On This Day: David Bowie and Iggy Pop Got Arrested for Weed

Watch a vintage video of Bowie talking to reporters after his March 1976 arraignment.  

David Bowie did pretty much everything with the singular style and grace that made him an international icon. Even when it came down to getting busted for weed and taking a police mugshot. He was just that good.

Bowie spent the first five months of 1976 on the Isolar tour in support of his 1976 full-length, Station to Station. It’s the album notorious for being recorded while Bowie was living in LA, fueled in large part by extreme cocaine psychosis.

On the night of March 20, 1976, after performing at Community War Memorial Arena in Rochester, NY, Bowie retired to the Americana Rochester Hotel for a party with Iggy Pop and some new friends.

Among those new friends: Chi Wah Soo, a twenty-year-old local who’d moved to Rochester from Hong Kong with her parents at eleven. Now a hair salon owner, Soo told the Rochester Democrat and Chronicle that she linked up with Bowie at his concert, where he noticed her from the stage and passed her a note with an invite to the hotel.

Also at the party: a couple of undercover female police officers, working on a tip that Bowie was traveling with cocaine. While the cops never found any blow, the presence of marijuana was more than enough for the authorities to barge into the room.

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

At 2:25 a.m. in the early morning hours of March 21, four vice squad detectives and a State Police investigator confiscated “about half a pound of marijuana” from the three-bedroom hotel suite.

“They were held in the Monroe County Jail for a few hours. Bowie gave police his real last name, Jones, and listed his address as 89 Oakley St., London, England,” according to the Democrat and Chronicle at the time. “They were charged with fifth-degree criminal possession of marijuana. The charge is a Class C felony, carrying a maximum sentence of fifteen years in prison.”

Bowie paid everyone’s bail and went right back on tour, playing that very evening in Springfield, MA.

He would return to Rochester court on March 25, where he would plead not guilty on drug charges.

“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,” the paper reported of the scene that included a crowd of about two hundred police officers, fans, and reporters. “His biggest greeting was the screams of about a half-dozen suspected prostitutes awaiting arraignment in the rear of the corridor outside the courtroom.”

The singer later held an impromptu press conference in his local lawyer’s office, telling reporters that “[The city police] were very courteous and very gentle. They’ve been just super.”

The charges against Bowie and the others were eventually dismissed after a grand jury declined to indict. Watch a video taken at the press conference below.

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