In late 2020, Snopes uncovered evidence to prove the legitimacy of online claims that musician Eric Clapton went on an obscenely racist rant during a concert in Birmingham, England, in 1976. In response to that investigation, a reader alleged another legendary rocker, David Bowie, had also made inflammatory remarks at that time, comments in which he praised fascism and German dictator Adolf Hitler.
We found other online forums debating the legitimacy and intent of alleged statements from Bowie's past, some of which social media users created after his death in January 2016.
For the purpose of this report, Snopes obtained newspaper and magazine archives, as well as considered the analysis of so-called Bowieologists who study Bowie's artistic and personal evolution, to determine whether he had indeed stated support for fascism and called Hitler a rock star and, if so, those comments remained at the core of his social and political beliefs.
Based on our research, Bowie was documented on several occasions in the early and mid-1970's discussing fascism, including unhinged rants to journalists about the dictator known for orchestrating the Holocaust and how far-right ideologies could help Britain. It appears no audio recording of such remarks exist; however, he effectively confirmed the authenticity of them in subsequent interviews, and reportedly told a journalist in October 1977 that he was not a fascist but rather apolitical.
WHAT BOWIE SAID
Bowie's fixation with fascist mythology and Nazi imagery began when he met British writer Christopher Isherwood after a concert in Los Angeles in 1974, per The Daily Beast. One of the first documented instances in which Bowie publicly expressed fascist leanings occurred during an interview the same year, according to David Buckley's biography titled, "Strange Fascination: David Bowie: The Definitive Story," though the press did not draw heavy attention to those inflammatory remarks until 1976, after subsequent controversies.
Cameron Crowe, an American director and writer, conducted the infamous Bowie interview, which Playboy magazine published in September 1976. Snopes obtained its transcript courtesy of Crowe's website and Playboy.com, reading:
Playboy: You've often said that you believe very strongly in fascism. Yet you also claim you'll one day run for Prime Minister of England. More media manipulation?
Bowie: Christ, everything is a media manipulation. I'd love to enter politics. I will one day. I'd adore to be Prime Minister. And, yes, I believe very strongly in fascism. The only way we can speed up the sort of liberalism that's hanging foul in the air at the moment is to speed up the progress of a right-wing, totally dictatorial tyranny and get it over as fast as possible. People have always responded with greater efficiency under a regimental leadership. A liberal wastes time saying, "Well, now, what ideas have you got?" Show them what to do, for God's sake. If you don't, nothing will get done. I can't stand people just hanging about. Television is the most successful fascist, needless to say. Rock stars are fascists, too. Adolf Hitler was one of the first rock stars.
Bowie continued by describing Hitler "as good as Jagger" in how he "worked an audience" and used the media to his advantage. After several more questions from Crowe on a variety of topics, the journalist asked Bowie if he stood by and believed everything he had said in their conversation.
"Everything but the inflammatory remarks," Bowie responded.
In other words, it was accurate to claim Bowie said he supported fascism and that "Hitler was one of the first rock stars" during an interview that published widely in Playboy in 1976. However, Bowie at the end of the conversation suggested that he did not mean the "inflammatory remarks," without going into detail on what exactly those were in his opinion nor confirming the perimeters of that request for clarification with the journalist, and Bowie did not explicitly disavow fascism or Hitler when the interviewer gave him an opportunity to do so.
Around the same time, Crowe also interviewed Bowie for a piece titled, "Ground Control to Davy Jones," for Rolling Stone. According to an online version of that piece, Bowie said he "could have been Hitler in England," and that he'd be an "excellent dictator — very eccentric and quite mad."
In Buckley's book, which drew from interviews with Bowie's inner circle, newspaper archives, and academic research, Bowie alluded to far-right politics in a separate 1975 interview, saying:
'I think that morals should be straightened up for a start. They're disgusting.' He added, 'There will be a political figure in the not too distant future who'll sweep through this part of the world like early rock'n' roll did. You probably hope I'm not right but I am ... You've got to have an extreme right front come up and sweep everything off its feet and tidy everything up. Then you can get a new form of liberalism.'
