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David Bowie’s Years as a Rock Recluse

Videos and photographs from Bowie’s lost period

David Bowie

Hogan/Getty

David Bowie fans woke up to some pretties shocking news this morning: a new album entitled <em>The Next Day</em> was coming out in March. It's been over nine years since he last released a studio album, and he hasn't done a concert since a heart attacked prematurely ended his <em>Reality</em> world tour. There's no word on whether or not he plans on hitting the road in 2013. 

Bowie's 2003/04 tour was absolutely stellar, though it had somewhat of a rough ending. At an Oslo show on June 18th, 2004, a fan threw a lollipop that hit him right in the eye – causing Bowie to scream out in pain and rage. Just five days later, Bowie called short a concert in Prague. He claimed he had a pinched nerve in his shoulder. What he didn't realize that was on the verge of having a massive heart attack. Some think his health problems are what caused him to leave the limelight all these years, but he returned to the stage a year after the heart attack and kept popping up through late 2006. A comeback concert was scheduled for New York in 2007, but he called it off. 

All has been quiet on the Bowie front since then, making the news of a new album all the more shocking. Here's a look back at his decade of reclusiveness.

By Andy Greene

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June 25th, 2004

Bowie was in incredible pain that night at the Hurricane Festival in Scheesel, Germany. He had shortened a show just two days earlier over what he thought was a pinched nerve. He didn't look great, but somehow, he took the stage on June 25th and got through the full set, wearing a hooded sweatshirt. After a final encore of "Ziggy Stardust" he went backstage and collapsed. He was taken to a hospital by a helicopter and underwent immediate surgery. The rest of the tour was cancelled. 

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September 8th, 2005

The world first saw Bowie perform post-heart attack at Fashion Rocks, taped at Radio City Music Hall. Accompanied only by keyboardist Mike Garson, he played a spine-tingling version of "Life on Mars." Bizarrely, he's sported a black eye and a bandaged arm during the performance. It looked like he just got into a fight. "He was out of practice, almost a little scared," Paul Trynka wrote in his wonderful Bowie biography Starman. "Tonight, even in the low key, the glorious octave leap up to 'Mars' that had launched a career was no longer effortless and transcendent; it spoke of pain."

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September 8th, 2005 (Part Two)

Later in the Fashion Rocks show, Bowie joined Arcade Fire for "Five Years" and "Wake Up." He was clearly a fan of the Canadian band: The previous year, he'd checked out Arcade Fire's show at the Bowery Ballroom. Whether it's Iggy Pop in the 1970s or Nine Inch Nails in the 1990s, the man always likes to work with the very best. Three days later Bowie performed with them again in Central Park. At the time, it really seemed like Bowie was gearing up for more activity. 

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May 29th, 2006

Fans who saw David Gilmour at London's Royal Albert Hall in May of 2006 got a pretty amazing surprise: Bowie came out to perform "Comfortably Numb" and the Syd Barrett-era Pink Floyd song "Arnold Layne." It's unclear whether or not either of them knew that Barrett was extremely sick at the time, but he died of pancreatic cancer just five weeks later. 

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November 9th, 2006

Six months after playing with David Gilmour, David Bowie did a three-song set at the Keep A Child Alive benefit at New York's Hammerstein Ballroom. He played "Wild Is The Wind," "Fantastic Voyage" and "Changes" as a duet with Alicia Keys. He was backed by Mike Garson for "Wild Is The Wind," and Keys' backing band for the other two tracks, and walked offstage hand-in-hand with Keys. He hasn't performed on a stage in the seven years since this performance. 

David Bowie

Michael Loccisano/Getty Images for Tribeca Film Festival

April 30th, 2009

In May of 2006, Bowie announced that was going to curate the inaugural High Line festival in New York. "It will culminate in an enormous outdoor David Bowie concert," said a press release. "His first full show in New York City since the Reality Tour hit Madison Square Garden on December 15, 2003." A few months later, the bad news hit. "Due to ongoing work on a new project, David Bowie has announced that it will not be possible for him to perform," said a press release. That "new project" hasn't seen the light of day. Instead, Bowie retreated almost completely from the public view – popping up only occasionally at a public event. Here he is with his son Duncan Jones at the premiere of his movie Moon in April of 2009. 

David Bowie and Iman

Kambouris/Getty

June 7th, 2010

Bowie may have retreated into the shadows, but his wife Iman remains a highly visible fashion model. Here's the couple at the CDFA Fashion Awards at Lincoln Center in June of 2010. That same month, the New York Times actually got a quote out of Bowie in a long story about Iman. "I’m not thinking of touring," he said. “I’m comfortable.” The piece noted that Bowie paints and collects 20th-century British art. 

David Bowie and Jeff Beck

Busacca/Getty Images for Gibson

June 8th, 2010

In the first year after his heart attack, Bowie was regularly spotted at concerts around New York City. It's a much more rare event these days. The day after the 2010 CFDA Fashion Awards, however, he did pop into the Iridium in Times Square to see Jeff Beck perform a tribute to Les Paul. The show featured Imelda May, Brian Setzer and Gary U.S. Bonds, but Bowie never made it onto the stage. He sat at a table with Beck's manager Harvey Goldsmith and seemed to have a great time, though. 

David Bowie Spiderman

Peterson/BuzzFoto/FilmMagic

June 19th, 2011

Bowie had the misfortune of seeing Broadway's Spiderman: Turn Off the Dark about two months after its first preview. It was a long way from being done at that point and critics lambasted it in reviews about a month later, which led to a complete overhaul of the show. The version Bowie saw still had the Geek Chorus and a huge role for Arachne. If Bowie had a Twitter account or a blog, we might have heard his thoughts on the musical. Instead, we're forced to rely on the expression he had on his face when photographers caught him leaving the show. It doesn't look like he enjoyed it very much. 

David Bowie an Rihanna

Walker/Getty Images for DKMS

April 28th, 2011

This past April, Bowie and Iman attended a leukemia fundraiser at Cipriani in downtown New York City. Rihanna was there too, and this great shot was taken of Bowie meeting the pop singer. Rihanna's debut album came out over a year after Bowie's heart attack, so they probably hadn't been at many events together before. This may have been their first actual meeting. Hopefully after shaking his hand, she said to him, "When are you putting out a new album? What is going on? Everybody really misses you." 

david bowie 2013

Jimmy King

January 8th, 2013

The press release entitled "Where is David Bowie" came out at the incredibly inconvenient time of 2:02 AM. Kudos to the Bowie came for keeping a tight lid on this. There ere some small rumors he was gearing up for a return over the past few months, but nothing close to solid information. Then, without warning, there's a new single, a video and a date for a new album. The first single, "Where Are We Now?," is produced by Bowie's longtime collaborator Tony Visconti and features Tony Levin on bass. Now the big question: is he going to tour? Might he even appear at Coachella? We have absolutely no idea. 

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