On March 21, 1976, David Bowie was on his “Isolar” trek around America (aka “The Thin White Duke tour”) and “Golden Years” was high on the US pop singles charts. But when the tour pulled into Rochester, NY for a concert at the War Memorial Arena his golden years could have been derailed when the singer and Iggy Pop were arrested on marijuana charges for an impressive amount of herb, about half a pound. Under the harsh Rockefeller drug laws, that could have resulted in fifteen years in prison, but ultimately resulted in nothing other than a minor inconvenience for Bowie, and one of the very best celeb mug shots of all time.
John Stewart reporting in the Rochester Democrat and Chronicle of March 26 1976:
After silently walking through a crush of fans, police and reporters, English rock star David Bowie pleaded innocent to a felony drug charge yesterday in Rochester City Court. Bowie, 28, entered the Public Safety Building through the Plymouth Avenue doorway at 9:25 a.m., just five minutes before court convened, with an entourage of about seven persons, including his attorneys and the three other persons charged with him.
He was ushered into a side corridor by police and was arraigned within 10 minutes, as a crowd of about 200 police, fans and reporters looked on. 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. Bowie was represented by Rochester lawyer Anthony F. Leonardo, who also represented his companions, James J. Osterberg, 28 of Ypsilanti, Mich., and Dwain A. Vaughs, 22, of Brooklyn. Osterberg, described as a friend and Vaughs, described as a bodyguard, also pleaded innocent to the drug charge.
Osterberg also is a rock musician and performs under the name of Iggy Stooge. Bowie has produced at least one of Osterberg’s album in the past. Judge Cassetti set April 20 for he preliminary hearing for the three men. He also agreed to set the same date for the Rochester woman charged with the same offence, Chiwah Soo, 20, of 9 Owen St., who was also in the courtroom. Cassetti allowed Bowie to remain free on $2,000 bail, as well as continuing the $2,000 bond on the other three persons charged. Bowie and the other three were arrested by city vice squad detectives and state police Sunday in the Americana Rochester hotel, charged with possession of 182 grams, about half a pound, of marijuana in his room there. Bowie was in Rochester of a concert Saturday night.
Bowie’s arrangement was witnessed by his fans, some of whom had waited two hours to catch a glimpse of him. All remained quiet in the courtroom and scrambled after his arraignment to watch his exit from the building. But fans and reporters were disappointed as city uniformed and plain-clothes police slipped him out unnoticed. Using a maze of elevators and stairwells, police took Bowie and his entourage out a side exit, across the Civic Center Plaza and into Leonardo’s office on the Times Square building’s seventh floor.
Only about 30 fans were on had to yell goodbye as Bowe and his friends left from Leonardo’s office at 12.30pm. Bowie, for the first time, waved to the crowd as his limousine pulled out from a parking space on West Broad Street, made a U-turn and headed for the expressway and the drive back to New York City. The blue-and-black Lincoln Continental limousine had been ticketed for overtime parking, but a plainclothes policeman took the ticket, and put it in his pocket.
Bowie had remained silent throughout the morning but granted a five-minute interview to newspaper reporters in Leonardo’s office. Leonardo, however, wouldn’t allow any questions directly concerning the arrest, saying it was the first criminal charge he’d ever faced. He complimented city police, though, for the protection they provided him yesterday.
“They (city police) were very courteous and very gentle,” Bowie said. “They’ve been just super.” Quiet and reserved, Bowie answered most of the reporters’ questions with short answers, shaking hands with them when they entered and left. Asked if the arrest would sour him on returning to Rochester, Bowie said “certainly not, absolutely not.” He also said he was “very flattered” by the fans who turned out for this arraignment. “I felt very honored,” he said.
Bowie and his entourage arrived in Rochester about 4am after performing a concert in the Nassau Coliseum on Long Island Wednesday night, Leonardo said, he will appear tonight at Madison Square Garden, his final concert of his America tour, Pat Gibbons, said.
More after the jump…