David Bowie met John Lennon at a party on 20 September 1974.
Bowie had met Hollywood star Elizabeth Taylor at his concert in Anaheim on 16 September. They quickly became good friends, and she invited him to the 21st birthday party for Dean Martin’s son Ricci on Mountain Drive in Beverly Hills.
Upon his arrival Bowie went looking for Taylor, and found her talking to Lennon, his partner May Pang, and Elton John.
Elton John reappeared to tell us about a birthday party for Ricci Martin, Dean Martin’s son. The party was to be held at the home of Martin’s estranged wife, Jeanne, and the guest list included Elizabeth Taylor.
John was very excited. ‘I’ve never met Elizabeth,’ he said. ‘I’m dyin’ to go.’
The party took place in a lavish Beverly Hills mansion, and there was a large buffet table and a bar. John and I stood in one corner, searching for stars we had never seen in person before. While we looked over the crowd, everyone was busy staring at us. Even though John always liked to meet really famous people, he was still the most famous person in the room. We slowly made our way through the house, chatting with whoever approached us.
‘Where’s Elizabeth?’ John asked. ‘I want to see Elizabeth.’
Forty minutes after we arrived, Elizabeth Taylor sailed into the room. The party stopped dead while everyone turned to stare at her. There was a star! I was surprised to see how small she was, because everything about her was larger than life. Her hair was teased up in an elaborate hairdo that towered above her head. Her extraordinary violet eyes were lined in thick beads of violet eyeshadow. She made no concession to her weight and she was costumed in a paneled paisley dress, each panel a different shade of pink. Around her neck she wore one huge diamond surrounded by a cluster of large emeralds. She was dazzling.
Like teenage boys, John and Elton nervously approached her. She beamed when she saw them. ‘Oh,’ she said, ‘I’m so pleased to meet you.’ John and Elton responded to her genuine delight. They both did their best to amuse her. She laughed merrily at their lines and threw in a number of her own.
When David Bowie arrived, she seized his arm and said, ‘David, do you know John?’
‘No, but I’ve always wanted to meet him.’ Bowie flashed his bright smile at John. There was a look of genuine admiration in his eyes. John, who found Bowie’s music fascinating, was very cordial. David had great charm and was also very funny. The dialogue began to flow even more quickly.
The group finally broke up, and David announced, ‘I’ve got to go. I’ve got to go.’ He turned to leave. Later in the evening we found him in deep conversation with Elizabeth Taylor on a couch in a deserted room at the back of the house. John and I stared at them. The screen goddess and the porcelain-faced, orange-haired rock star made a startling-looking couple. Yet, sitting there, gazing into each other’s eyes, they seemed to be long-lost friends, sharing their most intimate secrets. ‘May, John, join us,’ Elizabeth called out when she spotted us, and we sat down beside them. In a few minutes all of the remaining guests had crowded into the little back room, and once again we were surrounded by onlookers.
On the way home John and I talked about how much we had liked Elizabeth Taylor. ‘She’s not rock ‘n’ roll,’ said John. ‘She’s not like us. She comes from another school. We get crazy as we get older. She’s been trained to deal with things.’
On 8 May 1999 Bowie was given an honorary doctorate at Berklee College of Music. He referenced his first encounter with Lennon during his commencement address.
The seductive thing about John was his sense of humour. Surrealistically enough, we were first introduced in about 1974 by Elizabeth Taylor. Miss Taylor had been trying to get me to make a movie with her. It involved going to Russia and wearing something red, gold and diaphanous. Not terribly encouraging, really. I can’t remember what it was called – it wasn’t On The Waterfront, anyway, I know that.
We were in LA, and one night she had a party to which both John and I had been invited. I think we were polite with each other, in that kind of older-younger way. Although there were only a few years between us, in rock and roll that’s a generation, you know? Oh boy, is it ever.
So John was sort of [in Liverpool accent] ‘Oh, here comes another new one.’ And I was sort of, ‘It’s John Lennon! I don’t know what to say. Don’t mention the Beatles, you’ll look really stupid.’
And he said, ‘Hello, Dave.’ And I said, ‘I’ve got everything you’ve made – except the Beatles.’
Also on this day...
- 1995: Live: SkyDome, Toronto
- 1990: Live: Sambódromo, Rio de Janeiro
- 1990: Press conference: Rio Palace Hotel, Rio de Janeiro
- 1972: Travel: New York to Cleveland, Ohio
- 1968: Television: 4-3-2-1 Musik Für Junge Leute
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