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Bruce Gowers, director of Bohemian Rhapsody, dies aged 82

Bruce Gowers, director of Bohemian Rhapsody, dies aged 82

David Knight - 20th Jan 2023

Bruce Gowers, the director of the music video for Queen's Bohemian Rhapsody - arguably the first modern pop video - has died at the age of 82 at his home in California.

Gowers went on to enjoy a long career as a live TV director in American television, winning a Grammy award for his work on American Idol: The Search For A Superstar in 2009. He directed over 230 episodes of American Idol over eight seasons between 2003 and 2011, and also directed the Primetime Emmy Awards, the Billboard Awards and the MTV Awards - and gaining numerous awards and nominations - during his career. 

Gowers, born in 1940, became a BBC trainee before working at independent TV stations Rediffusion and London Weekend Television in the 1960s and 70s. As well as being a studio TV director - he was happiest in the TV control room, according to his family - and cameraman, he began making promos for rock band Queen in the early 1970s. His knowledge of state-of-the-art studio techniques, made him an astute choice when the band decided that the seven minute track Bohemian Rhapsody needed a promotional film for broadcast on Top Of The Pops and other TV music shows rather than performing live, in late 1975.

Although promotional films for songs had existed before, Bruce Gowers played a crucial role in the creation of the recognised medium of the music video, with his use of TV studio video cameras in a highly original and artful way for Bohemian Rhapsody. This included the arrangement of the four members of Queen in the same diamond formation as in the photo on their album cover, A Night Of The Opera, and the brilliant use of 'visual echo' effects via a custom-made hand-cranked multi-lens device - probably now held in the National Science & Media Museum in Bradford, as described in a tribute feature about Gowers and the video on BBC Radio 4's Front Row on January 19th.

After the success of the song - it was No.1 in the UK charts for six weeks, and a global hit all over the world apart from the US - and its promotional 'video' (as it became known), Gowers went on to become one of the pioneering directors of an increasingly prevalent new artform. He settled in the US in the late 1970s, and become a pop promo director who worked with numerous artists including Rod Stewart, The Rolling Stones, 10cc, The Bee Gees, Alice Cooper, Michael Jackson and Prince, before moving full-time into live TV direction.

Gowers was presented with his own special MTV Award for his work on Bohemian Rhapsody, and went on to receive an award from the Director’s Guild of America in 2004 for his direction of TV special Genius: A Night for Ray Charles.  

Bruce Gowers died on January 15th in his Santa Monica home after suffering from an acute respiratory infection, according to family members. His family is accepting donations in the filmmaker’s name to World Central Kitchen and Southern California Bulldog Rescue.

• Obituary in Variety here 

David Knight - 20th Jan 2023

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