This Karma Chameleon singer, unlike the real camouflaging lizard, stood out wherever he went: for his style and especially for his talent. Unfortunately, the pitfalls of fame came back to haunt him—big time. Let’s take a look at 50 facts that examine the highs and lows of Boy George’s colorful life and career.
1. His Family Life Was “A Sad Irish Song”
Boy George was born George Alan O’Dowd on June 14, 1961. His family had many hardships including his father’s emotional and physical assaults on his mother. George loved his father but says he was a “terrible father and a terrible husband.” But George himself was also prone to outbursts.
2. He Had A Fashion Breakdown At A Very Young Age
At age six, Boy George was in a family wedding party and got to wear an elaborate outfit with what he called “amazing court shoes.” Young George loved the whole look, especially the shoes. When a cousin wore the shoes for another wedding, George had a meltdown. But George’s mother knew she had something special on her hands.
3. His Mother Had A Word For Him
George’s mother realized there was something different about her son. She called him “theatrical,” but also highly strung. George’s only complaint of his mother was that she didn’t have enough makeup for him to wear—she only wore blue eyeshadow. But George had a fixation with a different color…
4. He Called Himself Pink
George was a middle child and says he still suffers from middle child syndrome, which means you feel like an outsider. He also called himself the “pink sheep of the family.” Being flamboyant was his way of standing out in his largely male family. But standing out didn’t go so well at school.
5. He Didn’t Play Well With Others
George didn’t fit in at school and found the masculine culture troublesome. He also liked to battle with his teachers, which really annoyed them—until it reached a dire climax. Eventually, the verbal battles with staff and his outlandish appearance got him kicked out of school. But George didn’t need school, he had the ultimate mentor.
6. His Mentor Was As Outrageous As He Was
When Boy George first saw David Bowie in his glam Ziggy Stardust era, it was life-changing. Listening to his music and seeing his sense of style made it clear to George what he wanted to do and be in his life. He wanted to be creative and he wanted to be famous. But then George took his admiration to a shocking level.
7. He Was A Star Stalker
At the age of 11, George found out where David Bowie lived. It wasn’t close by but George was a walker. So he put on his most comfortable shoes and walked the many miles to sit outside Bowie’s house. A little creepy, a little cute.
8. A Family Member Fought Against Illness
George’s family had five children and the youngest boy, Gerald, suffered from mental illness. When he was a young adult he had some very intense moments of paranoia. During one of these episodes, tragedy struck. He became violent and took the life of his wife. Even though Gerald was schizophrenic, the authorities decided to charge him for the offence, and they eventually convicted him.
9. He Went To Great Lengths for Style
There wasn’t a lot of money in the O’Dowd household, so George had to go to great lengths to achieve his unique looks. He says he shoplifted makeup from Woolworths and took trousers from stranger’s clotheslines in his neighborhood. But some of his clothes came from a source closer to home.
10. He Had An In-House Clothing Designer
George’s mother was handy with a sewing machine and once made him a copy of Vivienne Westwood’s famous bondage trousers. When he happened to meet Westwood at a disco, she demanded to know who made them. When George told the fashion icon that the designer was his mother, she asked him to tell her she did a good job. It wasn’t long after that George’s sense of style got him a job.
11. His Style Caught a Famous Manager’s Eye
George became known for his androgynous style and it caught the eye of punk rock manager Malcolm McLaren. McLaren thought George might help his band Bow Wow Wow. The lead singer Anabella Lwin didn’t have much stage presence, so George stepped in to lend a hand. It could be he did the job too well.
12. He Clashed With Another Big Personality
George clashed with Bow Wow Wow lead singer Annabella Lwin. She was 16 years old at the time and maybe saw George’s presence as an ambush. They played a few gigs together and George took center stage from young Lwin. When Lwin protested, George moved on to his plan B.
13. He Formed His Own Band
George’s time with Bow Wow Wow was his first taste of fame and he was now ready to start his own band. He got a group of talented musicians together and started rehearsing. Because the members were from different countries George suggested the name Culture Club, and it stuck. But George was surprisingly different from his other bandmates.
