Ricky Gervais' Tribute to David Bowie: "I Never Forgot He Was My Hero, Even When He Became My Friend"

Gervais with Bowie in 2007.
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Gervais — the 'chubby little loser' on Bowie's 'Extras' episode — talks to THR about his surprisingly funny longtime idol and friend: "He put my life in color."

This story first appeared in the Jan. 22 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. To receive the magazine, click here to subscribe.

Growing up in working-class England, Ricky Gervais idolized David Bowie. Then, once 'The Office' became a hit in the U.K., the two struck up a friendship that lasted more than a decade and resulted in one of Gervais' most hilarious moments on television, when Bowie serenaded his schlubby actor character as a "chubby little loser" in a 2006 episode of the BBC/HBO series 'Extras.' A choked-up Gervais spoke with THR just hours after hosting the Golden Globes and learning of Bowie's death.

After the show I saw the tweets and was trying to find out if it were a hoax — and it wasn't. Our relationship was bizarre and surreal, and I felt so privileged to know him. I never forgot he was my hero, even when he became my friend. I somehow divorced the two concepts in my head. When I talked to people, I talked about this rock star who changed my whole outlook. He put my life in color. He made me believe: You can do anything; you're a working-class kid in Reading; creativity is freedom. Ability is a poor man's wealth. I loved everything he did. He never let me down, even at the end. I've never seen a more dignified ending.

I was looking at an email he sent me a few weeks ago. It was as funny and fresh and smart as any in the last 10 years I knew him. That's integrity. That's f—ing privacy. All this about being one of the most worshipped artists in the world — he never fell for it. I remember the first time I went to see him, I didn't know what to say. "You're here for Mr. Jones?" I smiled — of course I was. Right then, David Bowie didn't exist. His apartment was as amazing as you'd imagine. There was a 3D Picasso-esque sculpture in the middle — beautiful. He said, "My daughter likes to hit that with a hammer."

I wrote the Extras scene about meeting your hero and him not being what you thought. I wrote the lyrics and called him and he said, "Sorry, I was eating a banana." I thought that was funny. I asked if he could do something retro, something like "Life on Mars?" He said [sarcastically], "Sure, I'll just knock off a quick little 'Life on Mars?' for you." We laughed. And then he came and did the show and gave us exactly what Bowie was.

Later he was doing a benefit in New York for The High Line [park] and wanted me to do the show in Madison Square Garden. I said yes, "but only if you introduce me." So he came out in a tuxedo, the crowd goes completely crazy, and then, a cappella, he started in with, 'Chubby little loser … Please welcome Ricky Gervais.' " So that's two highlights of my career with the same man.

Watch the Extras clip below:

Read more David Bowie tributes:

David Bowie's Legacy: He "Helped Give Voice to Several Generations of Misfits and Weirdos"

Photographer Frank W. Ockenfels 3 on Shooting David Bowie: "He Always Wanted to Be More About the Now Than Anything"

Documentarian D.A. Pennebaker Fondly Recalls the Making of David Bowie's 'Ziggy Stardust' Concert Film

Director Richard Shepard Remembers David Bowie: "He Was Just This Beam of Light"

Cameron Crowe Recalls David Bowie Interviews, Shares Artist's "Self-Portrait"

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