David Bowie once filmed movie in New Westminster

Legendary artist played 395-year-old man who befriends young boy struggling with cancer

Most Vancouverites knew David Bowie through his music and numerous, dazzling concert appearances at the Pacific Coliseum and B.C. Place Stadium. But Kitsilano’s Colleen Hardwick got to see another side of the legendary musician and actor, who died Sunday at age 69 of cancer.

Bowie starred in the 1998-shot, 2000-released Mr. Rice’s Secret, as a relatively youthful-looking 395-year-old man who befriended his neighbour, Owen, a boy struggling with cancer (played by Bill Switzer). Bowie’s character gave Owen a decoder ring and clues that led to a magic potion for one, full life.

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Producer Hardwick said in an interview that she originally had Peter O’Toole in mind for the role in the family film, which had a $3.2-million budget at the time.

“Then the financiers called me up and said, ‘We’ve got an idea for some stunt casting here — David Bowie has read the script and he wants to do it,’” Hardwick said. “I’d been in love with David Bowie since I was in high school, so I jumped at the chance. I’ll never forget the day when my cellphone went off and the voice on the other side of the phone said, ‘Colleen, this is David Bowie.” I’d just about died.”

Bowie, then 51, was on-set for a week, shooting primarily at a house in New Westminster. Hardwick later travelled to New York, where Bowie did voiceovers. Hardwick said Bowie did the film “because he loved the script and loved the subject matter.”

“The whole story was his journey in addressing the fact that [Owen] had cancer and the old man who died at the beginning of the movie, played by David Bowie, it’s his inspiration that helps the boy come to terms with his own mortality,” Hardwick said.

Hardwick said she watched the trailer again after hearing Sunday night that Bowie had died, two days after releasing his 25th album on his birthday. “I was reminded how close the words that he expressed [in the film] tied to what we’ve just experienced with his passing,” Hardwick said. “His wisdom.”


In one scene, Bowie and Switzer paused from raking in a garden, to discuss life and death.

Bowie: “Let me tell you one thing. All people, no matter who they are, they all wish they’d appreciated life more. It’s what you do in life that’s important, not how much time you have or what you wish you’d done.”

Switzer: “You know what I wish? I wish I could live forever.”

Replied Bowie, with a wry smile: “No, you don’t.”

Hardwick said Bowie was just an ordinary guy on-set, eating catering truck meals along with the rest of the cast and crew.

“He was truly approachable, he wasn’t some highfalutin, unapproachable character,” Hardwick said. “That would be the one thing I’d try to communicate, how down-to-earth he was despite the fact he was a genius artist and reinvented himself in all these different ways.”

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