14. He Was The Straight Man
At the beginning of Culture Club, George stood out from other band members in one distinct way: He rarely drank and he didn’t smoke or use any illicit substances. The other members were not afraid of a little partying but not George. He was focusing on the music and his own personal style. As we’ll soon see, this distinction didn’t last long.
15. His First Shows Were A Disaster
When Culture Club first started playing small gigs, a lot of them were in pubs that catered to a punk crowd, because drummer Jon Moss had ins at these clubs. But the punked-out audiences were not too fond of George’s style. George remembers hearing the crowd shouting insults at his girly outfits. But once he got his first real concert, things went from bad to worse.
16. He Couldn’t Face His First Real Concert
Boy George and Culture Club were ecstatic to be playing a proper concert alongside iconic 80s band Depeche Mode. But George had problems with nerves, and it ended in a bizarre spectacle. He spent the entire concert with his back to the audience. His band members later demanded he face the audience at the next concert.
It didn’t matter though, as the band was suddenly soaring to incredible heights.
17. His First Album Reached An Amazing Milestone
Culture Club’s first album, Kissing To Be Clever, had three top 10 hits. Only one other band had done this with a debut album: The Beatles. George was most certainly thrilled to know his first album had matched this iconic British band. But with all this fame, his fans had one big question.
18. His Appearance Caused Confusion
Around the time of his next hit album, Colour By Numbers, George’s androgynous appearance was creating a stir in the US. People had questions and talk show host Joan Rivers wasn’t afraid to ask them. The famous comedian asked him if he liked boys or girls. Boy George’s reply was legendary. He simply said: “Oh, both.” Sadly, this frank answer could have been the reason for George’s first career disappointment.
19. His Third Album Was Meh
After the massive successes of Culture Club’s first two albums, the bar was set high for Waking Up With The House On Fire. Unfortunately, this third album failed to light a fire with fans. It wasn’t a complete bust, but George was used to hit after hit after hit. This failure led to over two decades of misfortune and trouble for George.
20. He Behaved Badly At An Awards Show
When Culture Club received their first Brit award, the presenter was comedian Frankie Howerd. Boy George got it into his mind that because the presenter was a gay comedian the show wasn’t taking Culture Club seriously. George was rude and sarcastic to Howerd, but years later got to apologize. This was not the only thing going wrong in George’s life.
21. He Had A Tumultuous Love Affair
Behind the scenes, Culture Club was hiding a racy secret. Boy George was having a secret love affair with drummer Jon Moss, who identified as straight. The two often fought, but it all came to a head when Moss invited George to meet his family. They had no idea the two were dating and so, Moss’s mom asked George to eat with the servants. This was the last straw for George.
22. He Hid From His Problems In A Dangerous Way
Boy George was facing a not-so-popular album and a relationship that was going nowhere. This was when a distraught George turned to illicit substances to help him through it. He’d been so good, but now he couldn’t cope. To add to his misery, he had to continuously deal with pressure from the media.
23. He Loved Tea—A Lot
The media was hounding Boy George about his orientation. This time, it was Barbra Walters who asked George about his preferences, and he gave her a much more blunt answer. He told her: “I’m bisexual.” But wasn’t all this interest in George’s private life a little misguided? He’d already told another reporter that he preferred a cup of tea to shagging.
But this time George’s frankness delighted the American public, and they wanted more and more of him.
24. He Found A Way Into American Living Rooms
Boy George appeared on the hugely popular American TV show The A-Team. The action-comedy, featuring wrestler Mr. T, couldn’t have been more in opposition to George’s eclectic style. And yet households across America tuned in to see George play himself in one episode. His career may have been on fire, but his personal life was still a mess.
25. He Lost Friends to Drugs
In quick succession, Boy George faced three absolutely devastating tragedies. He lost three close friends to overdoses. Keyboardist Michael Rudestky lost his life due to an overdose right in George’s apartment. In the same year, two other friends, Mark Vaultier and Mark Golding, also died. But this was just the beginning of George’s trouble with substance misuse.
