Growing up in working-class England, Ricky Gervais idolized David Bowie. Then, once ‘The Office’ became a hit in the U.K., the two struck up a friendship that lasted more than a decade and resulted in one of Gervais’ most hilarious moments on television, when Bowie serenaded his schlubby actor character as a “chubby little loser” in a 2006 episode of the BBC/HBO series ‘Extras.’ A choked-up Gervais spoke with THR just hours after hosting the Golden Globes and learning of Bowie’s death.
After the show I saw the tweets and was trying to find out if it were a hoax — and it wasn’t. Our relationship was bizarre and surreal, and I felt so privileged to know him. I never forgot he was my hero, even when he became my friend. I somehow divorced the two concepts in my head. When I talked to people, I talked about this rock star who changed my whole outlook. He put my life in color. He made me believe: You can do anything; you’re a working-class kid in Reading; creativity is freedom. Ability is a poor man’s wealth. I loved everything he did. He never let me down, even at the end. I’ve never seen a more dignified ending.
I was looking at an email he sent me a few weeks ago. It was as funny and fresh and smart as any in the last 10 years I knew him. That’s integrity. That’s f—ing privacy. All this about being one of the most worshipped artists in the world — he never fell for it. I remember the first time I went to see him, I didn’t know what to say. “You’re here for Mr. Jones?” I smiled — of course I was. Right then, David Bowie didn’t exist. His apartment was as amazing as you’d imagine. There was a 3D Picasso-esque sculpture in the middle — beautiful. He said, “My daughter likes to hit that with a hammer.”
I wrote the Extras scene about meeting your hero and him not being what you thought. I wrote the lyrics and called him and he said, “Sorry, I was eating a banana.” I thought that was funny. I asked if he could do something retro, something like “Life on Mars?” He said [sarcastically], “Sure, I’ll just knock off a quick little ‘Life on Mars?’ for you.” We laughed. And then he came and did the show and gave us exactly what Bowie was.
Later he was doing a benefit in New York for The High Line [park] and wanted me to do the show in Madison Square Garden. I said yes, “but only if you introduce me.” So he came out in a tuxedo, the crowd goes completely crazy, and then, a cappella, he started in with, ‘Chubby little loser … Please welcome Ricky Gervais.’ ” So that’s two highlights of my career with the same man.
This article originally appeared on The Hollywood Reporter.