Terry Burns

Terry Burns ended his life on the 16th of January 1985. Terry was David Bowie’s half-brother.

The following account of Terry’s life was compiled by ‘Bromley Bowie’:

"Sharing the same mother, but a different father, and almost a decade older, Terry was a big influence on his younger brother David, instigating in him a profound interest in Tibetan Buddhism, jazz and Beat Generation authors, such as Jack Kerouac.

Terry and David would also go to concerts together, including a local gig by the band Cream at Bromley Court Hotel, which triggered in Terry a schizophrenic episode so vivid that David said he could see the visions as Terry described them.

Terry's life was ultimately a tragic one. The seeds were sown when he was brought up by his (reportedly) unaffectionate maternal grandmother when he was born out of wedlock, so Terry didn't receive the love his younger brother did and much of Terry's adult life was spent at Cane Hill mental hospital in South Croydon.

Terry was most obviously an influence on Bowie’s The Man Who Sold The World album, which featured Cane Hill in the US artwork and was created while Terry was staying at Haddon Hall with David, as was the band Hype. Yet, Terry surfaces on the songs Bewlay Brothers and posthumously on Jump They Say, plus his vision of a 'crack in the sky' relayed to his brother appears in Oh! You Pretty Things.

Also, schizophrenia seemed to be a recurring theme throughout Bowie's work. The boundaries between fiction, reality and Bowie's own self identity often seemed to get lost in his characters such as Major Tom and Ziggy Stardust, which perhaps gave him a route of projection and escape that his elder brother didn't.

For a while things were good for Terry. He served in the Royal Air Force and later fell in love with a fellow Cane Hill patient, whom Terry married at Croydon Registry Office. Unfortunately, on the same day as the official start of the Ziggy Stardust tour at the Toby Jug in Tolworth, so David was therefore unable to attend the ceremony or the reception. The newlyweds lived in Beckenham for a while before relocating to neighbouring Penge, but the marriage didn't last and this caused Terry's mental state to deteriorate.

While David's career took off and he moved around the world, Terry eventually became a full time patient at Cane Hill, staying in the Blake and Ruskin wards. According to one of his carers there, Terry was a good man who never gave much trouble and would often talk about his famous younger brother, while another former Cane Hill nurse remembers Terry walking round the wards happily singing, while trying to get free cigarettes from the shop.

Becoming frustrated at his situation, in the summer of 1982 Terry threw himself out of a window at Cane Hill, breaking 2 limbs in the process. Bowie visited the recovering Terry at Mayday hospital in Croydon, bringing him gifts such as a stereo, albums and cigarettes.

Terry fell in love again with another fellow Cane Hill patient, but when she was discharged, leaving Terry behind, this left Terry feeling worse. With cold weather and snow causing a staff shortage, and Terry cut off from his family and despondent at his permanently injured body, on the 16th of January 1985 he was able to slip out of Cane Hill hospital. The staff were looking for Terry around the hospital grounds, but it was too late. Terry made the short but snowy journey down the hill on foot to Coulsdon South Train Station, where he walked to the southern end of the platform, laid on the tracks in front of a London-bound train and his life ended.

He was cremated at Elmers End Cemetery and Crematorium (the same location as his step father's funeral 16 years earlier), where the dozen or so mourners were mainly from Cane Hill. Peggy and her sister Pat were no longer on speaking terms, so it was a frosty affair. At the height of his 1980s fame, Bowie decided that his attendance would turn the private funeral into a media circus, so he instead sent a basket of flowers and a note inspired by a line from Blade Runner 'You've seen more things than we could imagine, but all these moments will be lost, like tears washed away in the rain'.

At Elmers End Cemetery and Crematorium there remains a plaque for Terry, which is sited in the garden of remembrance, just behind the chapel. This was arranged by his maternal aunt Pat, who was protective of her nephew Terry.

A handsome and charming man who seemed to be well liked by the staff at Cane Hill, Terry's was indeed a tragic life, but he was a big influence and inspiration for his younger brother David, who added All The Madmen to his next tour and wrote the song Jump They Say in reference to his late brother."

A comment shared with 'Bromley Bowie':
"I had the privilege of nursing Terry whilst he was an inpatient & I, was a Student Nurse @ Cane Hill 1969 - 72. A delightful fella who made no demands on staff always cheerful despite his grave, health issues. He would often regale us with tales from the music world. The last time I saw Terry was around 1983 when I made a short visit to the hospital and came across Terry within the corridors.I was deeply saddened to learn of his tragic death. With love and fondest memories."