Category Archives: Friends

David Bowie calling


The times they are a-telling, and the changing isn’t free

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.


Robin in the hood

I have two Robin Williams stories.

The first was about 30 years ago in L.A. I went out one night with Richard Clark and another friend to a nightclub. It should be emphasized that this is not something we normally did, but we had heard about this hot place near Crescent Heights and decided to check it out. We stood in line for some time before we finally got in, and ended up at a table near the door. Here we were, three single guys in our twenties, in a swinging L.A. nightclub in the 80’s, and completely clueless about what we were supposed to do next. Then Robin Williams suddenly appeared.

He stood in the doorway with two very attractive young woman. They could have been actresses, dressed to the nines and very glittery. We were maybe twelve feet away, stunned into momentary silence. Robin Williams was looking around at the very crowded nightclub and seemed to be pondering whether or not to actually come in. The three of us looked at each other for just a split second, then we all stood up and started gesticulating madly “Come join us! Sit here!”.

I wish the rest of the story is that he and his entourage came to our table and that we all had a wild night, but it didn’t happen that way. We actually established eye contact for just a moment, but he waved us off and disappeared back out into the street. All these years later, I remember nothing else about the nightclub or even the rest of the evening, other than the fun time we could have had.

Later, we all learned what a difficult time that was in his life as he was trying to quit his addictions. His son Zac was born in 1983, but at the time we saw him in that nightclub, he was having at least one affair with a cocktail waitress who later sued him.

By 1990, I was living in New York and worked in a spectacular toy and comics store in Greenwich Village. In December of that year, Robin Williams came into the store with his family. It was now five or six years later and he looked like a very different person, more relaxed. Zak was then about 7, and Robin had a new wife and a toddler. They were shopping for unusual imported toys. I showed him several robots and, at one point, I made a joke and he laughed.

Let me repeat that. I made Robin Williams laugh.

That totally made my day. I thought for just a second to mention the whole nightclub incident from some years before, but how was he supposed to react: “Oh yeah, how’ve you been?”

Instead, I played it cool, sold him some toys, and everyone walked out happy.

It is strange to think that we now live in a world without Robin Williams.