03 February 2015

Buddy Holly had 20/800 vision

A Wall Street Journal story highlighted the history of his iconic glasses:
As one of the few optometrists in this West Texas town, J. Davis Armistead reckons he saw some 10,000 pairs of eyes over a four-decade career. But the doctor, now 96 years old and retired, still remembers one lanky youth with a vexing vision problem.

The kid couldn't see—his vision was 20/800 in both eyes, meaning he couldn't read the top line of the eye chart. But he didn't want to put on glasses for fear they would spoil the rebellious image he was trying to project as a musician. His name: Buddy Holly...

Mr. Holly had tried going without glasses, but the move backfired when he lost a guitar pick on stage, according to an account from the late Holly historian Bill Griggs. Mr. Holly also tried an early version of contact lenses, but they were so large and uncomfortable that he couldn't tolerate wearing them through a long audition, says Mr. Armistead.

So Mr. Holly started wearing glasses with a plastic-and-metal frame that were chosen precisely because of their nondescript design, the doctor recalls. All that changed when Mr. Armistead watched "The Phil Silvers Show" one night on television. The doctor noticed how Mr. Silvers, playing the role of beleaguered U.S. Army Master Sergeant Ernest G. Bilko, used his heavy black frames to accentuate his everyman persona. "The next morning I got up and said, 'This is what Buddy Holly needs.'"
More at the link.

Photo via Ordinary Finds.  Reposted from 2011 for "the day the music died."


  1. The top line of most eye charts is 20/200 (I can't read that line without glasses or contacts). I guess 20/800 would be four times worse.

  2. As someone with equally bad eyes, I can tell you that the large lenses made those glasses more heavy than they needed to be. The current trend toward much smaller lenses means you only have to support the weight of the thinnest part of the lens on your nose.

  3. I used to have 20/425 and 20/450--as I get older, i become less nearsighted. I remember when we lived in Bellevue WA I decided it had been too long since I got new glasses. When I got home, wearing my new glasses, I was amazed to see that all those huge fir/pine (don't know which) trees in our back yard had individual needles. Before the new glasses, the crowns of the trees were just green blobs.


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