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David Bowie's sexuality and his relationship with Rolling Stones frontman Mick Jagger

When David Bowie began his career in the 1960s, he had stated that he wanted to create a sound that was akin to that of The Rolling Stones. “I didn’t get that near to it, but it had a feeling that I wanted,” he said, before adding: “That ’60s thing.” Bowie and Jagger’s relationship was one of theatrics, dressed up and designed to shock and entertain. 

While the two had a certain closeness, there was an underlying tension between the two; it might sound strange, but they shared a brotherhood – perhaps an incestuous one. Bowie had adored Jagger and thought that he was the bee’s knees. Bowie said in an interview with William Burroughs in the Rolling Stone: “Jagger is most certainly a mother figure and he’s a mother hen to the whole thing. He’s not a cock-a-doodle-doo; he’s much more like a brothel-keeper or a madame.”

In return, Jagger delivered the same kind of loving but yet prickly envy: “I wonder how long he’s going to last,” he said in the NME in 1974. “I really shouldn’t talk about Bowie because I know him too well and know his fears and his hauntings.” 

While Bowie greatly aspired to be Jagger in the early days, especially on his 1973 record, Aladdin Sane, which was based on the bold Jagger statement of “the only performance that makes it – that really makes it – is the one that achieves madness.” Later on, Jagger wanted to be like Bowie, envious of his chameleonic ability. Bowie changed constantly, while Jagger – for the most part – remained the same. 

Bowie would even cover a Stones song on Aladdin Sane, the album that Bowie has described as ‘Ziggy Stardust in America’. His version of ‘Let’s Spend The Night Together’ was amped up and very flamboyant in its way. The Stones song appeared as the B-Side to ‘Ruby Tuesday’, the single released in Britain, in 1967. While the American release was included on their ’67 record, Between The Buttons. 

In many ways, Aladdin Sane is an ode to Jagger and the Stones. The album’s opener, ‘Watch That Man’, is essentially Bowie trying to sing like Jagger.

David Bowie envied other successful musicians, although Mick Jagger was at the centre of Bowie’s early obsession with rock ‘n’ roll. While Bowie’s strength lies in his chameleonic ability, his weakness was the same thing: his inability to have one true identity. Some would say this was linked to Bowie’s fear that he had the schizophrenic gene that was on his mother’s side of the family; his half-brother Terry was in and out of hospital for years until he eventually committed suicide in the mid-1980s. 

Mental illness and ‘being crazy’ is a theme that arose repeatedly throughout Bowie’s work. “When I heard someone say something intelligent, I used it later as if it were my own,” he once said. “When I saw a quality in someone that I liked, I used it later as if it were my own.” 

He also added, “Sometimes I don’t feel I’m a person at all. I’m just a collection of other people’s ideas – I honestly feel that there is something incredibly lacking in my life, and I’m not quite sure what it is.”

In 1985, Jagger and Bowie parodied their obsession with one another when they did a duet of ‘Dancing In The Street’, with the proceeds of this record and music video went to the Live Aid famine relief fund. It seemed innocent enough, to the point of whimsical, but one would be remiss to not acknowledge the underlying sexual tension in the subtext of the performance.

It was a huge success, reaching number one in the UK and number seven in the US. The video was directed by David Mallet, which further propelled its popularity.

However, the question remains, how far did the two really take it? Let’s explore the facts.

Were Davi Bowie and Mick Jagger lovers?

The epicentre of Bowie and Jagger’s relationship was, in a way, a spectacle. If anything, they were more interested in media attention but were still exploring their sexualities together; this was more of a symptom of the countercultural attitude of the time rather than two declaring their sexualities as an artistic statement.

Christopher Andersen who is the author of Mick: The Wild Life and Mad Genius of Jagger – according to The Sydney Morning Herald – wrote: “Bowie and Jagger were soon spotted everywhere together without their wives: sitting ringside at the Muhammad Ali-Ken Norton bout, hanging out at the London disco Tramp, yelling and stomping their approval at a Diana Ross concert, or just cuddling up together on a hotel room couch.”

There was definitely a romantic element to their relationship; the two of them allegedly engaged in many three-some sexual acts. Ava Cherry, a backing singer, is known to have come out and confirmed this story as she was one of the ‘third wheels’: “Even though I was in bed with them many times, I ended up just watching them have sex,” Cherry confirmed, according to The Sydney Morning Herald.

Playboy model, Bebe Buell is another woman who has confirmed having sexual escapades with both men. She stated: “I used to get some pretty strange phone calls from Mick and David at three in the morning,” she had told Andersen for his book on Jagger. Adding: “Inviting me to join them in bed with four gorgeous black women – or four gorgeous black men.”

The most famous incident involving Bowie’s seemingly gay affairs was when his ex-wife, Angie, allegedly caught the two in bed in 1973. She came back to London from being away and caught the two in bed together, saying: “They were naked.”

