A Taxonomy of David Bowie’s Many Personas and Their Many Imitators

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Ziggy Stardust. Photo: Ray Stevenson/Rex/Shutterstock

It doesn’t take a rock expert to know that David Bowie’s musical influence has cast a large shadow ever since he broke out as a quasi-alien pop star with his 1972 classic The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders From Mars. But one could have never heard a note of Bowie’s music (including his new album) and still be wowed by the extent to which the man’s various guises have, as you can see here, inspired a multitude of artists. If imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, Bowie should be blushing. 

Bowie’s album Blackstar is out January 8.

Starry-Eyed Folkie (ca. 1969)

Photo: Courtesy of DC Entertainment

“Lucifer,” Sandman
Neil Gaiman’s 1989 comic finds Lucifer abandoning Hell. The character’s look was based on “young, folksinger-­period Bowie,” Gaiman told the Chicago Tribune. “I imagined Lucifer as a junkie angel, and young Bowie was the closest we got.”

 

Ziggy Stardust (ca. 1972)

Photo: Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images
Photo: Patrick McMullan

Scott Weiland
The late Stone Temple Pilots singer aped Bowie throughout his career, but the most blatant channeling was when he showed up as a faux Bowie for an all-star tribute to the Beatles at the 2005 Grammy Awards.

 

 

David Sylvian
The singer for art-pop band Japan was a walking Ziggy revival.

 

 

 

 

Mick Jagger
Jagger, as ever keeping an eye on the competition, took cues from Bowie for the Rolling Stones’ 1973 tour, sporting glitter, makeup, and spangly bodysuits.

 

 

 

Jobriath
Jobriath (born Bruce Wayne Campbell) was an American who, in 1973, took the idea of Ziggy to its extreme, wearing spacesuits, extravagant sweeps of eyeliner, and hair like a Brancusi sculpture.

 

 

Peter Murphy
Everyone in ’70s and ’80s goth rock group Bauhaus looked like Bowie­spawn, but none more than singer Murphy.

 

 

 

Mike Score
A Flock of Seagulls member Score’s most notable haircut, the flapping “winged” look, began as an attempt to shape his coif like Ziggy.

 

 

 

Aladdin Sane (ca. 1973)

Photo: Michael Putland/Getty Images

“Brian Slade,” Velvet Goldmine
Todd Haynes’s 1998 cinematic glam homage featured Jonathan Rhys Meyers as Bowie analogue Slade, with Haynes’s costume designer Sandy Powell raiding the exotic Aladdin Sane period for ideas, kitting up Slade in platform boots and glitter suits.

 

 

 “The Music Master,” Idoru
The “Music Master,” a virtual-reality tutor in William Gibson’s 1997 sci-fi novel, is a thinly veiled Bowie, complete with “a penchant for long, flowing coats” and allusions to having two different-colored irises (like D.B.).

 

 

Lady Gaga
Gaga has pillaged Bowie’s style throughout her career, but the most obvious homage was the cover image for her single “Applause” in 2013.

 

 

 

Diamond Dogs (ca. 1974)

Photo: Laurance Ratner/WireImage/Getty Images

Richard Butler
Bowie, meeting the Psychedelic Furs singer Butler in 1983 and noticing his suit, reportedly said, “Didn’t I wear that on my Diamond Dogs tour?”

 

 

 

Annie Lennox
In Eurythmics’ 1983 “Sweet Dreams (Are Made of This)” video, singer Lennox deftly displayed a Diamond Dogs–y carrottop hairdo.

 

 

 

David Werner
A now-obscure American rocker who pilfered freely from mid-’70s Bowie. See especially the covers of his Whizz Kid and Imagination Quota albums.

 

 

 

Plastic Soul Man (ca. 1975)

Photo: John Lynn Kirk/Redferns/Getty Images

Gary Numan
Numan, who scored with the single “Cars,” dressed like the machine men Bowie sang about. In 1979, Bowie cracked about Numan in the press: “To be honest, I never meant for cloning to be a part of the ’80s.”

 

 

Photo: Fin Costello/Redferns/Getty Images

Nick Rhodes
The Duran Duran keyboardist’s early-’80s look was the most Bowie-influenced of the band (quite an achievement), particularly with his ever-changing fluorescent hair colors.

 

 

 

St. Vincent
Annie Clark said that dying her hair in 2014 was a partial homage to Young Americans–era Bowie.

 

 

 

Thin White Duke (ca. 1976)

Photo: Terry O'Neill/Hulton Archive/Getty Images

“Albert Wesker”
The Resident Evil video games, which launched in 1996, featured the skeletal Bowie-esque villain Wesker.

 

 

 

Photo: Courtesy of Target

Keanan Duffty’s “Bowie” line
Designer Duffty offered a limited-­edition men’s collection for Target in fall 2007, creating, among other items, a tuxedo and vest in homage to the Thin White Duke.

 

 

 

Photo: Courtesy of Image Comics

“Lucifer,” The Wicked + the Divine
This female reincarnation of the fallen angel was the breakout star of Kieron Gillen and Jamie McKelvie’s 2014 comic-book series.

 

 

 

 

Peter Capaldi’s Doctor Who
The doctor’s 2014–15 costume (white shirt, black suit) took cues from Bowie’s latter-’70s outfits, reportedly per Capaldi’s suggestions.

 

 

 

The Berliner (ca. 1977–80)

Photo: Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images

Brett Anderson
The louche front man of early-’90s Britpop band Suede was a dead ringer for Bowie during the latter’s relatively subdued Berlin period.

 

 

 

Photo: Patrick McMullan

Tilda Swinton
Swinton has resembled Bowie so often that there’s a Tumblr dedicated to the idea that she and Bowie are the same person. A W magazine shoot, in which she resembled Bowie’s ’77 incarnation, makes a compelling argument.

 

 

Photo: Instagram

Iselin Steiro
This Norwegian model dressed as Bowie incarnations for a David Sims Paris Vogue spread in 2010, then appeared in the video for Bowie’s 2013 single “Stars (Are Out Tonight).”

 

 

“David,” Prometheus
For the Teutonic look of his character in this 2012 Alien spinoff, Michael Fassbender said, “I looked for inspiration in David Bowie and Greg Louganis.”

 

 


*This article appears in the December 28, 2015 issue of New York Magazine.