Hollywood Flashback: In 1975, an Admittedly Coked-Up David Bowie Spaced Out at the Grammys

David Bowie Grammys - H 2016
Bob Gruen

The rock legend, who will be honored with a tribute by Lady Gaga on Feb. 15, rambled at the podium as a first-time presenter, confusing the likes of Aretha Franklin and John Lennon who were in attendance at the 1975 show.

This story first appeared in the Feb. 19 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. To receive the magazine, click here to subscribe.

"Strange, strange, strange," was how David Bowie later described his 1975 experience as a first-time Grammy presen­ter — the night Dean Martin and Sammy Davis Jr. hosted the show. The late singer, who will be honored with a tribute performed by Lady Gaga during the Feb. 15 Grammys show, was at New York's Uris Theatre to present the female R&B vocal performance award to Aretha Franklin. (Bowie him­self wouldn't win a Grammy until 10 years later.) Clive Davis remembers seeing the singer that night and describes him as "a vision in an incredibly elegant tuxedo with white tie and his eye-catching shades of orange and yellow hair."

Before the show, Bowie, then 28, had a talk with John Lennon in which he told the ex-Beatle he didn't think America understood his act. (The singer had just passed through his Ziggy Stardust phase and moved on to the Thin White Duke.) "The Grammys were very significant for me — it was like walking a tightrope," he said a few months after the telecast. "There were mostly aging, middle-class show business people in that audience. It was a question of entertaining them or coming off like just another rock singer."

After being introduced by Andy Williams, Bowie gave a rambling speech about Lennon and Yoko Ono finding "within their intimate world a message and language of love." (He later admitted he was on ample amounts of cocaine.) Whatever he was talking about, Lennon looked uncomfortable. Bowie later said of Franklin: "With not so much as a glance in my direction, she snatches the trophy out of my hands and says, 'Thank you everybody. I'm so happy — I could even kiss David Bowie.' Which she didn't! So I slunk off stage left." Bowie said his night ended with Lennon giving him "a theatrical kiss," a hug and saying, "See, Dave, America loves ya."