Ok, so even if you’re not a David Bowie fanatic, you might remember this story. It involves not only the late singer but actor and Easy Rider legend Dennis Hopper sneaking in drugs to an incarcerated punk legend Iggy Pop back in 1975. Oh yeah, and did we mention that they were wearing space suits at the time? So basically, everything you need in a story.
At the time, Iggy was voluntarily in a psych ward following the growing issues with his drug addiction which had not only jeopardised his career but his life. When your back is against the wall, anyone will tell you, friends are usually few and far between. Normally, a few will come through for you. For Iggy Pop, those friends were none other than Dennis Hopper, Dean Stockwell and the legendary David Bowie. But while they were good friends, they weren’t necessarily good influences.
Iggy had his back against the wall after nosediving into cocaine addiction after The Stooges disbanded and left Iggy stranded in L.A. without a hope in hell, let alone a band to play with. Surrounded by the growing cocaine problem in California, the rock and roller struggled to find any resolve to quit drugs. Lester Bangs gives us the state of play on the night of The Stooges’ implosion set Iggy down a dark path.
“The audience, which consisted largely of bikers, was unusually hostile, and Iggy, as usual, fed on that hostility, soaked it up and gave it back and absorbed it all over again in an eerie, frightening symbiosis. “All right,” he finally said, stopping a song in the middle, “you assholes wanta hear ‘Louie, Louie,’ we’ll give you ‘Louie, Louie.’” So the Stooges played a forty-five-minute version of “Louie Louie,” including new lyrics improvised by the Pop on the spot consisting of “You can suck my ass / You biker faggot sissies,” etc.
By now the hatred in the room is one huge livid wave, and Iggy singles out one heckler who has been particularly abusive: “Listen, asshole, you heckle me one more time, and I’m gonna come down there and kick your ass.” “Fuck you, you little punk,” responds the biker. So Iggy jumps off the stage, runs through the middle of the crowd, and the guy beats the shit out of him, ending the evening’s musical festivities by sending the lead singer back to his motel room and a doctor.
“I walk into the dressing room, where I encounter the manager of the club offering to punch out anybody in the band who will take him on. The next day the bike gang, who call themselves the Scorpions, will phone WABX-FM and promise to kill Iggy and the Stooges if they play the Michigan Palace on Thursday night. They do (play, that is), and nobody gets killed, but Metallic K.O. is the only rock album I know where you can actually hear hurled beer bottles breaking against guitar strings.”
That was the catalyst for Iggy’s deep dive into depression and addiction. He spent his days completely out of his face and it would eventually see Pop on the couch of former Stooges man James Williamson before finding his place on the streets. Pop was arrested several times for various misdemeanours and found himself in court facing either prison or rehab. Iggy picked rehab. It was during rehab that Iggy was diagnosed with hypomania and although much better than prison, he struggled to connect at the UCLA facility.
His doctor at UCLA, Dr. Murry Zucker, shared this on what he thinks might make up the frenetic brain of Iggy Pop: “I always got the feeling [Iggy] enjoyed his brain so much he would play with it to the point of himself not knowing what was up and what was down. At times, he seemed to have complete control of turning this on and that on, playing with different personas, out-Bowie-ing David Bowie, as a display of the range of his brain. But then at other times, you get the feeling he wasn’t in control – he was just bouncing around with it. It wasn’t just lack of discipline; it wasn’t necessarily bipolar, it was God knows what”.
From David Bowie’s 2012 book The Golden Years, it is said that actor Dean Stockwell visited Iggy Pop at UCLA alongside Bowie allegedly dressed up in space suits, completely stoned and screaming “We want to see Jimmy. Let us in!”. According to Iggy, they were actually let in on account of the staff at the facility being starstruck by the pair. When inside Pop’s room Bowie and Stockwell duly broke out the blow and decided to share with Iggy who gladly took the peace parcel from outer space. Although, from Bowie’s account, it was actually Dennis Hopper who accompanied the starman.
“If I remember it right, it was me and Dennis Hopper. We trooped into the hospital with a load of drugs for (Iggy) him. This was very much a leave-your-drugs-at-the-door hospital. We were out of our minds, all of us. He wasn’t well; that’s all we knew. We thought we should bring him some drugs because he probably hadn’t had any for days!”
Now it would be easy for us to sit back here and judge Bowie for smuggling in the coke. In fact, in all honesty, we probably should. But when looking back at the annals of rock and roll history these are the stories that tickle our nostalgia bones. And we can do so because of the huge positive impact Bowie is known to have had on Pop, from Iggy’s own words:
“By 1975, I was totally into drugs, and my willpower had been vastly depleted. But still, I had the brains to commit myself to a hospital, and I survived with willpower and a lot of help from David Bowie. I survived because I wanted to.”