David Bowie/The Thin White Duke/Ziggy Stardust
David Bowie may have one of the most famous alter egos ever – Ziggy Stardust. Ziggy made his debut on February 10, 1972, at a little bar called Toby Jug in London. Bowie decided the alien messiah was tasked with saving our doomed planet but would ultimately get sucked in to our human ways, destroying himself in the process.
Unfortunately, Bowie got so deep into character that he almost ended up destroying himself. "I fell for Ziggy too,” he said in 1976. “It was quite easy to become obsessed night and day with the character. I became Ziggy Stardust. David Bowie went totally out the window. Everybody was convincing me that I was a Messiah, especially on that first American tour. I got hopelessly lost in the fantasy."
He pulled his character’s personas from two main inspirations: the guy who replaced Lou Reed in the Velvet Underground, and a British rocker named Vince Taylor. VU singer Doug Yule once had Bowie absolutely convinced that he was Lou Reed. Yule looked very much like his predecessor and engaged in a conversation where he talked about songs he had created that, in fact, Reed had actually written.
Taylor was a star who fronted a band called Vince Taylor and the Playboys to enormous success. He started doing various drugs, including lots of LSD, and by the mid-‘60s he was telling people that he was Jesus or the prophet Matthew, apparently existing on a diet of nothing but eggs. “He was out of his gourd,” Bowie said. “I remember him opening a map outside Charing Cross tube station, putting it on the pavement and kneeling down with a magnifying glass. He pointed out all the sites where UFOs were going to land.”
Once Ziggy’s time on Earth had passed, Bowie adopted a new persona named the Thin White Duke. The Duke was a cold, impeccably dressed man who has been described as zombie-like, Aryan and a mad aristocrat. In short, he was definitely a character you probably didn’t want to find yourself alone with. Bowie later admitted he found the Duke “a nasty character.”
These days, however, he’s just David Bowie.
Photo by Mick Rock.
Nicki Minaj/Roman Zolanski/Nicki Teresa/Rosa
Singer Nicki Minaj has a lot of personalities taking up her inner real estate, which she has said is a result of her parents constantly fighting when she was a kid. To escape, she created characters and worlds in her mind and went into them.
Her first album Pink Friday , released last year, was really only partially performed by Nicki. The other part was performed by Roman Zolanski, the “boy who lives inside [her],” though she has also referred to Roman as her twin sister. Whatever gender Roman is, he/she apparently comes out specifically when she raps – Roman dueted with Eminem on the song “Roman’s Revenge” and with Trey Songz on the song “Bottoms Up.”
Late last year, Nicki debuted a new alter ego – Nicki Teresa, a healer who spreads peace and love to her fans. She also showed off Rosa on Lopez Tonight in December:
Andy Kaufman/Tony Clifton
Tony Clifton was the horrible lounge singer alter ego of entertainer Andy Kaufman. Unlike the other alter egos on this list, Kaufman-as-Clifton was so disguised under his sideburns, mustache, aviator shades and dated polyester suit that many people thought Clifton was a real person. Sometimes Andy’s cohorts stepped into the Clifton persona, allowing Kaufman and Clifton to appear at the same time, furthering the illusion.
When Andy Kaufman accepted the role of Latka Gravas on Taxi in 1978, he had it written into his contract that Clifton would be given guest appearances. Bizarrely, “Clifton” threw a fit on set and was banned from not only the show, but all of Paramount Studios as well. Kaufman was still welcome.
Though Andy died in 1984 (we think), Tony still shows up from time to time, probably portrayed by Andy’s friend and writing partner Bob Zmuda.
Here’s Tony Clifton on The Fantastic Miss Piggy Show in 1984.
Katy Perry/Kathy Beth Terry
If you’ve seen Katy Perry’s “Last Friday Night” video, then you’ve already met Kathy Beth Terry. She’s Perry’s 13-year-old alter ego, complete with headgear and giant glasses. She took to the Internet to beg for more Facebook friends several months ago, and I guess her ploy worked, because she has well over half a million Likes these days. Kathy Beth loves Jonathan Taylor Thomas, Devon Sawa, “Weenie Babies” and the solar system.
Larry the Cable Guy/Daniel Whitney
The guy everyone knows as a southern-fried comedian with the “Git-R-Done” catchphrase? Yeah, he’s not exactly southern. He grew up mostly in Pawnee City, Nebraska (and in fact went to school with one of my husband’s aunts), but moved to Florida when he was 15, where he did develop a bit of a twang. After high school, Dan went to school at Baptist University of America, where he had roommates from Texas and Georgia. That’s where he adopted his thicker-than-tar accent and eventually decided it would make for a pretty funny comedy act. Millions of people think he’s right. Early in his career, he also did characters that included an elderly lady from Boca Raton and a state trooper. But Larry the Cable Guy is the one that stuck. If you’re curious about what Dan sounds like when he’s not in character, you can check out his show on the History Channel called Only in America. Though it’s technically Only in America with Larry the Cable guy, he frequently drops character, especially when he’s interviewing someone who has a touching story or delicate subject matter. Or you could just watch this clip of him doing standup in the ‘80s.
Garth Brooks/Chris Gaines
Even country superstar Garth Brooks tried his hand at having an alter ego back in the '90s. Wanting to try his hand at a different style of music, Brooks created an edgy, kinda Goth persona named Chris Gaines. He even planned to make a movie called The Lamb that would track Gaines' meteoric rise to rock 'n' roll fame and the struggles that came with it. To create buzz around the movie, Brooks released an album of work by Gaines and appeared on Saturday Night Live as both halves of his persona - Garth the host and Gaines the musical guest. Audiences didn't buy it - the alter ego or the album. Sales were so dismal that the movie was scrapped... and so was Chris Gaines. Photo via Amazon