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The eyes of David Bowie

Gudrun Heise / cdJanuary 11, 2016

David Bowie might have been a musical chameleon of sorts, but one very real physical marker always defined him - his eyes were two different colors.

Echo Verleihung 2016 Ehrung David Bowie
Image: picture-alliance/dpa/C. Bilan

One was brown, the other gray-green. David Bowie's eyes were not, however, two different colors, nor was he born with heterochromia iridum, a condition which causes a disturbance in the iris' natural pigmentation. The reason his eyes bore different colors was due to an event that occurred when he was 14-year-old, when he got into a fight.

During that fight (over a girl), his friend punched him in the left eye. The pupil of that eye remained dilated - the black part was larger – from then on his two eyes were uneven.

It was this development which led to his left eye appearing brown and his right gray-green; the latter would have been the "original" (undilated) color of that eye.

Large and small

But could doctors in England, who tried to repair Bowie's eye over four months, have successfully repaired it?

Muscles govern the size of the eye's pupil: A ring-shaped muscle behind it narrows while a fan-shaped muscle behind the eye broadens the pupil.

"If these two different muscles for expansion and contraction are damaged, then the pupil can get larger and then stay that way," says Markus Kohlhaas at the St.-Johannes-Hospital in Dortmund, Germany.

The eye with the larger pupil therefore appears darker than the other. As for the muscular damage, it cannot be repaired.

"You could try to contract the pupil with eye drops," Kohlhaas says, "[but] when the muscles are heavily damaged, that usually doesn't help. We only do that when patients feel they're extremely blinded by the dilated pupil. That then occurs surgically, in which case we sew the relevant pupil smaller."

Statue David Bowie Screenshot
David Bowie rewrote the language of popImage: DW

Possible fix

Bowie's simplest option would have been to wear colored contact lenses. They come complete with iris-print coloring and would have made his eyes appear identical.

There was a second, surgical option he could also have considered.

"An artificial iris would have been placed in the eye's interior, in front of your own iris, so that the color can then match or so that totally crazy color combinations can be brought about," Kohlhaas says. "That hasn't proved reliable and only leads to complications."

The expert added that such surgery belongs more to the realm of lifestyle medicine.

Ultimately, Bowie attempted neither.

Having two different eyes were a marker for the chameleon of music.