Boy George (born George Alan O'Dowd; 14 June 1961) is a British singer and songwriter, who was part of the English New Romantic movement which emerged in the late 1970s to the early 1980s. His music is often classified as blue-eyed soul, which is influenced by rhythm and blues and reggae. His 1990s and 2000s-era solo music has glam influences, such as David Bowie and Iggy Pop.
During the 1980s, Boy George was the lead singer of the Grammy and Brit Award winning pop band Culture Club where he became known for his soulful voice and androgynous appearance. He also founded and was lead singer of Jesus Loves You during the period 1989-1992. Being involved in many activities (among them songwriting, DJing, writing books, designing clothes and photography), he has released fewer music recordings in the last decade.
Early life and career:
Boy George was born George Alan O'Dowd at Barnehurst Hospital in Bexley, Kent on 14 June 1961, to Jeremiah and Dinah O'Dowd (née Glynn), who were originally from Thurles, County Tipperary, Ireland. One of six children, he lived with his family on the Middle Park Estate at Joan Crescent London SE9 and attended Eltham Green School in Eltham.
George was a follower of the New Romantic movement which was popular in Britain in the early 1980s. He lived in various squats around Warren Street in Central London. He and his friend Marilyn were 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 music executive Malcolm McLaren (previously the manager of the Sex Pistols), who arranged for George to perform with the group Bow Wow Wow. Going by the stage name Lieutenant Lush, his tenure with Bow Wow Wow proved problematic with lead singer Annabella Lwin. George eventually left the group and started his own band with bassist Mikey Craig. They were joined by Jon Moss (who had drumming stints with The Damned and Adam and the Ants), and then guitarist Roy Hay. Realizing they had a cross-dressing Irish singer (George), a black-Briton (Craig), a Jewish drummer (Moss), and an ethnic Englishman (Hay), they settled on the name Culture Club, referring to the various ethnic backgrounds of the members.
George and Moss, initially unbeknownst to the other bandmembers and the general public, were involved in a romantic relationship.
The band recorded demos that were paid for by EMI Records but the label declined to sign them. Virgin Records, however, expressed interest in signing the group in the UK for European releases, while Epic Records handled the US and North American distribution. They recorded their debut album Kissing to Be Clever (UK#5, US#14,) and it was released in 1982. The single "Do You Really Want to Hurt Me?", became an international hit, reaching No. 1 in a dozen countries around the world, plus top ten in several more countries (US No. 2). This was followed by the Top 5 hit "Time" in the US and UK, and "I'll Tumble 4 Ya" which reached US No. 9. This gave Culture Club the distinction of being the first group since the Beatles to have three Top 10 hits in the US from a debut album.
Their next album, Colour By Numbers was an enormous success, topping the UK charts and hit No. 2 in the US. The single "Church of the Poison Mind" became a Top 10 hit, and "Karma Chameleon" became an international hit, peaking at No. 1 in sixteen countries, and the top ten in additional countries. It hit No. 1 in the US where it stayed for three weeks. It was the best-selling single of the year in the United Kingdom, where it spent six weeks at No. 1. "Victims" and "It's A Miracle" were further Top 5 UK hits, while "Miss Me Blind" reached the Top 5 in the US.
The band's third album Waking Up with the House on Fire (UK#2, US#26) was not as big a hit as its predecessors. Although the first single, "The War Song", was a no.2 hit in the UK, further singles performed below expectations. George then provided a lead vocal role on the Band Aid international hit single "Do They Know It's Christmas". The single featured mostly British and Irish musical acts, and proceeds from the song were donated to feed famine victims in Africa during the 1984-1985 famine in Ethiopia. Unlike many of the bands featured on the single, Culture Club did not perform at Live Aid in July 1985.
In 1985 George performed backing vocals to Feargal Sharkey's number one hit "A Good Heart".
In 1986, George performed a guest-starring cameo role in an episode titled "Cowboy George" of the television series The A-Team.
