The story behind David Bowie’s famous mug shot

The rock star posed for Rochester, N.Y., police days after his 1976 arrest

Bowie poses for a mugshot on March 25, 1976. (Rochester Police Department)
Bowie poses for a mugshot on March 25, 1976. (Rochester Police Department)

Nearly 40 years ago, David Bowie was arrested and charged with possession of marijuana in Rochester, N.Y., leading to what’s been called one of the coolest mug shots in history.

On March 21, 1976, Bowie, who died Sunday after an 18-month battle with cancer, was arrested at the Americana Rochester Hotel along with three others — including James Osterberg, better known as Iggy Pop — at 2:25 a.m. following a performance at the War Memorial Arena. According to police, 182 grams of marijuana (or about half a pound) was confiscated from the English rocker’s three-room suite.

According to a report published by the Rochester Democrat and Chronicle, all four were held for a few hours at the Monroe County Jail before they were each freed on $2,000 bond “at Bowie’s expense.” (The police report stated that Bowie gave his real last name, Jones, and listed his address as 89 Oakley St., London, England.)

They were due to be arraigned hours later at Rochester City Court on the fifth-degree marijuana charge, a class C felony carrying a maximum sentence of 15 years in prison, but Bowie had already left for Springfield, Mass., the next stop on his 1976 World Tour:

Lawyer Thomas G. Presutti said there are heavy penalties when concert engagements are broken and he will “request the court’s indulgence” for Bowie’s absence. Bowie also has a concert scheduled in New Haven, Conn., and should be back in Rochester by Wednesday, Presutti said. ... He wanted Bowie out of jail early so he could drive to Springfield. The rock star had a fear of flying, he said.

Three days later, Bowie returned to the Rochester court, where he was greeted by a crowd of about 200 fans, reporters and “the screams of about a half-dozen suspected prostitutes awaiting arraignment in the rear of the corridor outside the courtroom,” according to the newspaper.

Inside, City Court Judge Alphonse Cassetti asked Bowie to enter a plea to the charge of fifth-degree criminal possession of a controlled substance.

“Not guilty, sir,” Bowie replied.

The judge allowed Bowie to remain free on bond while a grand jury considered taking the case. The grand jury eventually declined.

After the arraignment, Bowie told reporters that the local police had been “very courteous and very gentle” with him since his arrest.

“They’ve been just super,” he said, adding that he was “very flattered” and “felt very honored” by the fans who waited outside court for more than two hours to catch a glimpse of him.

Bowie waved to fans as he left Rochester in a limo headed for New York City, where he performed at Madison Square Garden.

According to the blog Rochester Subway, Bowie’s mug shot was discovered in 2007 by an auction house employee who found it in the garbage while clearing out the estate of a retired Rochester police officer. The employee, Gary Hess, sold it on eBay for $2,700 to an “uber” Bowie fan.

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