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David Bowie interview: Clark Collis remembers

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Christina Radish/Redferns

In the spring of 2002, I sat down with David Bowie at a New York City hotel and, among other questions, asked the singer what he thought was the biggest misconception people had about him. “The biggest misconception about me is that I have no sense of humor,” replied Bowie, who died Sunday at the age of 69, following an 18-month battle with cancer. “I probably was a bit [serious] — but only because I’m very shy. That’s probably one of the reasons I got so heavily into drugs: when you’re doing coke, you talk enough for several people…”

Although I would describe myself as more of an admirer than a diehard fan of the Thin White Duke and his multifarious works, the days prior were nerve-wracking ones. Even back in 2002, Bowie was a long time member of rock royalty and — as my research amply demonstrated — was not always the most amenable of interviews, particularly in his younger, drugs-blasted days. The only reason he was agreeing to be interviewed was to publicize his most recent release, the album Heathen, which, to be honest, was not something I planned on spending more than a few minutes talking with him about. Why? Because I was interviewing the singer for Blender, a now-defunct, upstart magazine with a reputation for asking the kind of snarky and/or personally intrusive questions, which almost seemed designed to infuriate a man who was releasing classic albums while your reporter was still mastering basic speech.

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I needn’t have worried. True, being in close proximity with anyone quite that famous is always a somewhat odd experience — doubly so when that person has a permanently dilated eye as the result of a teenage fight. But during the near hour-long interview, Bowie proved a hugely entertaining conversationalist and raconteur as he gamely tackled such impish queries as “Who was your first love?,” “How many houses do you own?”, “How would your career have been different without cocaine?”, and “When Iggy Pop was in a psychiatric hospital in 1975, is it true that you brought him drugs to cheer him up?”

And you know what? It was true!

“Yeah,” laughed Bowie. “If I remember right, it was me and Dennis Hopper. We trooped into the hospital with a load of drugs for him. This was very much a leave-your-drugs-at-the-door hospital. We were out of our minds, all of us. He wasn’t well; that’s all we knew. We thought should bring him some drugs, because he probably hadn’t had any for days!”

While Bowie can be faulted over his treatment of the mentally troubled he was right about possessing a good sense of humor. When I asked him to recall the last good joke he had heard, the rock legend told an absolute corker, one which remains among my favorites to this day. Hopefully it won’t be considered too inappropriate to repeat here — I’m certain he would not have cared.

“Dopey Dwarf says to the Pope, ‘Are there any dwarf nuns in Rome?'” Bowie began. “The Pope says, ‘No.’ ‘Are there any dwarf nuns in Italy?’ ‘No.’ ‘Are there any dwarf nuns anywhere in the world?’ The Pope says, ‘I’m sorry, my son — no, there aren’t.’ The rest of the dwarves start singing: ‘Dopey f—ed a penguin! Dopey f—ed a penguin!'”

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