David Bowie was a theatrical production of David Jones, and like all theater, he required many people behind the scenes, pulling up the curtains and sewing the costumes. His first wife, Angie, was never shy about claiming credit for her role in the making of Ziggy Stardust: As she wrote of their early life, she “had been not only his wife but his stage manager. I looked after security, the costumes, lighting, stage design and the sound. I wanted everything to be perfect to bring his creative vision to life.” Angie and David also had an open relationship, which allowed him to experiment with his sexuality, the kind of exploration made so much easier when there’s someone looking after you, someone who never lets you down.
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Bowie had as many muses as he did personae. Marlene Dietrich inspired him in the Thin White Duke era. Elizabeth Taylor introduced him to John Lennon and tried to get him to go to Russia to make a film in which he would wear, in his words, “something red, gold and diaphanous.” There was Edith Piaf and Shirley Bassey and transgender performer-artist Romy Haag, who sparkled for Bowie and Mick Jagger in Berlin nightclubs. Haag says Bowie was four hours late to a tour date once because he was staying with her in Germany: “He didn’t want to leave; that started his love affair with Berlin.” There was his early publicist and lover Cherry Vanilla, who says she fomented his passion for fashion by setting up shopping trips. (“After I’d arranged for him to shop privately at the new Yves Saint Laurent boutique on Madison Avenue and get the most fabulous black wool overcoat,” she wrote, “he came up the five flights of stairs to my apartment and f–ed me without ever taking off the coat.”)
Coco (aka Corinne) Schwab was his longtime assistant and right-hand woman. She looked after him, right down to his nutrition: In an early profile of Bowie, she goes to the market and picks up extra-rich milk, sighing, “I’ve got to put more weight on that boy.”
And then there was Iman, his wife of 23 years with whom he had a daughter, Alexandria, now 15. Iman allowed him to live as fully as David Jones in his family life as he did as Bowie onstage. “Having to share one’s life with somebody else, you tend to talk a lot more,” he told a reporter in 1999. “You’d better! I mean, I was quite content spending days without saying a word to anybody, quite alone, getting on with my own obsessive thing … When I met Iman and we started living together, I kind of realized how much I’d missed.”
This story originally appeared in the Jan. 23 issue of Billboard.