After news of David Bowie’s death hit the internet late Sunday night (Jan. 10), I knew I’d never fall asleep. Like other crushed fans around the world, I wanted to hear my favorite Bowie songs again, savoring his voice and clinging onto his words like I never had before. I wanted to see the tributes to him flooding in across social media that made me feel weirdly connected to perfect strangers. I wanted to triple-check the news to find out if this was all real or just some sick hallucination. And then I just wanted to get away for a bit.
So at 1 a.m. PST, I got in my car and drove to 7021 Hollywood Blvd., the official address of an L.A. Fitness gym that’s housed in a building with a CVS pharmacy, a Subway, and a few more shops and restaurants. Bowie’s star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame sits on the sidewalk in front of this particular building, neighbored by Paula Abdul and Faye Dunaway’s stars to the east, and Pierce Brosnan and Fred Allen’s to the west.
The two-mile drive from my house to Bowie’s star was remarkably quick — the usually-bustling (read: hella traffic) stretch of Hollywood Blvd. was mostly dead, save for a couple bars that managed to draw rowdy Sunday night crowds. I had no clue if anyone would even be at Bowie’s star, but as I approached, I saw a small crowd staring at his name etched into the sidewalk, the brass square covered with an assortment of glowing candles and flower bouquets. Upon closer inspection, I saw a few miniature Jameson bottles, lighters, a neon pink toy alien and heaps of glitter piled around the makeshift memorial space.
Come Monday morning, this spot is bound to be a zoo, with the usual flocks of tourists crowding around it, selfie sticks in hand, while others rush by it on their way to work. But tonight, the people who gathered did so simply because they wanted to, and needed to, feel close to Bowie and to one another. And so we mourned together by throwing glitter in the air, playing Bowie’s music from our iPhones, and talking about how much he meant to us and to the world.
Here’s what his fans told me, accompanied by the phrases they think define Bowie and his legacy:
“It’s really comforting to see people who actually really loved and cared about David Bowie here. It’s a more intimate setting for people who loved him as much as I did. He made a big impact on my life and I just want to pay my respects to him because this is the least I can do for him after all he’s done for me.
“He’s helped shape me as a person. He’s helped make me a lot more confident and OK with embracing my weird. He’s just someone who’s constantly been there for me when other people haven’t. It’s just weird… I still haven’t processed that he’s gone. I just knew that if I didn’t come out here, I’d regret it.”
Luke Beavers and Tanya Selig
Tanya: “Since I was about 10 years old, he’s allowed me to express who I truly am at all times, and break through any kind of fear that I had, and come out to people about what I believe in passionately. I’m not upset. I’m really, really f—king grateful. So grateful. Yes, he has died, but he did mean a whole lot to me.”
Luke: “David Bowie allowed me to be myself. He allowed me to embrace my sexuality, he allowed me to embrace myself and who I wanted to me. He allowed me to be artistic and weird and different and crazy and stupid and have it be OK. And just embrace everything that I wanted to do. That’s what he means to me. That’s why I’m upset right now — because somebody who has meant a lot to me, in terms of how I want to create and how I want to build myself, has just passed away.
“I think what I really like is the fact that I don’t know [Tanya]. I’ve never met you before in my life, but the fact that we’re here right now and we’re hugging and crying over somebody that really made a difference for us… that’s it. I don’t think there’s anything else I can say that’s more important than that right now because I actually feel better than I have all night.”
“My friends wanted to come out here. I actually thought it was a little bit morose to do it, but now I feel really cool about coming here. I think it’s really beautiful. Everyone loves David Bowie. I think he’s just a huge influence to everybody, musically or otherwise. I’m a songwriter, and he’s influenced every single thing I’ve ever done. He just did dangerous songwriting.”
“The thing about Hollywood is that if someone has a star, that’s where people would go to say goodbye. I came a few minutes after hearing about it and brought a candle and some flowers. I’m a musician, so he’s always been an inspiration to me in that way… just to have that kind of career with longevity and keep interest and have fun with it.”
Luke Wesley Baldridge
“I normally think it’s strange when people mourn celebrities dying because you don’t know them. So I was sad, and I showed up here being sad, but then I saw this guy I knew in college and we hadn’t spoken in years. We had kept up online, mostly just talking about Bowie stuff. I had been here for a few minutes and he came up and we just hugged each other. He was already in tears a little bit and he started crying and suddenly I was crying. And I think that’s what I needed: having someone who got it.
“He was one of the first artists that I grew up listening to with my dad. I’ve never not known his music. And I always thought, even though he stopped touring after 2003, that I would meet him somehow. I just assumed, you know? You just think, ‘I’m going to see them at some point, I’m going to get to say something.’ And I think that’s what gets me: knowing that I’ll never get to let him know what a big part of me and my dad’s lives he was.”
Danielle and Alex Munoz
“I was getting ready for bed and the news came on and I was in shock. We looked at each other and we just said, ‘You know what? We have to be here.’ Our first reaction was to come to this star and pay our respects. It’s the closest to him we can get. We’ve been here for about an hour. People have been putting down their memories and candles and touching the star. A lot of people were gutted. His music has been in our lives forever — he means so much to our family. It’s a shock, you know? It’s heartbreaking.”
“I’m a huge Bowie fan. I’m an ’80s kid. I love his music. I used to sit in front of MTV and be like, ‘Ooh, David Bowie’s on, yay!’ I’m not really shocked right now because I don’t believe it. It hasn’t sunk in yet. I’m devastated.”
“I got off work around 11:30 and popped into a bar around the corner and everyone was talking about it. So after that, I was passing by on my way home and figured I’d stop by. It’s very sweet, in a way. I never really sought him out, but every time his music was on I just loved it.”
Bryan Cienfuegos (the group’s unofficial DJ)
“It felt like the death of a friend. I had to listen to all of The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust before I got out here because that’s the one that changed my life. I first heard the music without knowing who he was. So when I found out who David Bowie was, I saw this guy with a kimono and red hair and he had that gold moon on his forehead. He looked so majestic and flamboyant, and it just opened my mind to so many things. It got me into music and out of depression. That’s what David Bowie was to me and will always be to me. Just live: that’s what he taught me. Just to live. That’s all you gotta do.
“He’s going to be known forever as somebody you can look to and say, ‘I’m me and I can be what I wanna be and do what I wanna do because why not, you know?’ Whether you want to wear a suit or whether you want to dress up like a bisexual alien from outer space, just do what you want. He’s going to reach everyone, forever. He’s going to live on forever.”