She recalled to the NME: “I walked into the bedroom and David was there with all these pillows and duvets on top of him and on the other side of the bed was Mick’s leg sticking out,” she explained. “I said: ‘Did you guys have a good night?’ They were so hungover they could hardly speak. I took pity on them.”

Even despite this, Angie who witnessed the level of their intimacy up close, said: “I don’t think it was a big love affair (with Mick),” before adding: “It was probably more drunken pawing.”

Although it wasn’t a real love affair, Angie did mention that this wouldn’t be the last time she caught Bowie in bed with a man. “I caught him in bed with men several times. In fact, the best time I caught him in bed was with Mick Jagger,” she said according to The Grunge.

The question still remains: was this affair serious, or was it just the thing to do back in the day? Angie continued: “There are two ways of looking at that incident. One was that it was just a thoroughly normal London scene: Best friends stagger home drunk or stoned from some night spot or party or whatever, strip off their clothes somehow, and fall into bed and pass out.”

The other way of looking at the incident is that both musician’s innate desire for attention; sexuality as performance art. Bowie welcomed the ambiguity; if Bowie’s sexuality was no longer a mystery, the media would not pester him anymore.

David Bowie and Angie after their wedding on March 19th 1970. (Credit: Alamy)

What did David Bowie say about his sexuality?

When understanding Bowie’s sexuality, it is important to keep in mind the context of his innumerable personalities.

“I take on the guises of different people I meet,” he once said. “I can switch accents in seconds of meeting someone. I’ve always found that I collect – I’m a collector. I’ve just always seemed to collect personalities – ideas. I have hotchpotch philosophy.”

This is partly the reason why Bowie never gave one direct answer to the media as he was continuously pestered about his sexuality. He never took these questions seriously. “I wanted to be well-known and turn people onto new things.” ‘Turning on’ is the key phrase here.

Jagger never played with sexuality the same way that Bowie did. For David Bowie, sexuality was kind of a publicity stunt, whereas in the case of Jagger, everyone knew that he just simply screwed everything that moved. The press loved questioning Bowie about his sexuality because he always kept it ambiguous.

US Magazine later published Bowie’s comments on this ambiguity: “About 15 or 16 years ago, I really got pretty tired of fending off questions about what I used to do with my [penis] in the early seventies. My suggestion for people with prurient interests is to go through the 30 or 40 bios on me and pick out the rumour of their choice.”

David Bowie famously liked to play around with the term ‘sexuality’. (Credit: Alamy)

Was David Bowie gay or bisexual?

Regardless of its importance, this question pops up as a relentless debate between the most adoring David Bowie fans – and has done for as long as the Starman began dominating the charts.

The idea that Bowie used the ambiguity surrounding his sexuality as a media stunt can be traced to around 1972 when he announced that he was gay. This was right around the time Bowie rolled out his Ziggy Stardust alter ego at the heels of his 1971 record, Hunky Dory.  

It was a ploy to further fabricate the extravagant nature of Bowie and the extension of his personality which allowed him to fully embody the androgynous rock ‘n’ roll paragon; Ziggy Stardust

During a televised interview, which resembled many of the interviews he did throughout his career, the reporter began asking Bowie about his sexuality: “You’ve been asked the question whether you’re bisexual or not,” to which Bowie interjects with “too many times.” 

“Yes, you’ve never quite answered it,” the reporter continued. Bowie responded by saying, “Oh yes I have, I said I was bisexual, that’s enough.” Relentlessly, the reporter was not satisfied with her answer and pressed: “Does that mean though, you ‘really’ are or does it mean you’re keeping some kind of” – before the reporter could finish her question, Bowie interjected again; “I’ve answered the question.”

Bowie put it to rest. 

David Bowie applying his Ziggy make-up. (Credit: Alamy)

What was David Bowie’s sexuality?

While this may seem like a redundant question, Bowie’s sexuality means more than just his sexual preference in a cultural context.

Whether Bowie was straight, gay, or bi-sexual – it didn’t really matter – Bowie was a sexual symbol for liberation.

Upon Bowie’s passing in 2016, the folk singer, songwriter, Mary Gauthier tweeted: “David Bowie showed this queer kid from Baton Rouge that gender outlaws are cool. Androgyny=rock&roll, not a reason to kill myself.” 

Bowie believed in sexuality as an extension of a grand performance – as an act of counterculture. “Sex has never really been shocking,” he told Playboy in 1976, “It was just the people who performed it who were.”

As he got older, Bowie would contradict himself. In 1976, he told a journalist that “was just a lie, I’ve never done a bisexual action in my life, on stage, on record, or anywhere else.”

Bowie would add that, according to music writer Simon Reynolds: “As the years went on it became a thing where, sexually, I was pretty much with women the majority of the time. But I still had a lot of the trappings of gay society about me. In terms of the way I would parade or costume myself or my attitudes in some of the interviews I did – It seemed to be the one taboo that everyone was too afraid to break.”

He also added, “I thought – well, if there’s one thing that’s going to put me on the edge, this is it. Long hair didn’t mean much anymore.”