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David Bowie's Acting Career: 10 Film, TV & Theater Roles You Forgot (Or Missed Entirely)
For a rock star as lauded, beloved and imitated as David Bowie, there's still a healthy portion of his life that coasted by under the public radar.
We're talking about Bowie's substantial but comparatively neglected film career. Sure, Bowie fans know his arty sci-fi flick The Man Who Fell to Earth, his blood-sucking role in The Hunger and his turn as the Goblin King with a bulging groin in Labyrinth, but there's plenty more beyond that.
With the news of his Jan. 10 passing, it's hard to think of anything but Bowie. We're rounding up clips from Bowie's film, TV and theater career that you may have forgotten about, or missed entirely.
Just a Gigolo (1978)
In one of his earliest starring roles, Bowie plays a Great War veteran who resorts to prostitution to make ends meet. The film was panned by nearly everyone, and it disappointed Bowie, too. He signed up partially to meet screen legend Marlene Dietrich -- he modeled his Hunky Dory album cover after photos of her -- and although they shared the screen together, they never met in person. Her scenes were filmed in Paris and spliced into his, which were shot in Berlin.
If, like most of the world, you skipped this teen movie starring Vanessa Hudgens and Lisa Kudrow, you missed rare latter-day Bowie appearance on film. The legend plays himself in one scene, where he watches an online video of a fictional band and sends an email asking them to join his label. The character, played by Gaelan Connell, is so thrilled by the news that he trips and falls flat on his face, adopting a pose reminiscent of Bowie's Lodger album cover.
Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me (1992)
How do you make a bizarre movie even stranger? You bring in David Bowie for a completely random cameo as a missing FBI agent trapped in time/space who re-appears to talk some nonsense about Bob and the Man From Another Place before disappearing while screaming. It'll be interesting to see if they mention his character in the upcoming Twin Peaks TV series.
On 1971's Hunky Dory, Bowie sang "Andy Warhol, what a scream!" Twenty-five years later, Bowie played the art legend he idolized in Julian Schnabel's biopic about artist Jean-Michel Basquiat. Bowie's imitation of Warhol's droll, stultified vocal delivery is easily the best thing about this film.
SpongeBob Squarepants (2007)
Bowie lent his distinctive voice to SpongeBob Squarepants as Lord Royal Highness, keeper of the world's oldest bubble. Bowie's underwater cartoon character brings to mind a Blue Meanie from the Beatles' Yellow Submarine.
He's only got one line, but Bowie's surprise cameo in Zoolander was a jaw-dropping delight. And a fitting one at that -- outside of music, Bowie's cultural influence was felt most strongly in the fashion realm, where everyone from actors to designers took cues from him.
The Elephant Man (1980)
The same year David Lynch brought the true story to the big screen (but way before Bradley Cooper), David Bowie portrayed John Merrick in a Broadway version of The Elephant Man. Footage of that is hard to come by, but fortunately, parts of Bowie's starring Broadway debut are on YouTube. Critics lauded the vulnerability he brought to the role, which is readily apparent from the below segment.
On Ricky Gervais' biting showbiz comedy, Bowie made an appearance as a much snarkier version of himself, singing an impromptu tune about how Gervais' character was either a "chubby little loser" or a "pathetic little fat man." It's probably the funniest rock star appearance on a TV series, ever.
The Prestige (2006)
Bowie as Nikola Tesla -- a real-life inventor whose genius seemed to exist almost entirely apart from his time -- was a role almost too perfect for him. Despite appearing in just a few minutes of the film, Bowie's otherworldly presence resonates throughout the twisted story.
The Last Temptation of Christ (1988)
For concerned parents in the '70s who saw Bowie's brazen bisexuality as an assault on their children's souls, his role in Martin Scorsese's 1988 film The Last Temptation of Christ was fitting: Bowie played Pontius Pilate, the Roman prefect who washed his hands of Jesus' fate and thereby allowed him to be crucified.
Honorable Mention: Christiane F. (1981)
Bowie appears as himself in the film, delivering an electrifying performance of "Station to Station." He also did the film's soundtrack.