A Childhood Fight Left David Bowie’s Left Eye Permanently Dilated and He Made the Most of It

One would be hard-pressed to find a more iconic look in music than David Bowie’s. From his loud outfits to his theatrical persona, Bowie represents a different type of musician who blurs the line between music, performance art, and fashion. One of the staples of his look, his strange eye, is often misattributed to different colors. The story behind it, however, is far more violent.

David Bowie standing in front of a yellow curtain dressed as 'Ziggy Stardust'
David Bowie | Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images

David Bowie’s career

Bowie had a long career that defied genre or medium. To classify him as a mere musician downplays his impact on entertainment as a whole. According to Biography, his breakout in the music industry came in 1969, when the 22-year-old Bowie burst onto the scene as Ziggy Stardust, a fictional intergalactic character he adopted as one of his many.

As the years went on, however, Bowie became one of the most fascinating figures in entertainment. His experimental music defied all genre labels, and he showed that he was not going to be pigeon-holed into one particular place. He was a fashion star, an actor, a singer, and a celebrity personality that encapsulated something bigger than his art. 

While Ziggy Stardust remains one of his most iconic works, Bowie’s sound shifted with ages. The seventies experimental sounds bled into disco, which bled into more mainstream pop, to industrial sounds in the 1990s. Until his death in 2015, Bowie remained one of the hardest-working and most well-known people in Hollywood.

He left behind a complicated legacy that kept people amazed by his artistry and baffled by some of his creative choices — from Nazi-inspired wardrobe changes to fluid sexuality that predated more modern sentiments. Perhaps, part of his brand as a perennial outcast can be traced back to a medical disability that helped define his look going forward. 

A man of many colors

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It oddly fits that Bowie, a man who made every look unique and dedicated to his overall brand, was born with the condition that always made him stand out in a crowd. Many people have claimed that Bowie had eyes that were two different colors. However, this was not the case. Bowie suffered from a condition that resulted from a childhood spat. 

“[I was] boasting to my mate [Underwood] about what a Casanova I was,” he told a biographer in a quote collected by The Cut. “At first he [Underwood] thought I was kidding … It wasn’t a tough punch but obviously caught me at a rather odd angle,” Bowie told the biographer, claiming that punch caught him and caused a permanent injury that kept his iris muscles paralyzed. 

This is often misidentified as heterochromia, a condition that causes people to have two different eye colors, according to Good Housekeeping. Everyone from actor Kate Bosworth to Kiefer Sutherland has that condition. However, Bowie’s is mere paralysis — a reminder of some of the things we do in childhood that scar us for the rest of our lives. Rather than try to hide it. Bowie embraced his condition, called anisocoria, and made it part of his look for the rest of his life. 

This type of spat could theoretically tear apart a friendship, but Bowie claimed that this was not the case with George Underwood, the friend and former bandmate he sparred with. Underwood spoke about the fight in a 2020 interview with The Tab. 

Underwood tells his side

Like Bowie, Underwood claims it was a heat of the moment battle that was not meant to have the lasting impact that it did. The pair remained friends despite some immediate bad blood after the spot. According to Underwood, Bowie claimed that the fight helped secure his place in history. Underwood spoke with The Tab about the fight. 

“Funnily enough, he did say I did him a favor, later on. I’m not exactly proud of it, but no one knew that was going to happen. I just wanted to give him a black eye because of the girl, that was about it – I didn’t think it was going to be a lasting mark.”

It did, not only on Bowie’s face but on the legacy he left behind. Now, the eye helps certify Bowie’s place as one of the most memorable people in music history. It’s hard to say whether the eye is to blame, but it didn’t hurt that it played right into his overall vision as a man who was something different than a human.