How David Bowie challenged public perceptions of sexuality

Alternative Image

As the world mourn’s David Bowie’s death, PinkNews looks back at the changing personas of the music legend.

It was announced on social media today that the artist behind Ziggy Stardust had died after an 18-month battle with cancer.

The star had adopted several personas over the years and made comments about his sexual orientation on several occasions.


His persona Ziggy Stardust, created when he released Space Oddity in 1969, was a bisexual alien rock star. The androgynous figure became a gay icon.

Of the persona, at the time, he said: “Offstage I’m a robot. Onstage I achieve emotion. It’s probably why I prefer dressing up as Ziggy to being David.”

Then editor of GQ, Dylan Jones recalled: “I can picture the exact moment: my father was away and my mother was out in the garden… So I was alone in a terrace house in Deal watching Top of the Pops.

“Normally it would have been a forgettable Thursday but I was about to be astounded. It was the first time we were exposed to Ziggy Stardust in all his androgynous glory.”

Of Top of the Pops, which was then watched by 14 million people, Jones said: “He was a dangerous figure on British TV at a point when television didn’t do danger.

“41 years ago, it was an extraordinary experience. It didn’t immediately fill me with gay longings – though with some people it did. But nothing was quite the same afterwards.”


The legend married his first wife Angie in 1970 but declared himself as gay in an interview with the now defunct Melody Maker magazine in 1972. Four years later, he told Playboy magazine that he was bisexual. “It’s true—I am a bisexual,” he said. “But I can’t deny that I’ve used that fact very well. I suppose it’s the best thing that ever happened to me.”

Coming out as bisexual was the “biggest mistake I ever made”, Bowie declared in an interview with Rolling Stone that he was “always a closet heterosexual.”

Distancing himself from the Ziggy Stardust persona, he said: “That was just a lie. They gave me that image,” he later went on to comment on the hedonistic lifestyle he lived in the 1970s.

In 1993, Bowie told Rolling Stone magazine: “I didn’t ever feel that I was a real bisexual.” He added that he was “making all the moves, down to the situation of actually trying it out.

“I wanted to imbue Ziggy with real flesh and blood and muscle, and it was imperative that I find Ziggy and be him. The irony of it was that I was not gay. I was physical about it, but frankly it wasn’t enjoyable.”

Speaking on Friday Night with Jonathan Ross in 2002, Bowie was asked by the host about his sexual orientation, and whether he thought once you were gay you couldn’t go back to being straight.

The artist responded: “I was just happy… I just got my leg over a lot.”

On whether he had relationships with the men in his life, he said: “Not if I could help it. I was incredibly promiscuous, and I think we’ll leave it at that.”

Avoiding further questions, he joked to Ross: “Why would I go into that when I could make a fortune by writing a book about it.”

When Jonathan Ross asked whether Bowie thought he should try having sex with a man, Bowie said: “Such a serious and a life-challenging and changing question. The answer that I have for you would probably create such turmoil in your soul. I’m afraid I have to politiely not answer that question.”