Haringey Director of Public Health (right) in BMJ:
David Bowie has died. From cancer. So much outpouring of grief. And yes I participated, posting #RIPBowie tweets and reminiscing about seeing him in concert in Montreal as an 18 year old with all who would listen, shedding a tear listening to the day long radio tributes as I felt my youth slipping away with his passing. And yet everything I watched, on TV, on YouTube, on Facebook and in the many pictures, there it was, revelling in its strong silent presence and mocking us for our complicity, the killer that took him away from us aged only 69…
Only 69? One of the things the healthist brigade has done in the last few years has been to move the goalposts about how long people can expect to live. When I was young, living to the age of 70 was about the most anyone could hope for. It was a ripe old age, and I’m not far off it these days.
When my grandfather died aged 71, nobody said he was “only 71″.
But these days we’re somehow all expected to live to the age of 80 or 90. Anything short of that is a “premature” death.
And who’s living to 80 or 90 these days? Why, the hard-smoking wartime generation.
Anyway, despite having no more information than anyone else, Haringey’s health director knows what caused Bowie’s “premature” death:
Yes Bowie stopped smoking some years ago, but those who were HIV positive are likely to have changed their behaviour too. For them both, the extra bullets had already been loaded in the gun for the Russian roulette of diseases that would kill them.
Yup, smoking. He gave up smoking 12 years ago, but it killed him anyway.
We know that Bowie died from cancer. There is a small amount of online speculation about whether it was liver cancer—primary, or perhaps secondary to lung cancer; we know that smoking is a major risk factor for cancer. Given that previously he has been open about his struggle with alcohol and drug misuse, it seems odd that Bowie and his family have been so guarded about the details of his death.
Perhaps his family is grieving? And perhaps they don’t believe that his widely reported (not speculative) liver cancer was caused by smoking? What’s truly speculative is to link liver cancer first to lung cancer and thence to smoking.
Yet, the tobacco industry did very well from their product placement through Bowie—even more so following the wide coverage of his death and surge in viewing of Bowie smoking footage. It makes me angry, angry that he died so young—and angry that no one is lamenting this, as if death from cancer is random and unpredictable, and no-one is responsible. It makes me angry that my hero has allowed this to happen, to influence so many more to start or continue smoking, and to die quietly, without speaking out in rage about this needless, profit-making killer.
There it is again: died so young. And why the heck should David Bowie have shared this Haringey Public Health director’s hatred of smoking? He was an artist, not a health campaigner.
Incidentally, according to this health zealot, stopping smoking made no difference anyway: the extra bullets had already been loaded in Bowie’s Russian roulette gun. In which case, why try to get smokers to stop smoking? It won’t help them to live any longer. But I bet that hasn’t stopped Haringey from offering smoking cessation advice, and continuing the relentless persecution of Haringey’s smokers.
What I found most incongruous – and contradictory – about this piece is that it’s by a antismoking health zealot who’s shedding crocodile tears over the death of someone who lived the (very, very unhealthy) sex-and-drugs rock star life to the full. Why wasn’t he saying that it served him right to die so young, after living that kind of life, and making all that damn music?
But the explanation only became clear to me half way through writing this piece. When I first saw the photo at the top, I thought it was of a young David Bowie. But after examining it closely, I decided it must be some other man. But that proved to be a mistake as well: the photo is actually of a woman called Jeanelle de Gruchy, who is Haringey’s Director of Public Health, and also a lesbian who happens to look a bit like David Bowie, and who clearly identified with the gender-bending early Bowie. Sexual politics has beaten healthism for once.
The only real shame about David Bowie is that he stopped smoking, and started eating cauliflower puree, and ceased touring and making music. Funny how his “healthy” lifestyle coincided with his artistic sterility. He would have done much better to have carried on smoking and eating English fry-ups, and making music and touring. They were all part of the package that made him what he was. After all, like the lady says, if the Russian roulette gun had already been loaded, he was always going to die young anyway, at the ripe old age of 69.