While show business marriages often sputter out after just a few years, David Bowie and Iman’s union definitely bucked that trend. And while the couple’s 26-year relationship came to a desperately sad end in 2016 when Bowie passed away from cancer, the supermodel has seemingly made it her mission to keep her late husband’s memory alive.
At the very least, the Somali-American has since opened up about her life with her rock icon husband as well as how she’s fared since his untimely death. And one of Iman’s most candid interviews came three years after Bowie’s passing, when she bared her soul to magazine Essence. Here’s a look at the confessional chat that proved once again just how much the celebrity couple truly loved each other.
Born in the Somalian capital of Mogadishu to a diplomat father and gynecologist mother, Iman spent much of her childhood at an Egyptian boarding school. Then, after she had relocated to Kenya with her family, she worked for a time towards a political science degree at the University of Nairobi. It was there, however, that U.S. photographer Peter Beard spotted Iman’s natural beauty.
And with that, Iman ultimately decided to abandon her studies and pursue a career in modeling instead. That bold move seemed to pay off, too, as after the fledgling star relocated to America, she landed her first big assignment for Vogue. By the second half of the 1970s, in fact, she was regularly appearing on the front covers of the nation’s most glamorous publications. Even so, Iman never considered her looks particularly special.
Yes, while Iman instantly stood out in the American fashion world thanks to her slim body, long neck and imposing stature, the model underplayed these distinctive features by claiming that they are nothing out of the ordinary in Somalia. Regardless, though, a whole host of superstar designers chose Iman to be their muse.
Indeed, Gianni Versace, Calvin Klein and Yves Saint-Laurent were just some of the high-profile names who used Iman in campaigns. Photographers such as Annie Leibowitz, Irving Penn and Helmut Newton also had the honor of shooting her up close. Yet Iman’s talents extend far beyond posing for the camera.
In 1994, you see, Iman branched out into the business world with the launch of her own make-up company. The venture was a successful one, too, as by 2010 Iman Cosmetics was raking in $25 million annually. And Iman wasn’t just the face of the company, either; she also insisted on taking on a hands-on role behind the scenes.
Then in 2007 the star was approached to create her own clothing range by the Home Shopping Network’s CEO. The resulting line, Global Chic, drew on both her Egyptian childhood and experiences as a model, and it has since become one of the network’s best selling. In 2010 the Council of Fashion Designers of America even honored Iman’s talents with a Fashion Icon Lifetime Achievement Award.
Yet while Iman may have won over the fashion world, she had needed to fight against prejudice to do so. In 2018 she told Porter magazine, “It was that old adage of divide and conquer. There was an unwritten rule of having just one black model shooting for [a publication] at a time. So you would have to dethrone someone to get that job.”
Iman chose to become friends with her peers rather than battling with them, however. She added, “We are not interchangeable. Once we understood that, we could get them [the agencies and publications] to as well, and we could all work at the same time.” She also fought for black models to receive the same pay as their Caucasian counterparts.
And since rising to fame, Iman has certainly used her platform for the greater good. She’s served as a spokeswoman for the Keep a Child Alive program, for instance, as well as an ambassador for Save the Children. The model has also worked with the Children’s Defense Fund and the non-profit Enough Project, and she ultimately chose to end her contract with De Beers as a protest against blood diamonds.
Then, of course, there are Iman’s forays into acting. In 1991, for example, she played shape-shifting extra-terrestrial Martia in the sixth Star Trek movie, The Undiscovered Country. She has also appeared on the big screen in 1979 British thriller The Human Factor, 1985’s Oscar-winning Out of Africa and 1987 Kevin Costner vehicle No Way Out.
Nor has Iman been averse to plying her trade on the small screen. The model has appeared as Dakotah in two episodes of Miami Vice as well as guesting on In the Heat of the Night and The Cosby Show. She’s also hosted both Project Runway Canada and The Fashion Show. And even though Iman has more than kept busy during her varied career, she has nevertheless left time for a personal life.
Iman first walked down the aisle at just 18, in fact, when she wed Somali businessman Hassan. The pair divorced a few years later, however, after which the model briefly stepped out with acting legend Warren Beatty. Then Iman married professional basketball player Spencer Haywood, with the pair welcoming their one and only child together, Zulekha, in 1978. Yet this union would also sadly crumble, and so the couple went their separate ways in 1987.
But Iman’s life changed forever in 1990 when she met the musical chameleon that was David Bowie. And it appears that Bowie was smitten from the off, too. He later told Entertainment Tonight, “I found [Iman] intolerably sexy. I think I did something really corny the next day. I think I invited her to afternoon tea somewhere.”
Yet even legendary rock stars can get flustered sometimes, as Iman attested in the same interview. She said, “He told me [that] he was so nervous he just said ‘tea.’ He doesn’t drink tea. He never drinks tea. He had coffee.” But Bowie’s invite did the trick, and two years later the pair became husband and wife.
And when speaking to Entertainment Tonight, Iman also recalled how Bowie had asked for her hand in marriage next to the River Seine. It appears, too, that the ring he used to propose with had some meaning to his beloved. You see, two years previously, the model had first come across the item of jewelry while the pair were in Florence. Bowie somehow managed to track the ring down, then, and convince the owner to part company with it for a price. Iman later said of that proposal, “It was sweet, and of course I said yes.”
But was Iman ever daunted about being married to an internationally renowned rock icon? Well, in a 2014 interview with The Guardian, she suggested not, revealing that she didn’t actually see the man everyone knows as David Bowie as her husband. She said, “I fell in love with David Jones. Bowie is just a persona. He’s a singer, an entertainer. David Jones is a man I met.”
