Guy Peellaert’s artwork for Diamond Dogs had the word ALIVE where David Bowie’s name appeared on the final release. This was the second and last of his albums to be issued under just his surname, following 1973’s Pinups.
In addition to the Bowie/canine hybrid, the Diamond Dogs cover also featured two female figures in the background. These were based on Alzoria Lewis and Johanna Dickens, who had been performers in the Cavalcade Variety Show at Coney Island Pleasure Park from the 1930s to the 1950s.
Lewis was born in 1912 with six fingers on each hand, stunted limbs, and six toes on one foot, and just one on the other. She performed under a variety of names, including the Turtle Girl, Walrus Girl, and Pig Woman.
Dickens was born with dwarfism in the 1920s, and was known as the Bear Girl. Although unrelated, the pair were often billed as sisters or cousins, and members of ‘The World’s Strangest Family’.
Bowie took delivery of the Diamond Dogs artwork on 7 March 1974. The following evening he attended the launch of Rock Dreams at the Rainbow Room, at the top of the London department store Biba. His album was released in May, five months before the Stones’ It’s Only Rock ‘N’ Roll.
Peellaert’s artwork caused consternation among RCA due to the dog’s genitals being on display.
Although Bowie’s label, RCA, initially gave the green light to the cover, its executives later had a change of heart and ordered the cover to be censored.
Richard Fiore was RCA’s production manager in the 1970s. When he saw Peellaert’s artwork he apprised the label of the issue, and was told to continue without change. However, as the album went into production he received a call ordering him to use replacement artwork with the genitals airbrushed out.
It was a costly decision for RCA, but presumably cheaper than losing sales to reluctant and conservative record sellers. It was also agreed to by Bowie, who later stated that “no record store would carry it. I let them do a reprint rather than lose the album completely.”
A batch of sleeves had been printed with the initial artwork, and a few were salvaged by label employees. These ultra rare versions became expensive collector’s items, and were sometimes counterfeited.
One of O’Neill’s photographs of the dog jumping was adapted for a portrait by Peellaert. It featured Bowie seated before the Manhattan skyline, with a copy of the novel The Immortal by Walter Ross at his feet.
This painting was considered for the inner gatefold cover for Diamond Dogs. Instead, however, a montage of cityscapes was used, made up of overlaid transparencies taken by MainMan photographer Leee Black Childers.