months and undergoing a series of operations, Bowie’s eyesight was saved but his pupil is permanently dilated and he has depth perception issues. As for Underwood, he's still friends with Bowie and even designed the covers of Bowie's earliest albums.

2. Admitting he was gay hurt his career so much he denied it just a few years later

Musician David Bowie and supermodel Iman attend the DKMS' 5th Annual Gala: Linked Against Leukemia honoring Rihanna & Michael Clinton hosted by Katharina Harf at Cipriani Wall Street on April 28, 2011 in New York City. (Photo by Andrew H. Walker/Getty Images for DKMS)

In 1972, while being interviewed for an article in Melody Maker, Bowie admitted to the reporter that he was gay. He was just starting to dress as “Ziggy Stardust” and the revelation -- “I’m gay and always have been, even when I was David Jones” -- brought him a lot of media attention. Laws banning homosexuality in England had been reformed just five years before and Bowie’s coming out was socially equivalent to Neil Armstrong walking on the moon.


Though the news helped him reach star status in England, when he toured the United States for the Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust, he played to several half-filled theaters. Americans had gotten word of Bowie’s revelation and, except for a bunch of cool music lovers on the coasts, didn’t want to have anything to do with him.

In 1976, Bowie was still standing by his declaration that he was “bisexual” and that it was "the best thing that ever happened" to him (around this time he had a relationship with Mick Jagger, according to ex-wife Angie Bowie). But by 1983, Bowie was hoping to take the U.S. by storm with his album Let's Dance and started backtracking on his claims. In an interview with Rolling Stone that same year, he stated that publicly declaring his bisexuality was "the biggest mistake [he] ever made" and that he "was always a closet heterosexual."

In a 2002 interview with Blender, he was asked whether or not his coming out was still his biggest mistake. "I don't think it was a mistake in Europe, but it was a lot tougher in America," later adding "I felt that bisexuality became my headline over here for so long. America is a very puritanical place, and I think it stood in the way of so much I wanted to do."

3. He did a scary amount of cocaine

In the mid '70s, Bowie had a new persona: The Thin White Duke. It was an apt description of his look at that time, since he wore a lot of regal, immaculately tailored suits and was emaciated from his extreme cocaine habit (watch the video above for lots of fidgeting and sniffing). Bowie was in the studio around the clock, cranking out hit after hit — he wrote "Fame" in 45 minutes during this time — and booger sugar fueled a lot of those longer sessions. He also did a lot of crazy stuff that someone with a drug problem would do, the best example being the time he, with help from a white witch, tried exorcising his pool of demons while high on blow.

He moved to Switzerland in 1976, where he supposedly dumped his habit and concentrated on other pursuits like painting. He would later tell producer Nile Rodgers that he doesn't remember entire years of his life during his drug days.

(Side note: Brooker has said that for his research, he won't be doing the heavy amount of cocaine that Bowie did. Not only is it unhealthy, but he also couldn't afford such a habit on an academic's salary, according to the Guardian. Instead he drank an entire six-pack of energy drinks. “It made me very jumpy,” he said.)

4. A newspaper circulated a picture that made him look like a Nazi


This is a weird one to explain and, in hindsight, he was kind of asking for it. During his Thin White Duke days, Bowie said in an interview that "Britain could benefit from a fascist leader." He was later caught at the Russian/Poland border with Nazi propaganda.

With rumors of his love for fascism stoked in the media, the New Musical Express then took a photo of Bowie at London's Victoria Station waving farewell to fans from a Mercedes before jumping on a train. The paper ran the photo with the headline "Heil And Farewell" and accused him of giving a Nazi salute. Bowie always denied the claim and there are pictures of him in that moment where he looks like he's waving. Bowie later admitted that he was out of his mind when he made those comments about fascism.

5. A concertgoer threw a lollipop at his bad eye


In Norway, a lollipop is referred to as "love on a stick." Someone tried to pass on the love to Bowie during a festival in Oslo a few years ago and instead it smacked him right in the eye, causing him to stop playing. After he recovered, he was in a huff and demanded to know who did it, but no one came forward. Once he regained his composure, he told the crowd he was going to punish the culprit by playing an extra-long set. He played 27 songs over two hours in what Norwegian media would call one of his best concerts ever.

6. His Bowie Bonds are one step above junk status

Lou Reed (L) and David Bowie (R) attend the opening of Lou Reed NY photography exhibit at the Gallery at Hermes on January 19, 2006 in New York City. (Photo by Andrew H. Walker/Getty Images)

Remember those "Bowie Bonds" I told you about earlier? By 2004, their credit rating was downgraded to just above junk status. The artist didn't adjust his business model when file-sharing on the Internet became a thing so, when people realized they didn't need to pay for his albums in order to obtain them, the profits on his 25 albums took a massive hit.

Since there's no such thing as sympathy in the stock market, it wasn't too long before the credit rating was downgraded, with a spokesperson for Moody's saying, "The downgrade was prompted by lower than expected revenues generated by the assets due to weakness in sales for recorded music." But, by that time, Bowie had already gotten what he wanted: not only did the initial offering make Bowie one of the richest musicians in the world, he was able to use his money to buy back all the rights to his music.


Now that I think about it, it's probably not that bad to be Bowie. But it ain't easy, either! Good luck, Professor Brooker!