Also in 1986, Culture Club released their fourth album, From Luxury to Heartache (UK#10, US#32) which featured the hit single, "Move Away". However, word shortly began circulating in tabloids that George was addicted to drugs. He was arrested in Britain for possession of cannabis. Shortly thereafter, keyboardist Michael Rudetsky, who co-wrote the song "Sexuality" on Culture Club's From Luxury to Heartache album, was found dead of a heroin overdose in George's London home. Rudetsky's parents filed a wrongful death suit in Britain against George, seeking financial damages for their son's death. With George's drug addiction, the underwhelming performance of their last two albums, a soured romance between band members shrouded in secrecy, and a wrongful death lawsuit looming, the group ultimately disbanded.
George won the court case against the Rudetskys and was not required to pay any monetary damages. He would agree to seek treatment for his addiction. George, however, would lose another friend, Mark Vaultier, who overdosed on methadone and Valium at a party. George never made it to the party. He had been arrested en route to the party on suspicion of carrying drugs.
As of 2012, Boy George has credited his practice of Nichiren Buddhism and chanting Nam Myoho Renge Kyo for his newfound spiritual strength to remain sober.
In July 1998, a reunited Culture Club performed three dates in Monte Carlo and then joined the Human League and Howard Jones in a "Big Rewind" tour of the US. The following month, the band appeared on the Late Show with David Letterman and made an appearance in Britain, their first in 14 years. Later that year, the band hit the UK charts at No.4 with "I Just Wanna Be Loved" and later a top 25 hit with "Your Kisses are Charity". A new Culture Club album, Don't Mind If I Do, was released in 1999 but was a commercial failure.
In 2006, the band decided to again reunite and tour; however, George declined to join them for this tour. As a result, two members of Culture Club replaced George with vocalist Sam Butcher. George has expressed his displeasure at the turn of events. Finally, after one showcase and one live show, that project was shelved.
In 27 January 2011, George announced to the BBC that there would be a 30th anniversary Culture Club reunion tour sometime later in the year and that they would be releasing a new album in 2012. Although the 2011 tour never took place, Culture Club did play two live concerts, in Dubai and Sydney, the latter being a New Year's Eve concert. In interviews given shortly before the concerts, the group confirmed that they were indeed recording new material though this has yet to surface.
On May 20, 2014, it was announced on several Boy George pages on Facebook, as well as the official Culture Club site on the same social network, that the band is back together. A new picture of the 4 members was also posted, along with a list of 11 concert dates through the UK. Alison Moyet will be a special guest on the concerts. The band are scheduled to perform selected dates in America in autumn 2014 before the UK tour in December.
According to the sales tickets service, prior to these live dates Culture Club will be going into the studio to record new material, with producer Youth, who has previously worked with Paul McCartney, The Verve, and Embrace among others, for a new album to be released in early 2015.
Solo career: late 1980s:
After the dissolution of Culture Club in 1986, Boy George entered treatment for his addiction. He was prescribed narcotics to treat his addiction to heroin. In kicking his heroin addiction, he then became addicted to the prescription narcotics that were used during his treatment. In 1987, he released his first solo album, Sold, which garnered mild success in Europe. It spawned the UK singles "Everything I Own" (UK No. 1), "Keep Me in Mind" (UK No. 29), "To be Reborn" (UK No. 13), and the title song, "Sold" (UK No. 24). The singles were also hits in various other European countries. The album's success, however, was not duplicated in America. This may be due in part to the fact that George was prohibited by US authorities from travelling to the United States for several years because of his British drug charges. He was therefore unable to be in America to help promote the album.
George did score his first solo US Top 40 hit with the single "Live My Life" (US No. 40) from the soundtrack to the movie Hiding Out. Tense Nervous Headache (1988) and Boyfriend (1989) would be his next two internationally released albums; however, these two albums would not be distributed in the US. Instead, Virgin Records selected several songs from each of these albums for a North American-only release called High Hat (1989). High Hat scored a US Top 5 R&B hit in "Don't Take My Mind on a Trip", produced by Teddy Riley. George's following single in the UK was "No Clause 28 (Emilio Pasqez Space Face Full Remix)", a protest song against a legal provision banning local authorities from "promoting homosexuality" The song was an underground acid house hit.