26. Officers Searched His Home
After these tragedies, law enforcement raided George’s home looking for illicit substances. George wasn’t home at the time but they took five of his friends, including George’s brother Kevin, into custody. “Operation Culture” was the name the authorities gave the multiple location raid. George was in trouble with the law but sneakily found a way around it.
27. He Sought Help At An Opportune Time
Authorities wanted to interview George following the raid of his home but couldn’t find him anywhere. They eventually discovered that George had reached out to Virgin Records’ Richard Branson for help and, on Branson’s advice, put himself in treatment—right in Branson’s mansion! Authorities delayed the interview until George’s treatment had ended.
28. He Had a Hidden Talent
Boy George had seen tremendous highs as a pop singer, but he still had another talent to share with the music world: as a DJ. His first gig was at a London nightclub called Planets. Here his talent caught the eye of legendary house performers and career number two took off. But he still had time to work on a film.
29. He Lent His Voice To A Successful Film
Boy George covered the song The Crying Game for the film of the same name. The movie was a surprise sleeper hit and featured a transgendered character played by Jaye Davidson, who got an Oscar nod for his performance. Boy George went on to win an MTV Music Award for the video for The Crying Game. By this time, George had done enough in his life to warrant a memoir, but writing it caused more headaches than he could have imagined.
30. He Wrote Himself Into Trouble
Boy George wrote a stunning tell-all memoir—and it immediately got him into hot water. In Take It Like A Man, George wrote about his love affair with punk rocker Kirk Brandon. Brandon, who identified as straight, didn’t like what George had written, so he sued him. Brandon lost the lawsuit but George ended up paying court fees because Brandon claimed bankruptcy.
But still, even this couldn’t stop George from speaking his truth.
31. He Wrote A Musical
Boy George wrote the lyrics and music for Taboo, a musical about the 1980s New Romantic era. The musical has a character based on Boy George, which another actor played. George, maybe feeling too old to portray his 1980s self, opted for another role. The musical was a great success in the UK but did poorly when Rosie O’Donnell brought it to the US.
32. He Was Told To Shut It
Boy George is the first one to say he has no “off” switch when it comes to talking. In fact, while taking a self-empowerment course, the leader of one of the sessions got fed up with George’s relentless questions. The leader took George aside and asked him to stop talking so much. But oversharing was the least of George’s problems.
33. He Returned To Drugs
In 2005, George got in trouble with the law again—this time in New York City. No surprise that it was related to substance misuse, but there was something else: The authorities got him for falsely reporting a theft. The first charge didn’t stick—he swore they weren’t his—but the other charge did. His punishment, however, ended up causing a media circus.
34. He Did A Dirty Job
The court sentenced George to five days of community service which meant that George had to mop up the dirty streets of New York City. The paparazzi had a field day clicking photos of George, dressed down and walking around picking up trash. The photographers created such an ordeal that George had to continue his service inside the sanitation department. But George’s next ordeal was much worse.
35. He Became A TV Mentor
After the release of his first album in 18 years, This Is What I Do, George took part in The Voice UK, replacing Welsh singing sensation, Tom Jones. He only did one season but ended up doing the Australian version of The Voice for four seasons. His final contestant, Diana Rouvas, won the competition. But not everything was working out well down under.
36. He Got Testy In An Interview
George was doing interviews in New Zealand to promote an upcoming reunion tour with Culture Club when things got a little heated. An interviewer asked him about his troubles with the law, and George became angry and stormed off the set of the interview. But walking off the set was only the beginning.
37. He Canceled A Country
George was so put off by the New Zealand interview that he canceled the Culture Club concert in Christchurch. He officially said it was because of changes in the tour schedule. But when he turned around and canceled the show in Auckland, New Zealand as well, it seemed to get personal.
38. He Lost His Idol
The death of David Bowie in 2016 must have hit George hard. Bowie was the performer who had inspired young George to strike out and follow his dreams of fame. As a tribute, he sang Bowie’s song “Starman” at a cancer benefit in the UK. Bowie had suffered from liver cancer.
