David Bowie’s passing has stirred many memories. For most of us, we’re left with how his music made us feel. But for one Austinite, Bowie left a different impression — one shaped like boxing gloves.
Richard Lord’s Gym in Austin is exactly what you hoped it would be. It’s housed in what is left of an industrial stretch on North Lamar. Lord’s office walls are filled with framed photos and promotional posters for fight-nights past. The gym has one full-sized boxing ring and a smaller one. Both are filled with fighters hoping to learn from perhaps the best instructor in Austin. But long before Lord’s gym became an institution, David Bowie hired the then-professional boxer to help him learn the sweet science.
“David was having Elvis Presley phobia at that time,” Lord recalls. “Presley had passed away on tour, and he was thinking if he didn’t do some real drastic lifestyle changes, he was not going to be able to survive the rigors of the tour. So he was willing to go all out.”
It was 1983, and David Bowie was readying the Serious Moonlight Tour in Dallas at Las Colinas Studio. As the story goes, it was his chauffeur, an ex-boxer himself, who convinced Bowie that boxing was the way to get fit and to hire Lord. And Bowie was committed.
“This was on a Friday. They said, ‘You tell us whatever you need – boxing ring, gloves, heavy bag, speed bag, mirrors, everything, we’ll have it all equipped by Monday. But then I thought, ‘you know,’ and I told David, ‘Why don’t you come over? I have a gym I grew up with on 12th and Jefferson in South Oak Cliff. I want you to see my gym to see if we can work out there.’ He was all about it, that he could work out in a real gym,” Lord says.
The training lasted about six weeks. And, David Bowie being David Bowie, much of it was held in the wee hours of the morning: 4:30 a.m. runs around Bachmann Lake by Love Field, for instance. The gym location also worked, because in South Oak Cliff, Bowie was mostly anonymous.
“They would be walking by, these old folks, and they would see the limousine outside, and they see this great big chauffeur. I can see their wheels are churning, thinking ‘Oh, Muhammad Ali or Sugar Ray Leonard, somebody big is here.’ And they come looking up. They see him working out in there and they didn’t recognize him. They were just seeing this skinny old white guy. He couldn’t even break an egg. And he loved it that he wasn’t being recognized. He’s used to getting just stampeded by fans,” Lord says.
Lord’s daily interaction with Bowie came to an end when the tour began. And Lord had something he was working toward as well:
“I didn’t get to go on tour because I had to stay. I had a fight on ABC Wide World of Sports,” he says.
Lord says that, in a way, he used Bowie as a sparring partner to work up to his ABC fight.
“I’m probably one of the few guys that was able to hit him without going to jail,” he says.
Despite the preparation, Lord’s ABC fight ended in a draw.
The Serious Moonlight Tour was Bowie’s first to include an Austin show. He and Lord kept in touch through the years. Tours brought Bowie through town twice more. Whenever close, he would call and leave a backstage pass for Lord.
“I’m very saddened that he died, because I was just celebrating his birthday last week… just having a recollection of good times with him,” Lord says. “So I’m proud that I was able to experience what I did with him.”