Solo career: 1990s:
In 1989, George formed his own record label, More Protein, and began recording under the name Jesus Loves You, writing under the pseudonym Angela Dust, a word play on angel dust. He released several underground hits in the early 1990s; "After The Love", "Generations of Love", and "Bow Down Mister", the latter giving him a UK Top 30 hit in 1991. Inspired by his involvement in the Hare Krishna movement (ISKCON), George had written the song during a trip to India. Another single, "One on One", featured a remix by Massive Attack.
From March 1990 to April 1991, George presented a weekly chat and music show on the Power Station satellite channel called Blue Radio. In 1992, George had a major US and UK hit with the song "The Crying Game", from the soundtrack for the movie of the same name. The movie became a surprise hit and the single reached the No. 15 in the US. Although he had had several solo hits in Europe, this would be Boy George's biggest US hit since Culture Club's "Move Away" reached the US Top 20.
He has also enjoyed a second career as a notable music DJ. His first gig as a DJ was at Phillip Sallon's new nightclub, Planets, located in London's Piccadilly. In the 1990s he came to the attention of legendary rave/house promoters Fantazia who asked him to mix 1 of the discs on the 2 volume in their new compilation series Fantazia The House Collection 2. This compilation was a success in the UK, going gold. The album was also sold to Sony for European-wide release. London nightclub Ministry of Sound hired him to compile one of their first CDs, and it promptly sold 100,000 copies. He then completed some compilations for them, five of them being the Annual I to V.
In 1993, George was featured on the P.M. Dawn single "More Than Likely" which became a moderate US and UK hit.
George released the rock-driven album Cheapness and Beauty in 1995, but the album was not successful, although the single "Same Thing in Reverse" became a minor US hit. The Unrecoupable One Man Bandit - Volume One was the next album release, first being sold on the internet only then distributed by independent labels. Another project from the time was a new group that would include Boy George and two long-time musicians, John Themis and Ritchie Stevens. Initially named 'Shallow', it was later renamed 'Dubversive'. The project took place in 1997 and was to include trip-hop, dub and reggae. The project was not picked up by any major labels but some of the songs were later included on the 2002 Culture Club Box Set, and some others appeared on eBay in 2004.
On some other labels, several dance-oriented songs were released in various countries. For example, "Love is Leaving" went Top 3 in Italy and "When Will You Learn" reached the top position in the Swiss charts. "When Will You Learn" was also nominated for the Best Dance Recording, at the Grammy Awards. In 1999, Boy George collaborated on songs with dance-oriented acts. For example, "Why Go", a slow-paced track with Faithless, from their Sunday 8 pm LP, was later released in a remixed form in some European countries and Australia. A track was done with Groove Armada, named "Innocence Is Lost", but was only released on a promo 12" in 1999.
Solo career: 2000-present:
Boy George remained a figure in the public eye, starring in the London musical Taboo, based on the New Romantic scene of the early 1980s (George did not play himself, opting instead to take on the persona of Australian-born performance artist Leigh Bowery). Boy George was nominated for a Tony Award for the "Best Musical Score" and Taboo was a great success in London's West End, though a heavily-altered American production produced by Rosie O'Donnell in New York City was short-lived (100 performances, versus the two-year run in London).
In 2002, Boy George released U Can Never B2 Straight, an "unplugged" collection of rare and lesser known acoustic works. It contained unreleased tracks from previous years as well as some ballads from Cheapness And Beauty and the Culture Club album Don't Mind if I Do. It received the best reviews of Boy George's solo career, many of them highlighting his strong song writing abilities. The record was only released in the UK and Japan, and received almost no promotion from Virgin Records, only rising to No. 147 on the UK album charts.
