2000s – part three

For David Bowie’s penultimate album, 2013’s The Next Day, he mostly avoided publicity. One exception was an interview published by The Sun shortly after the release of lead single ‘Where Are We Now?’, in which he discussed knowledge he would liked to have had as a teenager.

Best advice, which I wish I had known at 18? Don’t do drugs.

I was told that before I took them, when I took them and afterwards. Every time, that advice was right.

David Bowie
The Sun, 21 January 2013

Most of the interviews for The Next Day were given by Tony Visconti, who effectively became Bowie’s public mouthpiece. Like Bowie, Visconti had previously struggled with drugs.

During the making of Young Americans he was taking so much cocaine it would have killed a horse. Cocaine certainly almost killed me. During the making of that album I nearly died. I thought I was going to have a heart attack. I worked day and night. He’d come in to the studio at 11pm and work till 11am. One day I said ‘I have to pack it in, the cocaine isn’t propping me up any more. I cannot stay awake. On the way home my heart felt like it was going to explode. I didn’t want to cause a scandal for him and me by going to hospital, so I took 12 sleeping pills – no suicidal intent, just to slow my heart and it did and I survived. We’d have both been dead if we’d carried on. There was a myth it wasn’t habit-forming back then.

Foolishly we believed that. It was a social drug and socially acceptable. You went to any cocktail party and somebody put a line or spoon under your nose and you said ‘Oh, thank you!’. I know people who sold their homes to feed their habit. For us there was no limit…

[One night] we stayed up with John Lennon until 10.30am. We did a mountain of cocaine, it looked like the Matterhorn, obscenely big, and four open bottles of cognac.

Tony Visconti
The Times, 12 January 2013
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Visconti stopped using cocaine in 1984, after he “woke up one day imagining there were phantoms in the room. I just went cold turkey.” He gave up drinking in 2000, he said, and both he and Bowie attended Alcoholics Anonymous meetings.

David found it very useful. We talk about being each other’s support system. If two people from the program sit together that’s technically an AA meeting. Every two or three days we talk about it although we don’t start and end with a prayer. I’ll say, ‘I’m coming to my 12th birthday’ and he says, ‘Well it’s been my 23rd!’ I ask, ‘Do you miss it?’ and he says, ‘I don’t miss it at all’. And I say, ‘Me neither’…

He doesn’t do anything now. He’s Mr Clean. He looks great, rosy cheeked. If you’re doing drugs and drinking at 66 you look like shit.

Bowie’s poison now? A strong macchiato. Otherwise he drinks water and in the studio, and eats roast beef sandwiches and salads.

Tony Visconti
The Times, 12 January 2013

Epilogue

David Bowie died on 10 January 2016 at his Lafayette Street home in New York City, two days after his 69th birthday and the release of his 25th studio album Blackstar.

Bowie had been suffering from liver cancer for 18 months. He kept the illness private, telling only family and some close friends and colleagues. His cancer treatment was terminated in November 2015, shortly before the ‘Lazarus’ video was filmed.

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It can never be known to what extent, if any, Bowie’s heavy smoking, drinking and drug taking may have contributed to his cancer. Certainly in the previous two decades he had made great efforts to reform his lifestyle and work towards a better future, which would have lessened the risks he faced.

However, at least one observer believes that his former heavy smoking habit was a likely contributory factor in his illness. In an episode of Autopsy: The Last Hours of… first broadcast on 17 June 2018, Dr Michael Hunter considered the possibility that Bowie had also been treated for lung cancer, and whether his smoking was a likely trigger for his liver cancer.

Smoking cigarettes is a major factor for most cancers, but especially lung cancer. The fact David hadn’t smoked for a decade certainly reduces his risk of lung cancer, but it doesn’t rule it out.

David’s lungs would be the obvious origin of his cancer. But looking at the last months of his life, I’m struck by the fact David was able to record numerous songs. That to me is significant because in 90% of cases lung cancer would typically lead to breathing problems.

Not only that, one of the most common treatments for lung cancer is radiation, and more than four out of five of those patients suffer from vocal changes. Now David’s voice seems to have been unaffected by his cancer, so on balance with the information I have, I’d rule out lung cancer and say that David’s liver cancer was probably primary…

Addiction is a lifelong struggle, but there is no suggestion Bowie was using any illegal drugs at the time of his death… Despite abusing drugs such as cocaine, and alcohol, he had given both up many years before the end and I believe they played no part in his death… I believe David’s history with smoking is likely to have played a big role in triggering his reported liver cancer.

Dr Michael Hunter, forensic pathologist
Autopsy: The Final Hours Of David Bowie