Michael Stipe’s Beautiful Bowie Tribute: R.E.M. Singer Performs ‘The Man Who Sold the World’

The heavily bearded ex-R.E.M. frontman delivered a gorgeous version of the Bowie classic on Jimmy Fallon’s Tonight Show.

More than two decades ago, Nirvana surprised the MTV Unplugged audience with a stripped-down version of David Bowie’s “The Man Who Sold the World.” On Tuesday’s Tonight Show, it was Michael Stipe’s turn.

Practically unrecognizable in a heavy white beard and black suit, the former R.E.M. frontman sang a similarly slowed-down version of the song with nothing but simple piano accompaniment.

The performance was a preview of what concert-goers can expect at Carnegie Hall and Radio City Music Hall this week when Stipe joins Patti Smith, Cyndi Lauper, The Flaming Lips, and others for two sold-out tribute shows for the legendary Bowie, who passed away earlier this year.

Following the news of Bowie’s death, Stipe posted the poem below to R.E.M.’s Facebook page:

Right now, it feels as if the solar system is off its axis, as if one of our main planetary anchors has lost its orbit. That said—I am certain that wherever Bowie is now—I want to be there someday.

Since R.E.M. officially broke up in 2011, Stipe has made few live appearances, playing “Losing My Religion” with Coldplay’s Chris Martin at the 12-12-12 concert for Hurricane Sandy relief and serving as a surprise opening act for Patti Smith in 2014. The last time he appeared on TV was as part of Stephen Colbert’s star-studded Colbert Report sing-along finale in December 2014.

The proceeds from this week’s concerts, put together by Knitting Factory founder Michael Dorf, will benefit a number of charities that bring music education to underserved students.