The man responsible for David Bowie's distinctive eye has paid tribute to his lifelong friend.

George Underwood, Bowie's bandmate and one-time love rival, is in "shock" having not known of the star's cancer until he passed away.

Bowie, who died just three days after releasing his 25th studio album, kept his 18-month battle with cancer so private that even close friends were not aware of his struggle.

Underwood, who was supported by Bowie through his own fight with prostate cancer, was devastated at the loss of the friend he has known since he was aged 9.


He said today: "I couldn't believe it, then I switched on the radio. I'm still in shock. I wasn't aware of his illness at all. We were in contact by email. I knew he was working on a new album so I thought I better leave him to it.

"It's a bit of a shock, I can't get my head around it. I didn't know he was ill. He brought so much happiness and joy to so many people, that's the fantastic legacy he's left behind. He will go down in history.

"He was such a lovely guy. He makes me laugh, I'm going to miss him. I sent a painting to him on his birthday. I hope he was awake for it."

Underwood, now 68, recorded an album with Bowie with their outfit The King Bees and even created the distinctive artworks that appeared on albums Hunky Dory, and The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars.

The pair met while enrolling for cub scouts and attended Bromley Technical School where they discovered a love for music together alongside classmate Peter Frampton.

David Bowie arrives at Wellington Airport in 1983.

Underwood, speaking from his home near Uckfield, in East Sussex, said: "People ask what he was really like but I don't think anyone will ever know unless you know him like me. I have known him since I was 9 years old. We were enrolling for cubs on the same day, that's how we met and we became friends ever since.

"We then went to the same secondary school and were in various bands together. It's a sad old day."

Underwood was devastated that he did not get a chance to say goodbye to his friend and was surprised he hadn't been told of his illness as Bowie had been diagnosed 18 months ago.

David Bowie had a condition called anisocoria - which meant his pupils were different sizes. Photo / Getty Images
David Bowie had a condition called anisocoria - which meant his pupils were different sizes. Photo / Getty Images

He said: "I have been in contact with him via email since then. When I had prostate cancer he was very concerned about me. He kept that to himself though didn't he?

"He looked well. I wonder if it's just come out of nowhere, an aggressive cancer that's suddenly come up. Usually cancer is a long slow process and you get very tired but he's been so active."

Underwood punched Bowie during a row over a girl when they were just 15, which left one pupil permanently dilated - a condition called Anisocoria.

Doctors reckon Bowie was caught in the eye by George's fingernail, which left his left eye looking like it was a different colour.

But despite leaving his friend with a permanent disorder, Underwood revealed that the singer later thanked him for giving him his famed look. He said: "He later told me I did him a favour."

Anisocoria explained

Bowie had a condition called anisocoria - which meant his pupils were different sizes.

This gave the illusion of a difference in colour, explains Kevin Hunt, senior lecturer in design and visual culture at Nottingham Trent University.

Anisocoria is a condition characterised by an unequal size in a person's pupils. In Bowie's case, his left pupil was permanently dilated.

This can create the illusion of having different-coloured eyes because the fixed pupil does not respond to changes in light, while the right pupil does. So Bowie's left eye often appeared to be quite dark, due to the blackness of his dilated pupil, when compared to the blue of his right iris.

The dilated pupil of his left eye was also potentially more prone to the effect of "red eye". This sometimes adds to the appearance of a different colour when contrasted to his right eye.

Red eye occurs when light reflects off of the fundus (the back of the eye), through an open pupil, and captures a red coloration by picking up tonality from the blood in the choroid lining of the eyeball.

- Daily Mail