Persona pt2: Run for the Shadows

“A Nasty Character Indeed” David Bowie has said of him. “The Thin White Duke” is the controversial persona that emerged during Bowie´s drug fueled mid Seventies.

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“A Nasty Character Indeed” David Bowie has said of him. “The Thin White Duke” is the controversial persona that emerged during Bowie´s drug fueled mid Seventies.

David Bowie took on many different personas during his long career. In the early seventies there was Major Tom, Ziggy Stardust, Aladdin Sane, Halloween Jack. These were all androgynous, colorful characters with very extravagant wardrobes and they followed Bowie into stardom.

As his fame grew, David Bowie developed a severe drug addiction. Living in the drug infested social scene of L.A at the time, he has said he lived on “a diet of red peppers, milk and cocaine”. He has later described the mid Seventies as the most dreadful, darkest period of his life, where he really couldn’t function without drugs and feared for his mental health.

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David Bowie´s alter ego The Thin White Duke on stage.
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David Bowie as Thomas Jerome Newton the humanoid alien in the film The Man Who Fell to Earth.

In 1976, David Bowie starred in the film The Man Who Fell to Earth and with that a new persona emerged, called The Thin White Duke. The persona’s look and character are somewhat based on Thomas Jerome Newton, the character Bowie played in The Man Who Fell to Earth, but had really started appearing during his Young Americans tour the previous year.

The Thin White Duke was very different from Bowie´s earlier personas. He was dressed in proper black and white, with short, blond hair and a ghostlike, very pale, emaciated appearance. The persona has been described as “a mad aristocrat”, “an amoral zombie”, and “an emotionless Aryan superman”. Bowie himself described the character as “A very Aryan, fascist type; a would-be romantic with absolutely no emotion at all”. The Duke was a hollow man who sang songs of romance with an agonizing intensity while feeling nothing. The Thin White Duke became a controversial figure due to pro-fascist statements made by David Bowie in interviews during this period. After making the comments though, Bowie claimed that they were theatrical remarks made in character and did not reflect his actual views.

Photographer Stefan Almers amazing images of Bowie as The Thin White Duke from 1976. Check them out at his website.
Run for the shadows, run for the shadows Bowie sings on Station to Station.

During the period Bowie created some of his most artistically recognized music, on the album Station to Station. But he has also been widely criticized for the strange fascist statements he made as The Thin White Duke and has later had to answer for his behavior on many occasions. He has explained his offensive statements, erratic behavior, and fascination with Nazi and occult symbols during that time as a result of his precarious mental state and extensive drug use.

The album Station to Station.

In 1976 he realized he hade to clean up his life and health and moved to Berlin. After that, he made no more appearances as The Thin White Duke.