I’ve told a few celebrity encounter stories on this site, so let me say right up front that I don’t know for certain that I spoke to David Bowie on the phone. But I think I might have.
It was the summer of 1984 and I was working in the Melnitz Hall offices on campus of the UCLA Film, Television, and Radio Archives. I had been a work study student in the radio archives before taking the full-time job, and so knew the collection pretty well. When a call came in for the radio archivist and he wasn’t there, the woman at the front desk routed it to me.
On the phone was a man with a very familiar-sounding British accent, asking me about the radio collection. He was particularly interested in radio dramas, so I gave him a partial list of our holdings and invited him to come in and peruse the rest. He was being strangely evasive but continued to keep asking about our sci-fi and BBC radio holdings. Finally, I just broke down and asked him his name.
“This is David Bowie,” he said, without any trace of prevarication.
Oh, I get it, I thought to myself. This was one of my actor friends playing a trick on me, knowing my fondness for the Thin White Duke. So I decided to play along. “Can I call you David?”, I asked. “If you like”, he replied.
I told him about some of our sci-fi and action-adventure holdings, such as Dimension X and Suspense. He also asked about comedy shows and seemed particularly interested in Jack Benny (which struck me as odd).
The entire time I was talking to “David”, I was pretty sure that I must have been actually talking to someone else who was just doing a killer David Bowie impersonation. I invited him again to actually come into the archives in order to browse our collection in person and to listen to shows in which he might be interested.
He took a long and thoughtful pause, and then replied “No, I better not. I’m just here for a little while to see my son. But it’s a secret, you see. The blokes at the Olympics asked me to perform at the opening ceremonies and I told them I couldn’t be in town. Be a good fellow and don’t tell anyone that you spoke with me.”
At that point, I will admit, I started becoming a believer. The 1984 L.A. Olympics were coming up and that seemed a curiously specific detail. He asked me if I had any children, and he spoke a bit about his son and how much he missed him following his divorce from “Zowie’s mum”. We talked for probably a good ten to fifteen minutes. Whoever this man was on the phone, be he David Bowie or some impersonator, seemed genuinely lonely and kind. At the end, he promised to call back in a few months once he had more time on his hands.
I never heard from him again, and nobody ever confessed to me the elaborate practical joke. Now, years later, I still don’t know for certain that I spoke with the actual David Bowie, but I think it’s okay to finally tell this story.