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March 30, 2021

The Story Behind David Bowie’s Infamous Mugshot, 1976

In the early morning hours of March 21, after a concert at the Community War Memorial arena in Rochester, David Bowie was arrested on a felony pot possession charge. The Thin White Duke, 29 at the time, was nabbed along with Iggy Pop and two other codefendants at the Americana Rochester Hotel. Bowie was held in the Monroe County jail for a few hours before being released. The below Rochester Police Department mugshot was taken four days after Bowie’s arrest, when the performer appeared at City Court for arraignment.

The Bowie mugshot was recovered by Gary Hess while he was working for a local auction house which was clearing out the estate of a retired Rochester police officer. Gary recognized the man in the picture as Bowie and literally rescued it from the garbage.

Because he was falling behind on bills and needed the extra money, Gary gave the photo to his brother, Todd Hess, to sell on eBay. The photo sold in the fall of 2007 for more than $2,700 to an “uber fan” in the midwest who had some connection with the superstar. According to Todd, the buyer made Bowie aware that she had purchased the mugshot; and, she reported, Bowie was pleased that she won the one-of-a-kind item.

According to reports in the Rochester Democrat and Chronicle, the cops found 182 grams (a little over 6.4 ounces) of marijuana there. Bowie and three others — Pop, a bodyguard named Dwain Voughns, and a young Rochester woman named Chiwah Soo — were charged with fifth-degree criminal possession of marijuana, a class C felony, punishable by up to 15 years in prison.

Bowie and Pop were booked under their real names, David Jones and James Osterberg Jr. The group spent the rest of the night in the Monroe County Jail and were released at about 7 a.m. on $2,000 bond each. They were supposed to be arraigned the next day, but Bowie left town to go to his next concert in Springfield, Massachusetts. His lawyer appeared and asked for the court’s indulgence, explaining the heavy penalties for breaking concert engagements. He promised the judge that Bowie would appear the following morning on March 25.

Bowie showed up for his arraignment looking dapper in his Thin White Duke clothing. It was then that his mug shot was taken — so we’ll never actually know what Bowie looked like when he was unexpectedly dragged into jail at 3 a.m. The police escorted the rock star in and out of the courtroom mostly through back corridors, shielding him from a crowd of fans who showed up at the courthouse. Reporter John Stewart describes the scene in the next day’s Democrat and Chronicle:

Bowie and his group ignored reporters’ shouted questions and fans’ yells as he walked in — except for one teenager who got his autograph as he stepped off the escalator.

His biggest greeting was the screams of about a half-dozen suspected prostitutes awaiting arraignment in the rear of the corridor outside the courtroom.

Asked for a plea by City Court Judge Alphonse Cassetti to the charge of fifth-degree criminal possession of a controlled substance, Bowie said, “not guilty, sir.” The court used his real name — David Jones.

He stood demurely in front of the bench with his attorneys. He wore a gray three-piece leisure suit and a pale brown shirt. He was holding a matching hat. His two companions were arraigned on the same charge.

The defense lawyer told the judge that Bowie and the others had never been arrested before. The judge allowed them to remain free on bond until a grand jury convened. Bowie and his entourage went on with their tour, and the grand jury eventually decided not to indict anyone.


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