David Bowie: Tax Planning Hero

January 29, 2016

Tax Analysts had an excellent story by Ajay Gupta a few days ago about the deft tax planning of David Bowie. The piece traces the story of Bowie’s success and consequent locale ch-changes to avoid some of the most inhospitable tax rates in particular parts of the world.

In 1976, David Bowie set up residency in Switzerland, as his alternatives were California, where state plus federal top marginal rates topped out at 81 percent, or England, where the top rate was 83 percent. Switzerland, by contrast, was at 44 percent, then in 1984, lowered rates to 11.5 percent.

Gupta draws information from the memoirs of Angela Bowie, David’s then wife (and the speculative subject of the Rolling Stone’s 1973 song, “Angie”):

"If David were to remain a resident of California he would have to pay a hefty tax bill -- $300,000 was the figure I was told -- with money he didn't have," his ex-wife wrote. Relaying information provided by Bowie's financial advisers, "these were tax debts accumulated over the previous few years, during which time vast quantities of taxable cash he had generated had vanished into various murky areas," she added.


Angela, who had been educated in a private school in Switzerland, flew there, hired a Swiss lawyer, and negotiated legal residency for the couple in a small municipality in the canton of Vaud. She recounted in her memoirs, "I got what we wanted, and better: legal residency in Blonay, a charming village above Lake Geneva, near Montreux in the French-speaking part of the country." The bottom line was "an almost ludicrously low [effective] tax rate of about 10 percent."

In the 90s, Bowie maintained a residence in Ireland after remarrying, buying a 650 acre estate near Dublin, again for tax reasons:

This would have worked well for Bowie. Ever since 1969, the Irish tax code has exempted royalty earnings of musicians, writers, and other artists from income tax. That provision is credited with attracting writers like Irvine Welsh, DBC Pierre, and Frederick Forsyth to move to Ireland, and persuading local artists like U2, Enya, and Seamus Heaney to remain there. When Ireland began capping the annual exemption in 2007, some artists (including U2) responded by relocating their music publishing businesses to the Netherlands.

Strange fascination indeed. Taxes really matter, especially for an artist like Bowie who had a lot of options for where to reside and earn income. Read the whole piece at Tax Analysts here.

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