From 2002 to 2004, under the pseudonym "The Twin", Boy George experimented in electronica, releasing limited edition 7" singles and promo records. The limited releases included four 7" singles, one limited 12" single (for "Sanitized") and a promo CD, a 13-track album Yum Yum. Two years later, it was released via digital outlets such as iTunes. An album recorded in the Spring of 2003 was also shelved. A collaboration with electronic combo T-Total, the album was a collection of covers of songs by Jefferson Airplane, David Bowie, John Lennon, Dusty Springfield, T. Rex, and Eurythmics among others.
During 2003, he presented a weekly show on London radio station LBC 97.3 for six months. He wrote the foreword for a feng shui book called Practical Feng Shui by Simon G. Brown (published in 1998). He also appeared as a guest on the British comedy-talk show The Kumars at No. 42. In March 2005 he was the guest host for an episode of The Friday Night Project, for Channel 4 television.
In 2005, George released Straight, the second volume of his autobiography. On his "More Protein" website, he also announced another album, also named Straight, for mid-2005. The album was never released but a four track sampler was released with the book of the same name. A reggaeton oriented EP was also planned for August 2006 but was never released. Some recent tracks were shared by George himself in late 2006 and early 2007 on his YouTube account, his three Myspace pages and sometimes on his official site. In January 2007, Boy George released "Time Machine" on Plan A Records. "Time Machine" was co-written by double Ivor Novello Award-winning songwriter Amanda Ghost who also co-wrote "You're Beautiful" with James Blunt.
Boy George has run his own fashion line for some years, called "B-Rude". B-Rude has shown at fashion shows in London, New York and Moscow. On 24 December 2006, George appeared on a one-off BBC TV programme Duet Impossible in which he performed with himself from the 1980s and joked about his street cleaning.
Later in 2007, two electronica/dance collaborations were released in limited editions. In the spring, the track "You're Not The One" was remixed from an old demo and released with the dance combo "Loverush UK" reaching the top 20 in the UK dance chart. It was a digital-only release, available in many digital retailers like iTunes. Also on iTunes, a new collaboration with trip-hop/electro band Dark Globe, called "Atoms", was released on 19 November. The single contains eight versions, from the slow original to electro remixes by Ariya and Henrik Schwarz. Also in late 2007, an EP titled "Disco Abomination" appeared on the internet, available for download on several underground outlets. It included new remixes of tracks like "Turn 2 Dust", "Love Your Brother", and covers of "Don't Wanna See Myself" and "Go Your Own Way". Most of the versions are remixes done by German producer Kinky Roland.
On 25 February 2007, George was special guest DJ at LGBT nightspot, The Court Hotel in Perth, Western Australia. On 4 March 2007, he performed as a DJ at the Hordern Pavilion in Sydney for the Mardi Gras Festival. On 11 May 2007, he performed as a DJ at the launch party for the Palazzo Versace in Dubai, UAE. George cancelled his planned 2007 October tour via an announcement on his official website. In 2007, he toured as a DJ, visiting many venues in locations such as Stuttgart, Rotterdam, Auckland, Brisbane, Melbourne, Sydney, Dubai, Montreal, Toronto, London, Blackpool, Coventry, Munich, Lyon, Paris, Rio de Janeiro, Brussels and Moscow.
In January 2009, George was sentenced to 15 months in prison for falsely imprisoning a male escort (Auden Carlsen) by handcuffing him to a wall and beating him with a metal chain. The incident, which happened in April 2007, stemmed from George's belief that Carlsen had attempted to hack into his computer while he was visiting George's flat for a nude photo session. Although the sentence was for 15 months, he was released after serving only four months. After being released from prison, George resumed his DJ career embarking on a worldwide tour of clubs. He played a special residency at the Shaw Theatre in London from 23 January 2008, followed by a full UK tour. In April 2008, The Biography Channel featured a documentary on the life of Boy George. The American tour which was planned for July/August 2008 had to be cancelled because he had been denied a United States visa due to the pending London court case scheduled for November 2008. On 2 July 6 concert dates in South America were announced. Boy George participated in RETROFEST held in Scotland in August 2008, and a 30-date UK tour took place in October/November 2008.