In a particularly surprising confession, Iman also claimed that she initially had had little interest in pursuing a romance with one of the world’s most celebrated musicians. She told The Guardian, “I was not ready for a relationship. Definitely I didn’t want to get into a relationship with somebody like him.”
Naturally, though, that soon changed, and in 2010 Iman told Harper’s Bazaar that she was just as smitten with Bowie as she’d ever been. She said, “He always makes me laugh. It’s like cabaret. I keep him entertained, too. I still fancy him – totally! – after all these years.”
Then, eight years after marrying in the Swiss city of Lausanne, Iman and Bowie welcomed daughter Alexandria into the world. But the family would be dealt a cruel blow in 2014. Unbeknown to anyone outside Bowie’s immediate circle, this was the year when he received a diagnosis of liver cancer.
Incredibly, Bowie continued to keep his condition private for the following 18 months until he succumbed to the disease in January 2016. The legendary musician had both celebrated his 69th birthday and released his 25th studio effort, Blackstar, just two days before his death.
And following her husband’s untimely passing, Iman took to Instagram to reflect on their enduring 26-year relationship. In one particularly emotive post, the former model shared the unattributed quote, “The struggle is real, but so is God.” She also took to Twitter, where she offered the simple message, “Love & Gratitude.”
What’s more, Iman has seemingly since made it her mission to keep the memories of her relationship with Bowie alive. In any case, she regularly takes to social media to upload throwback images of the pair in happier times alongside the #BowieForever hashtag. And perhaps one of the most touching of these snaps is a picture of the couple locked in a beachside embrace, with the model captioning the shot, “The best part of me is you.”
It’s true, too, that Iman has spoken about her loss in public. In September 2016 she was briefly interviewed at New York Fashion Week, where she was attending a show staged by designer Tom Ford. And after a TV reporter described her as a survivor, the model responded, “Not as much as you think. It’s just been a tough year, but I’m holding up.”
Yet while Iman may have put a brave face on things, she was still struggling to cope with the loss of her husband two years after his passing. While talking to Porter, she explained, “Sometimes, I don’t want people to know how sad I am. People say to me, ‘Oh, you’re so strong.’ I’m not strong – I am just trying to keep it together.”
The model also went on to discuss how the public have reacted to her since Bowie’s death. She said, “People take pictures of me in the street and say [while touching my arm], ‘I am so sorry for your loss.’ I’m like, ‘Don’t touch me. You just took pictures of me. How can you be sorry?’”
Iman continued, “I get the fans’ grief, but it’s not the same. They have lost someone they look up to; we have lost a husband and a father.” She also insisted that she has no plans to look for a new love any time soon, adding, “I will never remarry. I do feel very lonely. But do I want a relationship? I can’t say never, but, no, not now.”
Then in July 2019 Iman graced the front cover of Essence magazine’s summer issue. Not only did this appearance coincide with the 25th anniversary of the ESSENCE Festival, but it also neatly tied into the 25th anniversary of Iman Cosmetics. And the star herself told the publication that she was hugely proud of what she had achieved in the industry.
Iman explained, “When I came on the scene, I was catering to women of all skin colors. Regardless of what hue you are, as long as you are a woman with skin of color – whether you are Asian, Latina or African – I opened that gate.” It appeared, too, that her late husband had been key to her company’s success.
At the very least, Iman Cosmetics may have stayed nothing but a pipe dream had Bowie not encouraged his wife. Yes, while the model admitted that she was initially reluctant to pursue her business ambitions, she also claimed that Bowie had given her both the confidence and the impetus to move forward with her idea.
Speaking about how much of a personal champion her husband was, Iman told the magazine, “[Bowie] literally did not understand fear. He was in my corner cheering me on every step of the way. If it wasn’t for him, I would never have done it.”
And Iman also had no qualms about further opening up on the subject of her late spouse. More than three years on from his passing, she told Essence exactly what she missed the most about Bowie. “His sense of humor – he made me laugh every day,” she revealed.
Iman also credits Bowie for inspiring her and anyone who knew him to learn more about the world. She added to Essence, “He was a very curious person, so he made all of us very curious about everything in life.” However, anyone who’s particularly curious about Iman’s private life may be left wanting.
You see, when Iman was asked about the possibility of a future autobiography, she answered, “I have nothing to hide, but I’m not telling it. I’m still old-fashioned. I still find that I like to keep my privacy.” She claimed, too, that she has no desire “to tell everything.”
Yet even though Iman may not be recounting her life story in print any time soon, she is apparently still focusing on leaving the kind of legacy of which she can be proud. She told Essence, “Whether it’s in my business or in my charities, I stood up. I did not stay on the side, and I did not waste what was given to me.”
And while Iman also claimed that she “stumbled into life,” adding, “I was not looking to be a model. I was not looking to be in America,” she nevertheless worked with what she had. “And so that will be my legacy: I stood up,” the star concluded.
Iman also spoke about her legacy when she took to the Essence Festival’s Beauty Carnival stage that same month. There, she said, “I knew from day one that there wasn’t a lot of make-up for me. I wanted to change the language of beauty. It wasn’t about black women. It was about women with skin of color, which means the whole world.”
“I wanted to really change the language [that was used to describe ethnic brands],” Iman continued. “It’s not an ethnic brand. These are consumers. Don’t pigeonhole us, because we have the buying power. Whether it’s through Iman Cosmetics, creating a service for black women [or] standing for my daughters and daughters of many – that’s what I want to be remembered for.”
And it seems that Iman is far from ready to rest on her considerable laurels. Today, she may be seen gracing fashion industry conference panels such as the Apple Awards and Vogue Forces of Fashion. She also has plans to travel across the globe with friend and fellow model and activist Bethann Hardison – yet another achievement, perhaps, in a career that is already full of accomplishments.