Remembering Marc Bolan's duet with David Bowie in final performance before his tragic death only days later

23 May 2023, 11:11

Former rivals Marc Bolan and David Bowie buried the hatchet on stage. But Bolan's tragic death was only days after.
Former rivals Marc Bolan and David Bowie buried the hatchet on stage. But Bolan's tragic death was only days after. Picture: ITV/Granada Television

By Thomas Curtis-Horsfall

When you think of glam rock, you think of these two trailblazing artists.

David Bowie's flamboyant character Ziggy Stardust gave glam rock an otherworldly edge, and is often who immediately springs to mind when the genre is mentioned.

Saying that, Marc Bolan's T. Rex made some of the most iconic tracks to come from the era, and his glam rock stompers continue to fill dance floors to this day.

But despite both making their names by pioneering the genre during the early 1970s, Bowie and Bolan went their separate ways in distinctly different paths.

As we know, David Bowie killed off Ziggy Stardust and eventually moved to Los Angeles where he's experimented with plastic soul, art rock, and the burgeoning electronic movement.

Although the popularity of glam rock waned as the decade went on, Marc Bolan was still widely adored and was given his own television show, Marc, where he'd both perform himself and present new budding bands to the public.

It was this show where David Bowie and Marc Bolan would eventually unite on stage, which was a mouth-watering prospect for both sets of fans.

Sadly, it would turn out to be Bolan's final ever performance before his tragic and untimely death only days later.

David Bowie - Heroes (Marc Bolan Show, 1977) HQ

Bowie and Bolan were considered rivals during their earlier years - T. Rex rocketed to fame far earlier than David, and he even considered throwing in the towel at one point.

But once he came up with his idea for Ziggy Stardust it all changed, and the pair were often battling it out in the charts for top spot.

Keith Altham was both artists' publicist during that time, who later recalled: "There was always a certain rivalry. But they were very close."

"They had what they had between them, they didn’t have to prove it to anybody else. There was a real love there. They were very similar, in so many ways. They could have been brothers."

That wasn't entirely true according to Marc Bolan's interview with 16-year-old journalist-turned-movie director Cameron Crowe in 1973, who compared Bowie to Donny Osmond.

"I don’t consider David to be even remotely near big enough to give me any competition. At the time the feud story hit England, my records were number one, and they stayed number one while David’s never came near" Bolan said in a scathing declaration.

"I don’t think that David has anywhere near the charisma or balls that I have. Or Alice has. Or Donny Osmond has got. He’s not gonna make it, in any sort of way."

Both artists had huge change of fortune however - Bowie became a chameleonic critical success whilst Bolan struggled with addiction and the perceived death of glam rock.

But his television show saw Marc ride the crest of a comeback, and he wanted to bury the hatchet with Bowie by inviting him on to perform.

Marc Bolan and David Bowie Marc Show 1977

Bowie was living in Berlin at the time and accepted the invite, so jetted over to perform a solo version of his recent anthem 'Heroes' for the series' penultimate show on ITV for Granada Television.

But the pair would also perform together to close the show, duetting on 'Sleeping Next To You' to close out the show together.

Though it wouldn't turn out as successful as they planned - just as Bowie began to sing his vocal part, Bolan tripped on a microphone cable.

He fell forward but quickly recovered and smiled, with Bowie quipping: "Could we have a wooden box for Marc to stand on?".

Marc's mistake indicated that he and Bowie were both relaxed in each other's company, and were now good friends more than rivals.

After the show was filmed, they had both even started working on a song together called 'Madman' - the song was later unearthed and recorded by the new wave band Cuddly Toys several years later.

The reason David Bowie and Marc Bolan didn't get around to releasing it themselves, is that Bolan tragically died in a car accident only days later.

David Bowie being accosted by mourning fans at Marc Bolan's funeral.
David Bowie being accosted by mourning fans at Marc Bolan's funeral. Picture: Alamy

On 7th September 1977 they'd performed on stage together: nine days later on 16th September 1977, Marc Bolan was dead.

Marc was still in its first series and had been commissioned for a second, but it hadn't even finished airing before his death.

Out of respect for the glam rock star, the episode with Bowie was delayed until after Bolan's funeral which was attended by the 'Starman' icon as well as Rod Stewart and others.

Bolan's son Rolan was only a toddler when his father died, so David invested in a fund which enabled him and his mother Gloria to survive whilst Marc's estate was frozen.

Their on-stage duet, although not as successful as they'd hope, became iconic because of Bolan's passing days later, but also because of two titans of glam rock burying the hatchet.