The following year, while addressing the press after a concert in Stockholm, Sweden, Bowie said, according to Buckley:
"As I see it, I am the only alternative for the premier in England. I believe Britain could benefit from a fascist leader. After all, fascism is really nationalism."
WHAT BOWIE DID — OR WAS ACCUSED OF DOING
Aside from those published quotes, perhaps the most physical of evidence of Bowie's flirtation with Nazism surfaced in April 1976, when Bowie was traveling from Moscow by train with a group including American musician Iggy Pop.
Customs officers detained Bowie on the Russian-Polish border and seized a cache of Nazi memorabilia in his procession, according to Buckley and news reports. The London-based Uncut magazine reported Bowie was carrying books about Nazi Germany leaders Joseph Goebbels and Albert Speer, and that he considered them "research" materials for a film he was planning about Hitler's propaganda tactics.
"It was a long trip with very little English reading material," said photographer Andrew Kent, who spent months documenting Bowie, in an interview decades later. "David was just looking for something to do; it was not a political statement."
At another point during the 1976 world tour, which Bowie centered on his 10th album "Station to Station" and the Thin White Duke "emotionless Aryan Superhuman" persona, Kent supposedly photographed Bowie giving a Nazi salute at Hitler's bunker, according to Buckley. But Kent allegedly swore never to release that image publicly, and no evidence existed to determine the rumor true or folklore.
Of that alleged display of support for Nazi Germany, Kent told Uncut in a story that resurfaced on Jan. 6, 2017, roughly one year after Bowie's death:
I don't want to talk about it. [...] I never felt David was a Nazi sympathiser. I'm Jewish, so if anybody would be sensitive to that and have bad feelings … I just think it was what I'd call an adolescent attraction.
Arguably the most high-profile incident supposedly depicting Bowie's endorsement of Hitler and Nazi Germany, however, occurred on May 2, 1976 at London's Victoria Station. According to news reports, photographic evidence and low-quality video footage, the rock star greeted a crowd of fans from an open-top Mercedes.
Media publications, including New Musical Express (NME), attempted to convince readers, however, the photos that showed Bowie with his arm raised in a straight-armed manner depicted the rock star giving a Nazi salute.
NME published an image of the event under a headline, "HEIL AND FAREWELL," though did not elaborate on the allegation or provide any conclusive evidence to support it in accompanying text, according to Buckley. Based on our research, no visual indicators in the photos or film provided proof to determine Bowie's intention behind the gesture.
"Bowie was mentally disturbed enough to have given a Nazi salute that day at Victoria Station, but the evidence is by no means clear cut," Buckley wrote.
In the wake of criticism by leftists and sensationalist headlines about Bowie's political leanings, Bowie reflected on his comments about Hitler and fascism for possibly the first time publicly in an October 1977 issue of the Melody Maker. According to an online archive of Bowie's press mentions, the British magazine reported:
His comments were interpreted by some as advocacy of extreme right wing politics; others saw in his remark a prophetic nature, a warning rather than a gesture of support to fascist policies.
I can't clarify those statements, Bowie says wearily when the subject arises. All I can say is that I have made my two or three glib, theatrical observations on English society and the only thing I can now counter with is to state that I am not a fascist. I'm apolitical. [...]
He is reminded of his fascist salute to the country when he arrived at Victoria Station and is asked to define its significance. He virtually explodes from his chair.
That didn't happened [sic]. That did not happen. I waved. I just waved. Believe me. On the life of my child, I waved. And the bastard caught me. In mid-wave, man. And, God, did that photo got some coverage... As [if] I'd be foolish enough to pull a stunt like that. I died when I saw the photo. And even the people who were with me said, "David! How could you?" The bastards. I didn't ... God, I just don't believe in all that.
