2000s – part two

David Bowie’s Reality album was released in September 2003, shortly before his final world tour.

It was produced by Tony Visconti, who had reunited with Bowie for the previous year’s Heathen. Visconti noted the positive difference Bowie’s decision to quit smoking had had on his vocal technique.

Recording David’s voice is very easy. He’s got great chops. He just goes in front of the mic without warming up at all. He’s gifted and he’s also intuitive – he knows how to sing…

Also, he recently gave up smoking, so he’s recaptured some of his high range. He’d lost at least five semitones, and he’s now gained most of them back. I mean, in the old days he used to sing ‘Life On Mars?’ in the key of C. Now he has to sing it in the key of G.

Tony Visconti
Sound On Sound, October 2003

In an interview with London’s Evening Standard newspaper, Bowie spoke about his struggles with giving up nicotine – and also his dedication to keeping fit and healthy, sparring in a New York gym, and taking a personal trainer on tour.

It’s hard. And it’s still going to be hard in 10 years…

I’m a fairly disciplined man. I don’t cut corners. And I can see that it really pays dividends to have put in a fair amount of training before going on tour. I mean, at 56 it’s not as easy as when you’re twenty-something.

David Bowie
Evening Standard, 20 November 2003
Embed from Getty Images

A Reality Tour kicked off in Denmark in October 2003, and ended prematurely in Hamburg, Germany, in June 2004.

During the penultimate show, in Prague on 23 June, Bowie left the stage after nine songs after suffering excruciating chest pains. His band played some songs without him, before he returned for just two more before the show was brought to an early close. “We didn’t know he was having a heart attack until four or five days later,” his bassist Gail Ann Dorsey later said.

The show in Hamburg was a festival, so it was a shorter set. I remember walking down the stairs behind him after we finished. When he got to the bottom, he actually collapsed. He was so tired and so sick. They rushed him to the hospital and we sat and waited in Hamburg for a few days, and that was the end. The last show.

He was a trouper. Before we went on he told me he was on these pills or muscle relaxers or whatever they were. He said, “I hate it.” He didn’t like doing drugs because he was sober. Those things are addictive and they bring back memories of being stoned. He was ready for the show, but he was feeling weird.

Gail Ann Dorsey
Rolling Stone, 25 January 2016

Bowie was diagnosed with an acutely blocked artery, and underwent an emergency angioplasty procedure.

David’s arterial heart disease was almost certainly lifestyle related. Long use of cocaine, for example, is known to stiffen artery walls, but since he stopped using cocaine perhaps twenty years earlier, I’d rule it out as a principle cause. The big factor is likely to have been David’s history of smoking.
Dr Michael Hunter, forensic pathologist
Autopsy: The Final Hours Of David Bowie, 17 June 2018

A long period of recuperation followed, during which Bowie kept a low profile. During the next decade he made only a handful of public appearances, including a Fashion Rocks event at New York’s Radio City Music Hall on 8 September 2005. During the show he performed alongside Arcade Fire, and afterwards spoke to The Sun’s Victoria Newton.

It’s great to be back. I loved every minute of being back on stage – I didn’t want to come off, I could have stayed up there all night. I feel fantastic at the moment.

After I had the heart attack I decided to take a year off and do nothing. I didn’t do any work and just made sure I looked after myself. I go to the gym, I don’t drink and I’m feeling really good today.

I gave up smoking six months before I had the heart attack – so that was worth it, wasn’t it! I started to give up when my daughter was born because I wouldn’t smoke in the house with her there so I had to go outside. It’s bloody cold in winter in New York, so I just quit.

As far as I’m concerned I lead a healthy lifestyle now so it did come as a bit of a shock to have a heart attack, but I feel on top of the world after tonight.

David Bowie
The Sun, 10 September 2005