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What is the Story Behind David Bowie’s Left Eye?

Following the news of David Bowie’s death, many facets of his life and outstanding achievements will be examined in the weeks and months ahead. However, the mysterious lyric above from David Bowie’s new album’s lead tune reminds us that the singer’s unique eye appearance was a significant component of his star persona. But did you ever wonder what was the story behind his left eye?

As a youngster, David Bowie was hit in the left eye, which was permanently dilated. Later, he complimented his friend George Underwood, saying it gave him “a kind of mystique,” which helped improve some of Bowie’s most iconic photographs.

Why Did David Bowie’s Eyes Appear to be of Two Distinct Colors? 

Complete heterochromia is a relatively uncommon condition in which each iris is a different color, such as one blue iris and the other brown. But this isn’t why Bowie’s eyes looked different.

Instead, Bowie’s eyes had a peculiar appearance due to a disease known as anisocoria. Anisocoria is a condition in which a person’s pupils are of unequal size. His left pupil was permanently dilated in Bowie’s case.

Because the fixed pupil does not adapt to changes in light, whereas the right pupil does, this might give the impression of having distinct colored eyes. Bowie’s left eye looked to be quite dark as opposed to the blue of his right iris due to the darkness of his dilated pupil.

His left eye’s dilated pupil made him more susceptible to the effects of red eye. Compared to his right eye, this can give the impression of a different color. When light reflects off the fundus or the rear of the eye, through an open pupil, it picks up a tone from the blood in the choroid lining of the eyeball, resulting in the red eye.

This is evident in Brian Duffy’s Aladdin Sane, Eyes Open photograph which was taken in 1973 but not published until 2011, which was featured as the primary image on the V&A David Bowie’s 2013 exhibition posters. (Source: Victoria and Albert Museum)

What Caused the Damage to David Bowie’s Eye? 

According to anecdotal evidence, Bowie’s anisocoria was caused by the consequences of a fierce brawl in the spring of 1962. Bowie and a friend, George Underwood, had gotten into a fight over a girl they wanted to date.

They were both 15 at the time, and their friendship appeared to be solid. Before Underwood transitioned from music to painting and graphics, the two performed together in several bands. Bowie’s left eye, however, remained severely damaged.

A wild punch had scratched the eyeball, causing the muscles that contract the iris to become paralyzed. Bowie’s left pupil remained in a fixed open position from that day. 

Over time, Bowie appears to have expressed gratitude to Underwood for his infamous eye injury, telling him that it gave him a kind of mystique. This unique look aided in producing some of Bowie’s finest works and enhanced iconic visuals, such as the Heroes album cover which was released in 1977.

From on stage or via a camera lens, his eyes could appear strange and mismatched, creating a compelling or mesmeric gaze. Bowie’s eyes had an uncanny aspect, which was excellent for a performer who embraced the extraterrestrial, outsider, otherworldly, and occult themes.

Bowie’s injured left pupil became an integral and captivating element of his mysterious character in an increasingly visual society seemingly fixated on perfection. (Source: Steam Register)

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