In other words, Bowie refuted allegations that he had given a Nazi salute at Victoria Station, though he did not dispute the accuracy or authenticity of remarks attributed to him about Hitler and fascism. Rather, he stated he was not fascist — contrary to prior interviews, including the infamous Playboy Q&A — and that he was apolitical.
Over the course of years after that, Bowie attempted to explain and acknowledge wrongdoing with his past statements about Nazi Germany and fascism, per news reports, suggesting his heavy cocaine usage at the time, mixed with a dark obsession with the occult, created the unhealthy fixation with fascist mythology. He told NME in 1980, according to Internet archives:
That whole Station To Station tour was done under duress. I was out of my mind totally, completely crazed. Really. But the main thing I was functioning on was - as far as that whole thing about Hitler and rightism was concerned - it was mythology. [...]
This whole racist thing which came up, quite inevitably and rightly. But, and I know this sounds terribly naive, but none of that had actually occurred to me, inasmuch as I'd been working and still do work with Black musicians for the past six or seven years. And we'd all talk about it together — about the Arthurian period, about the magical side of the whole Nazi campaign, and about the mythology involved. [...]
Mixed up too of course were my own fucking characters. The Thin White Duke — throwing him, it was like kicking him. There was such an addictive thing about what was happening there, that actually being able to ride that particular storm, I was able to send a lot to those demons back to their — well, wherever it is they live. Altogether, none of it is something to be dealt with unless you're in a particularly stable frame of mind.
When he moved from Los Angeles to Berlin in the late 1976, after the height of the Thin White Duke, Bowie told NME he "had to face up" to his fixation with fascism because his German friends "were naturally extreme leftists."
"Suddenly, I was in a situation where I was meeting young people of my age whose fathers had actually been SS men," he said. "I came crashing down to earth when I got back to Europe."
In an 1993 interview, he again suggested regret for the coke-addled era during which a fixation with fantastical theories came across as an endorsement for policies that led to the Holocaust.
"My interest in [the Nazis] was the fact they supposedly came to England before the war to find the Holy Grail at Glastonbury," Bowie told NME. "The idea that it was about putting Jews in concentration camps and the complete oppression of different races completely evaded my extraordinary fucked-up nature at that particular time."
Three years later, Bowie performed at Israel's Park HaYarkon — an appearance that showed he did not harbor any lasting Nazi sentiments, according to a writer for The Israel Times.
In 2001, Uncut highlighted Bowie's band at the time of his flirtation with fascist symbols was comprised mostly of Black and Puerto Rican New Yorkers. "Only the boneheads of the [National Front], who praised Bowie's 'Aryan' sound in their literature, and the equally dim FBI, who reportedly listed Bowie as an 'apparent Nazi sympathiser,' could miss the illogical irony of his public statements," the magazine reported.
After Bowie's death from cancer on Jan. 10, 2016, days after his 69th birthday and the release of his 25th album, "Blackstar," some tributes to the rock legend brought renewed attention to the dark chapter under the guise of the Thin White Duke. For example, a Politico reporter asked Simon Critchley, a philosophy professor at the New School for Social Research and Bowie biographer, whether the artist was indeed a fascist. Critchley responded:
He wasn't a Nazi. It was misunderstood.
I think there is a nostalgic nationalism in Bowie—a sort of nostalgia for the utopian idea of Englishness, of Milton or Blake or Shelley. One of the things about Bowie that's interesting politically is this connection to the idea of Englishness, and this kind of whimsical nationalism that doesn't really make sense other than aesthetically. I think he confused fascism with nationalism.
In sum, it was accurate to claim Bowie not only told an interviewer he believes in fascism and that Hitler "was one of the first rock stars" but he repeatedly flirted with symbols of far-right ideologies, outraging some fans. However, he since expressed regret for the statements and said they do not reflect his social and political ideologies.