On this day in 1982, Culture Club were at No.1 on the UK singles chart with ‘Do You Really Want To Hurt Me‘, the group’s first chart topper and the first of 12 UK Top 40 hits. The song became a major hit after their memorable debut performance on Top of the Pops, when they stood in for Shakin’ Stevens who was ill and not able to appear.
George O’Dowd has since seen success as a DJ, clothes designer and a photographer. But we all know and love him as Boy George, the young man who danced like a girl, looked like a girl, is loved by milliners the world over and gave us “Karma, Karma, Karma, Karma Karma… Chameleon!”.
Boy George is a survivor. One of six children, in later life George told of his troubled teenage years, admitting he was “confused” by his sexuality as a teenager – but had the courage to accept his feelings when David Bowie confessed in 1972 that he was bisexual. All of a sudden everything made sense.
He became a follower of the New Romantic movement in the early 1980s and he and his friend ‘Marilyn’ (Peter Robinson) became regulars at The Blitz, a trendy London nightclub run by Steve Strange of the group Visage.
Boy George’s androgynous style of dressing caught the attention of Malcolm McLaren (previously the manager of the Sex Pistols), who arranged for George to perform with Bow Wow Wow. His association ended soon afterwards and he started his own group with bassist Mikey Craig, followed by drummer Jon Moss and guitarist Roy Hay. Calling themselves In Praise of Lemmings, the name was later abandoned, as was their next name, Sex Gang Children.
Realizing they had a transvestite Irish singer (George), a black Briton (Craig), a Jewish drummer (Moss), and an Anglo-Saxon Englishman (Hay), they settled on the name Culture Club, referring to the ethnic background of the members.
Culture Club’s debut album Kissing to Be Clever, released in 1982, spawned the international hit singles “Do You Really Want to Hurt Me?”, followed by the Top 5 hit “Time (Clock of the Heart)”, and “I’ll Tumble 4 Ya”. This gave Culture Club the distinction of being the first group since The Beatles to have three Top 10 hits in the U.S. from a debut album.
Their next album, Colour By Numbers, was an enormous success, topping the UK charts and peaking at #2 in the U.S. The single “Karma Chameleon” became a #1 in sixteen countries, including #1 in the U.S. where it stayed for three weeks.
George, now a global superstar, had been using drugs for several years, and by 1985 he had developed a heroin addiction. Concerned by this and determined to save George’s life, his younger brother David made an appearance on UK national television and blew the whistle on George’s drug habit, which George had been publicly denying. At around the same time, he was arrested in Britain for possession of cannabis.
Shortly thereafter, keyboardist Michael Rudetsky, who had co-written the song “Sexuality” on Culture Club’s From Luxury to Heartache album, was found dead of a heroin overdose in George’s London home. Following on from that was the death of his friend Mark Golding, who overdosed on methadone and Valium at a party, en route to which George had been arrested on suspicion of carrying drugs.
Culture Club had now split, but Boy George was still good fodder for the tabloid press, launching his solo career, which saw some success in the UK. Having kicked his heroin addiction, he then became addicted to the prescription narcotics that were used during his treatment.
He started DJing in the early 1990s and came to the attention of legendary rave/house promoters Fantasia who asked him to mix tracks for a compilation series. London nightclub Ministry of Sound also hired him to compile one of their first CDs, and it promptly sold 100,000 copies.
In 2005, George was arrested in Manhattan in confused circumstances, apparently involving suspicion of cocaine possession and falsely reporting a burglary. He was sentenced to five days of community service, fined $1,000 and ordered to attend a drug rehabilitation program. George reported to the New York Department of Sanitation for his community service and was greeted by swarms of photographers. As a result of the media coverage, he was allowed to finish his community service inside the Sanitation Department grounds.
George had another brush with the law in 2009, and was found guilty for the assault and false imprisonment of a male escort in his East London flat, serving four months of a fifteen-month sentence for the crime.
But never mind the hard drugs, all night raves and male escorts – my favourite Boy George tale is from 1999 when he narrowly escaped serious injury after a massive 62lb glitter ball fell on his head. George suffered severe bruising on his face after the wire holding the ball in place above the stage had snapped. Having survived, the singer remarked that it would have been both ironic and glamorous to be finished off by a four-foot glitter ball.
Now a regular tweeter, his profile states: “Yes, I’m me and happy to be so. A proud recovering addict and before you say it, there ain’t a line I ain’t done, heard or used”.
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