David Bowie Sells Ice Cream, Sake, Coke & Water: Watch His TV Commercials from the 1960s Through 2013

As the mourn­ing peri­od for David Bowie con­tin­ues this week, for which I am very much tak­ing part (my favorite Bowie is the Berlin tril­o­gy Bowie in case you’re inter­est­ed), the Inter­net con­tin­ues through its own stages of grief. First brief news sto­ries and anec­dotes from fel­low artists, then long think-pieces (some very good), then to best-of lists, and now to inter­est­ing ephemera.

For an artist who saw both sides of com­mer­cial suc­cess, Bowie’s tele­vi­sion com­mer­cial appear­ances num­ber less than a dozen over his life. Part of that comes from his mas­tery and con­trol over his image–he knew when to go out, and when to stay in, to get things done, you might say–and part may come from his ear­ly his­to­ry behind the scenes where the com­mer­cial sausage gets made.

In 1963, Bowie left school to go work at Nevin D. Hirst Adver­tis­ing on London’s Bond Street, where he worked as a sto­ry­board artist for about a year, a job he took to please his father. Although he was dis­mis­sive of that time doing his 9‑to‑5, it was lat­er clear to friends, band mates, and biog­ra­phers that he had picked up a lot from advertising–how to pack­age him­self, how to manip­u­late feel­ing, the pow­er of image and words.

Jump for­ward to 1967 and a long haired Davy Jones makes one of his ear­li­est appear­ances in this ice cream ad for Luv “The Pop Ice Cream,” direct­ed by anoth­er up-and-com­er, Rid­ley Scott, who had recent­ly made his first short film, “A Boy and a Bicy­cle.” It’s groovy, but, as Luv’s not around any more, appar­ent­ly didn’t move enough units.

And then Davy Jones turns into Major Tom and the ‘70s belonged to him. He final­ly agrees in 1980 to do a com­mer­cial, but only in Japan. In this min­i­mal ad for Crys­tal Jun Rock Sake, Bowie looks beau­ti­ful, hand­some, and sleek, right at the height of his sophis­ti­cat­ed Lodger-era glam­our. He plays a piano, gazes at a post-mod­ern Mt. Fuji, and utters one word: “Crys­tal.” Bowie wrote the music, an out­take from the Lodger ses­sions, and it was released as a sin­gle in Japan, and a b‑side in the West. Bowie com­ment­ed that “the mon­ey is a use­ful thing” for doing ads like this, out of sight from the West.

The next time Bowie appears is in 1983, call­ing out for Amer­i­cans to demand their MTV in a series of roto­scoped and col­orized ads near the dawn of the net­work. (This is a bad­ly edit­ed com­pi­la­tion of Bowie’s spots).

If Bowie had yet to “sell out” it was only four years lat­er, dur­ing the Glass Spi­der Tour, that he did, with this re-word­ed, re-record­ed ver­sion of “Mod­ern Love,” duet­ting with Tina Turn­er. At the time it felt like the end of a career that had turned Bowie into an over­ly coiffed par­o­dy of him­self. In ret­ro­spect, if you can look past the soda, it’s a cute com­mer­cial, with the star look­ing a bit like “Blind­ed by Science”-era Thomas Dol­by.

Then more silence and, by the time Bowie reap­pears in 2001, it is lit­er­al­ly as the man who falls to earth in an ad for XM satel­lite radio. (Bowie made yet anoth­er appear­ance in an XM ad in 2005.)

In 2004, he appears again, shilling Vit­tel water. Here Bowie’s in full career ret­ro­spec­tive mode, mak­ing peace with his chameleon self and appre­ci­at­ing it all. Set to the Real­i­ty track “Nev­er Get Old” (our dear wish that was not to be), it fea­tures Bowie trib­ute per­former David Brighton try­ing on every out­fit from the Starman’s crowd­ed wardrobe in a house filled with incar­na­tions.

That leaves us with his final tele­vi­sion ad appear­ance in 2013, seen at the top of this post, still look­ing fit, and per­form­ing a baroque ver­sion of The Next Day track “I’d Rather Be High” for a Venet­ian ball-set ad for Louis Vuit­ton. Fit­ting to go out sur­round­ed by beau­ty and glam­or, but check those lyrics:

I stum­ble to the grave­yard and I
Lay down by my par­ents, whis­per
Just remem­ber duck­ies
Every­body gets got

Relat­ed Con­tent:

How David Bowie, Kurt Cobain & Thom Yorke Write Songs With William Bur­roughs’ Cut-Up Tech­nique

David Bowie Paper Dolls Recre­ate Some of the Style Icon’s Most Famous Looks

The Mak­ing of Queen and David Bowie’s 1981 Hit “Under Pres­sure”: Demos, Stu­dio Ses­sions & More

Ted Mills is a free­lance writer on the arts who cur­rent­ly hosts the artist inter­view-based FunkZone Pod­cast. You can also fol­low him on Twit­ter at @tedmills, read his oth­er arts writ­ing at tedmills.com and/or watch his films here.

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