39. He Went From Mentor To Mentee
Boy George had been a coach and mentor to young talent on The Voice, but he was looking to take the opposite role on The New Celebrity Apprentice. The host was ultimate tough guy Arnold Schwarzenegger. Rather than shying away from The Predator star’s bulging biceps, George rose to the challenge and snagged second place. But there was still more reality TV to come.
40. He Shacked Up With A Real Housewife
Fresh off of The New Celebrity Apprentice, George moved into Dorit Kemsley’s 90210 address. Kemsley just happened to be a cast member of The Real Housewives of Beverly Hills. She says George had become a part of the family: he is the godfather of her daughter and her “pseudo-husband.” But even with all this TV exposure, he could sometimes walk around unrecognized.
41. He Wasn’t Quite As Famous As He Thought
When Boy George popped into a makeup store to buy some eyeshadow, he got an unexpected reaction. Not only did the shop assistant not recognize George, but she also assured him that makeup for men was very trendy at the moment—yeah, no wonder, he’d been the one to help bring it to the mainstream! The poor woman even gave him a short history of drag.
Well, George’s next venture should assure that he never goes unrecognized again.
42. His Life Will Hit The Big Screen
There is a movie in the works that will tell the story of Boy George without pulling any punches. George’s writing partner and director is Sacha Gervasi, who fathered Spice Girl Geri Helliwell’s baby and directed the rock and roll film Anvil! The Story of Anvil. The bosses at MGM are telling them to be crazy and bold, but knowing George, they’ll get more than they bargained for.
43. He Vows To Out-Do Fellow UK Pop Stars
George plans for the biopic about his life to be grittier than the recent films about fellow British pop stars Elton John and Queen’s Freddie Mercury. He vows to not sanitize his life for the big screen, and the director hopes for an R-rating. When it comes to Boy George, the director should be careful what he wishes for!
44. He Locked Someone Up
Boy George’s 2008 run-in with the law was not about his substance misuse, but about false imprisonment—and the details were chilling. According to the charges, George hired Norwegian model and escort Auden Carlsen for a photoshoot and ended up handcuffing the young man to a wall fixture and beating him with a chain.
This time, George wasn’t going to get away with an easy punishment like picking up garbage.
45. He Went Into Lockup
A judge sentenced George to 15 months for falsely imprisoning Carlsen. George was a model inmate and the authorities released him four months into his sentence. Upon his release, George had to wear an ankle monitor and follow a curfew for the remaining months. But paying the toll for this offense was far from over.
46. America Didn’t Want Him Anymore
Boy George had a US summer tour planned for 2008 but given his trouble with the law, the US authorities weren’t about to issue him a visa to even enter the country, let alone play a concert. Much to his American fan’s disappointment, George had to cancel the entire US tour. But that wasn’t all…
47. He Was Aching To Be Back On TV
While he was still wearing his ankle monitor and on curfew, George applied to be on the reality TV show Celebrity Big Brother. The network was okay with having George on the program, but the justice system wasn’t having it. It must have been dawning on George how his lifestyle was impacting his career. Surely, this would cause him to stop and take a look at his life.
48. He Made A Big Life Change
His stint in prison and the debacle with the Norwegian model became a terrifying wake-up call. Boy George must have seen that at the root of all his problems was one thing—his substance misuse. He decided then and there to give it all up, and threw in drinking for good measure. Now clean and sober, George had a plan to get back in the spotlight.
49. He Saw His Hero Perform
Growing up, Boy George had a terrible relationship with his father—with one poignant exception. When Mr. O’Dowd saw how much his son loved Bowie, he performed a heartbreaking act of kindness. Even though George was 11 years old at the time, his father bought him a ticket for Bowie’s Ziggy Stardust concert. George recalls having no bus fare and walking to and from the concert.
50. He Got Royal Support
After one of his first stints in rehab, Boy George was sober and out-and-about again just being himself. At an event, he happened to meet Princess Diana, who was a big fan of pop music. The Princess must have been following the news of George’s ups and downs and said to him: “You’re a survivor.” God bless the Princess!