The surprise news of David Bowie passing Sunday night caught everyone off guard, and there has been a massive outpouring of emotion and support for a man whose music and art touched many (New Times has published two such pieces). Those tributes are well-deserved. Bowie leaves behind an incredibly diverse and impressive body of work, and he has inspired millions. David Bowie was many things — rock 'n' roll hero, queer icon, fashion superstar, a man unafraid to make daring artistic choices. He was also the type of man who, in his mid-20s, allegedly would sleep with two girls not old enough to drive themselves to his hotel.
Consider the story of Lori Maddox and her friend, Sable Starr.
In her teens, Maddox (often spelled "Mattix") was known as Lori Lightning, a barely post-pubescent model who became known as a groupie in Los Angeles' Sunset Strip nightclub scene. Raised by a single working mother with little time to care for Maddox, Maddox befriended a girl her own age, Sable Starr, and the two would eventually go on to party with just about every major rock star that came through LA. Most famously, Led Zeppelin's Jimmy Page kept Maddox as a hidden girlfriend for two years while she was underage.
But before Page, there was David Bowie.
Maddox has repeatedly said in interviews that she met Bowie as a young teen and he asked her up to his hotel room. She was 14, and Bowie was in his mid-20s. Afraid, she declined. But five months later Bowie again propositioned her, and she and Starr went to his room.
Maddox has since told the story several times, including once for a VH1 documentary that curiously omitted her age at the time, but she most succinctly told it to Thrillist just a few months ago.
Next time Bowie was in town, though, maybe five months later, I got a call at home from his bodyguard, a huge black guy named Stuey. He told me that David wanted to take me to dinner. Obviously, I had no homework that night. Fuck homework. I wasn’t spending a lot of time at school anyway. I said that I would like to go but that I wanted to bring my friend Sable. She was dying to fuck Bowie. I figured that she would sleep with him while I got to hang out and have fun.So the two girls went to Bowie's hotel, where, according to Maddox, she had sex with Bowie, which later turned into a threesome with Sable.
We got to the Beverly Hilton and all went up to Bowie’s enormous suite. I found myself more and more fascinated by him. He was beautiful and clever and poised. I was incredibly turned on. Bowie excused himself and left us in this big living room with white shag carpeting and floor-to-ceiling windows. Stuey brought out Champagne and hash. We were getting stoned when, all of a sudden, the bedroom door opens and there is Bowie in this fucking beautiful red and orange and yellow kimono.
He focused his famously two-colored eyes on me and said, “Lori, darling, can you come with me?” Sable looked like she wanted to murder me. He walked me through his bedroom and into the bathroom, where he dropped his kimono. He got into the tub, already filled with water, and asked me to wash him. Of course I did. Then he escorted me into the bedroom, gently took off my clothes, and de-virginized me.So far as I could find, Bowie has neither confirmed nor denied Maddox's account of that night, and there don't seem to be any pictures of Bowie and Maddox. That said, Maddox's relationship with Page, which — again — began when she was 15, is universally accepted as fact by now. Rolling Stone even confirmed it. Getty Images has archived photos in which Page drapes an arm around an obviously juvenile Maddox.
Two hours later, I went to check on Sable. She was all fucked up in the living room, walking around, fogging up windows and writing, "I want to fuck David." I told him what she was doing and that I felt so bad. Bowie said, “Well, darling, bring her in.” That night I lost my virginity and had my first threesome. The next morning, there was banging on the door and it was fucking [Bowie’s wife] Angie. I was terrified of her. David said not to worry about it. They were already at the point where they had separate rooms. She probably knew he’d be in there with girls... or boys. He was totally bisexual. I saw David many times after that, for the next 10 years, and it was always great.
And to be fair, Maddox has not once indicated that she found the experience traumatic, though the encounter under today's laws would be considered statutory rape. Quite the contrary, in interviews in the past few years, Maddox seems joyous retelling the story. Thrillist asked her point-blank if she saw any problem with how Bowie, a powerful older man supplying young teens with drugs and alcohol, slept with her that night.
"I was an innocent girl, but the way it happened was so beautiful," she replied. "I remember him looking like God and having me over a table. Who wouldn’t want to lose their virginity to David Bowie?"
She later added, "I feel like I was very present. I saw the greatest music ever. I got to hang out with some of the most amazing, most beautiful, most charismatic men in the world. I went to concerts in limos with police escorts. Am I going to regret this? No."
Of course, statutory rape laws are in place for a reason. And it's up to Maddox to define whether her sexual encounter with Bowie was traumatic. Many have dismissed Page's and Bowie's actions as par for the course for famous rock stars, dirty misdeeds overshadowed by their contributions to the pop zeitgeist. Many are crediting Bowie's being an androgynous role model with saving the lives of queer children worldwide. Statutory rape seems destined to be a footnote in Bowie's legacy, because maybe that's how we as a society evaluate our famous people: We don't let singular acts overwhelm the legacy. We measure people's value by what they contribute to society, and if a man happens to act unethically on the way to selling millions of records and being an overwhelmingly positive force in the lives of millions, so be it.