In what might be one of the most remarkable performances of his career, David Bowie delivered a full live show while struggling through unbearable pain and did so with his usual glamour.
Taking to the stage of Germany’s Hurricane Festival in the summer of 2004, Bowie was coming off the back of a shortened concert two days before after being forced to cut his show short due to pain from what he thought was a trapped nerve. The reality, however, became terrifyingly clear following his exit from the stage when he collapsed backstage and was rushed to hospital by helicopter where he underwent surgery for a blocked artery—a situation made so unbelievable given the fact that The Starman had delivered a 21-song show with encore moments before.
As part of that set, Bowie—who was uncharacteristically wearing jeans and a hoody—performed what became his final live rendition of his iconic track ‘Heroes’ to rapturous applause. While the crowd didn’t detect any issues at the time, bassist Gail Ann Dorsey who was on the stage, could tell Bowie was struggling. “I remember we were playing the song ‘Reality’,” she remembered. “He was supposed to be singing at the very end of the song, and he wasn’t. I was kind of watching him from behind. Everyone was soaking wet because it was really hot in there, but his shirt was just drenched. He was just soaking wet and holding the microphone out with his left hand straight out. And he was just standing there, posturing, but not singing. And I was thinking, ‘Why is he not singing the last bit?’
“Then he looked over his shoulder at me and he was just white, pale, translucent almost. His eyes were wide and he was kind of gasping for air a little bit, having trouble catching his breath. And then I remember looking down at the audience, and I could see their expressions in the front row, looking up at him, had changed. They went from joy and dancing to looking kind of concerned. At that point, his bodyguard and helper guy saw the same thing. He ran onto the stage and took him off. We went back on and played a few more songs. He asked for a stool and he sat down. He just hated to cancel shows.”
She added: “I remember walking down the stairs behind him after we finished. When he got to the bottom, he actually collapsed. He was so tired and so sick. They rushed him to the hospital and we sat and waited in Hamburg for a few days, and that was the end. The last show.”
As part of his final headline show, Bowie’s rendition of ‘Heroes’ closed the set with emphatic triumph. The song, which was co-written by Bowie and Brian Eno and subsequently produced longterm contributor Tony Visconti, was released on 23 September 1977 as the lead single from his 12th studio album of the same name.
See the amazing performance, below.