In 1980, Bowie took time off from his music and film career to expand into yet another performance arena - the theatre. Bowie had done some small work before in the late 60s, including a small part in the Chekov play The Pistol Shot produced for BBC television, but his 1980 venture as The Elephant Man was his first starring role in a major Broadway production.
Bowie took on the part of John Merrick, a hideously deformed individual dubbed "The Elephant Man" during his years in a circus freak show, who is ultimately treated with dignity by a compassionate surgeon and London high society.
The part called for Bowie to portray the deformed man without the aid of prosthetics or makeup, but solely through the use of his body motions and speech patterns. Many critics expected Bowie to be a flop in this role, but to their surprise, he wowed them over with his genuinely dedicated portrayal.
Bowie's appeared for two weeks in Denver starting July 29, 1980, away from the harsh critics of New York, then appeared for a short while when the show hit Chicago before finally garnering rave reviews on Broadway.