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Did the final Ziggy Stardust performance really end in an orgy?

48 years ago today, David Bowie killed off his most famous creation. Ziggy Stardust, the swaggering bisexual alien who played the guitar and commanded the youth through the upcoming apocalypse, was himself torn to shreds during a live performance at the Hammersmith Odeon on July 3, 1973, although not by the audience, as predicted in ‘Rock ‘n’ Roll Suicide’, but instead by the creator himself.

Having toured as the Ziggy character for nearly a year-and-a-half and achieving massive critical and commercial success, Bowie was desperate for a reset. No longer connecting with the glam-rock persona he conjured up, Bowie was now obsessed with the soul music emanating from American cities like Philadelphia and Detroit, and would soon transition out of glam rock entirely on 1975’s Young Americans.

The public, not yet accustomed to Bowie’s chameleon-like nature, responded with shock and disbelief that their hero would be leaving them at the height of his powers. The response was hysteria, fleeting terror, and apparently, a mass sexual release.

There is a persistent rumour that, upon Bowie’s onstage announcement of his retirement before the conclusion of the Hammersmith Odeon show, the audience engaged in a massive impromptu orgy, overcome with lust and emotional distress.

Why the audience channelled their grief into impromptu lasciviousness is anyone’s guess. The Ziggy Stardust character did have major sexual components, with Bowie infamously simulating fellatio on guitarist Mick Ronson during performances. But how the crowd decided to celebrate their final moments with the character by turning all that raw sexual power on themselves is unknown and, likely, largely untrue.

The ability to verify such salacious tales are damn near impossible, which leads to the logical conclusion that it most likely didn’t happen, at least in the way it persists in most people’s imaginations. Bowie never mentioned it during his lifetime, and the only Spider from Mars who ever acknowledged the rumour was pianist Mike Garrison, who neither explicitly confirms nor denies that an orgy took place. “I heard all those stories about what was going on in the audience and I tend to believe them,” he said. “I remember seeing crazy stuff.”

The only fan account that can be culled is from the 1985 book Stardust: The David Bowie Story. In it, a British woman by the name of Julie recounts the following experience:

“I was at the Hammersmith Odeon when Bowie killed off Ziggy in ’73. I got trampled to death! A lot of men were throwing off their underwear and showing their cocks all over the place. A lot of fluid was flying about. One girl was actually sucking someone off at the same time as trying to listen to what was going on. I thought it was so extraordinary because nobody had any inhibitions.

“I remember that around me nobody gave a shit really about doing these things because it was rumoured that maybe this was the last time Bowie would perform. Maybe this was the last time Ziggy would be here. And everyone’s got to get in on this because otherwise you’re just a square. So everyone just took their clothes off. And wanking was nothing. There was a guy next to me who was wanking in time to one track and I thought: My God! What does he do when he’s alone? Then I suddenly realised that all the things I’d been doing were perfectly OK. Because here were people doing it with each other and sharing it. How wonderful, you know. So get off on that. And I thought I’d never seen so many cocks in my life.”

Even within the book, the authors speculate as to whether the account is true or simply fiction. One would imagine that an entire concert hall stripped naked and free of inhibitions would permeate past the realm of simple whispered rumour, but such is the power and pull of David Bowie and Ziggy Stardust.

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