David Bowie’s drummer did drugs every day—But in 1990s, something turned his life around
During his early years, Sterling Campbell, a NYC-based drummer for British rock star David Bowie, lived an unrestrained lifestyle—drinking alcohol and smoking pot every day. He couldn’t break out of the vicious cycle until one day in the 90s, when he stumbled across something precious that completely turned his life around.
Sterling Campbell, born in 1964 in New York City, has been drumming since his childhood days.
“I have been playing drums all my life, since 12 years old. Drumming has become a part of me,” Sterling told NTD.TV.
In 1986, then-22-year-old Sterling was given the golden opportunity to go on tour with American singer Cyndi Lauper.
Since then, his Rock ‘n Roll career skyrocketed. He has since been hired to work with numerous high-profile artists, including Duran Duran, The B-52’s, Soul Asylum, Gustavo Cerati, and David Bowie.
He started playing with David Bowie in 1992. His first meeting with David was “wonderful,” he recalls.
“I was finally meeting my hero and he was so inviting, smiling,” Sterling wrote in an article published exclusively for The Epoch Times.
For the next 14 years, he continued to play with David.
Getting rid of drug addiction
Though Sterling was in the twilight of his career, he felt he had no purpose in life. He smoked two packs of cigarettes every day, and got hooked on drugs and alcohol.
“I drank every night, I smoked every day, I had pot every day, and other crazy drugs at one point or another,” Sterling said. “I did it every day, it was part of the job description.”
For years, Sterling tried hard to break these bad habits, but he just couldn’t, until one day in 1998, when he came across an ancient cultivation practice from the East.
That day, Sterling happened to pass by a group of practitioners doing some gentle, slow-moving exercises while walking through Riverside Park in New York City.
He was attracted to the peaceful exercises. He went over to talk to a practitioner, and found out that they were practicing Falun Gong, also known as Falun Dafa—a self-cultivation practice of mind and body.
“The conversation kept going on. I don’t know why I became interested, it was like an instinctual feeling.”
He picked up Zhuan Falun—Falun Dafa’s main text, and as he read, he felt as if “this book is speaking to me.”
“I’m reading it and I’m believing it,” he said.
He realized that this was exactly what he needed.
Just two weeks after practicing Falun Gong, his life took a 180-degree turn.
“I no longer wanted to smoke, drink, or take drugs,” he said. “So, it is a huge transformation.”
The practice helped him become a better person, and musician.
“I’ve raised my standards as a person—you learn to consider others before yourself. It’s completely about your heart,” said Sterling, in an interview published in the Scottish newspaper Metro, on Nov. 27, 2003. “I give more to David’s music now, I’m more selfless.”
Since then, practicing Falun Gong has become an integral part of his life. Every time he performs on stage, he brings along his special bass drum kit displaying the Chinese characters for “Truthfulness, Compassion, Tolerance”—the principles of Falun Gong.
“People always want to put on some things. I want to put some positive things on my drum and tell people what kind of person I am,” Sterling said.
Raising awareness during David Bowie’s reality tour
Sterling was part of David Bowie’s last big world tour—the Reality Tour, which commenced on Oct. 7, 2003, at the Forum Copenhagen, Denmark. They traveled to more than 100 cities over nine months.
“It was my personal favorite and the one that will stick with me forever,” Sterling shared. “We laughed a lot.”
At that time, whenever David held a concert, Sterling would arrange a booth for the non-profit group “Friends of Falun Gong” at the entrance.
At the booth, Falun Gong practitioners took the opportunity to raise awareness about the persecution of the practice in China, whilst Sterling would tell the media about his experience of being arrested in China for voicing his support.
According to the Falun Dafa Information Center, millions of Falun Gong practitioners have been arrested and detained, ever since the Chinese Communist Party began its brutal persecution to eradicate the practice on July 20, 1999. With an estimated 70 million to 100 million adherents in China, the Chinese Communist Party perceived Falun Gong’s popularity a threat to its authoritarian rule and atheist ideology.
The international community has long been unaware of the CCP’s disinformation campaign to discredit the practice, in addition to the state-sanctioned organ harvesting, which practitioners are targeted for.
In February 2002, Sterling traveled to China to tell the Chinese people that “Falun Dafa is good” with 60 or 70 other Falun Gong practitioners.
“I was encouraged by Falun Gong practitioners in China. They have bravely stepped forward to clarify the truth of Falun Gong to people even in that tough situation. As western practitioners, going to Tiananmen was for drawing more attention to this,” he told Minghui.org.
He was eventually detained and expelled from China.
“They grabbed us and took us to the police station where we were met with brutality,” recalled Sterling.
“It was this incredible two-week period where one week I was being detained by police in China, and the next week I was doing a show with David for Tibet House at Carnegie Hall.”
David, a supporter of Amnesty International, cared about human rights and was in favor of Sterling’s efforts.
“He’s very supportive,” Sterling said.
“He was a humanitarian. He cared about many things, he cared about human rights and he knew what was going on in the world.”
Sadly, David passed away after succumbing to liver cancer two days after the release of his final album, “Blackstar,” on Jan. 10, 2016.
“David was a genuine person, one of a kind,” Sterling said.
“David let me and all the other musicians be ourselves,” he continued. “He respected my beliefs and wanted everyone involved to express themselves. It was truly an honor to work for David and something I will always cherish.”
For more information about Falun Gong, visit www.falundafa.org.
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