In 2009, he signed a new record deal subsequently releasing the album Ordinary Alien - The Kinky Roland Files in the autumn of 2010. The album consisted of previously recorded tracks mixed by longtime dance partner Kinky Roland. He took part in Night of the Proms, which is a series of concerts held yearly in Belgium, the Netherlands, Germany and Spain which consist of a combination of pop music and popular classical music (often combined).
George's 2012 appearances included the Melbourne International Arts Festival in October, both as featured guest DJ and also performing with Antony Hegarty in the Festival's presentations of Swanlights, the Museum of Modern Art's musical artwork commission, which had only ever been performed one night previously, at Radio City Music Hall in New York City.
June 2013 saw the release of a new song, "Coming Home". Mikey Craig, former band mate in Culture Club, co-wrote the song with George. It was written during the song writing sessions for his album This Is What I Do released in October 2013. It has been remixed by the likes of Marc Vedo and Kinky Roland. The artist listed for the song is Dharma Protocol featuring Boy George. A video was released on YouTube shot and directed by Boy George, though he did not appear in the video. It was set on the Epping Ongar Railway and starred Danie Cox, lead singer and guitarist of London-based band The Featherz.
On 19 August 2013, it was announced George would release his new studio album of original material, This Is What I Do, his first in 18 years. The album was written by George and longtime writing partners John Themis, Kevan Frost and Richie Stevens. Stevens produced the record at London's Cowshed Studios and it was released by Kobalt Label Services. The album also features writing collaborations with Youth, and a version of Yoko Ono's "Death of Samantha". It was mixed by Dave Bascombe and features a string of guest musicians including DJ Yoda, Kitty Durham, Ally McErlaine, MC Spee and Nizar Al Issa.
During Boy George's 2014 tour to support "This is What I do," he took time to DJ a number of live sets at clubs and festivals across the world joined by DJ and manager Marc Vedo.
By the late 1980s, George had been struggling with heroin addiction for many years. He attempted to perform concerts while under its influence. Addictions to other drugs soon followed. Determined to save George's life, his younger brother David made an appearance on UK national television and discussed George's drug habit, which George had been publicly denying at that time. In 1986, Boy George was arrested for heroin possession as part of "Operation Culture."
In 1995, Kirk Brandon sued George for libel claiming that George mentioned a love affair between them in George's autobiography, Take It Like a Man. George won the court case and Brandon was ordered to pay £200,000 to Virgin Records, EMI Virgin Music and the book publisher in costs. Brandon declared himself bankrupt, which resulted in Boy George paying over £60,000 in legal fees.
On 7 October 2005, George was arrested in Manhattan on suspicion of cocaine possession and falsely reporting a burglary. George denied that the drug was his. In court on 1 February 2006, the cocaine possession charge was dropped and George pleaded guilty to falsely reporting a burglary. He was sentenced to five days of community service, fined US$1,000 and ordered to attend a drug rehabilitation program.
On 17 June 2006, a Manhattan judge issued a warrant for the arrest of Boy George after he failed to appear in court for a hearing on why George wanted to change his sentence for the false burglary report. George's attorney informed the court that he had advised George not to appear at that hearing.
On 14 August 2006, George reported to the New York City Department of Sanitation for his court-ordered community service. As a result of the swarming media coverage, he was allowed to finish his community service inside the Sanitation Department grounds.
In a February 2007 interview, the performer explained: "People have this idea of Boy George now, particularly the media: that I'm tragic, fucked up. I mean, I'm all those things, but I'm also lots of other things. Yes, I've had my dark periods, but that isn't all I am."
False imprisonment conviction:
On 5 December 2008, George was convicted in Snaresbrook Crown Court, London, of the assault and false imprisonment of Audun Carlsen--a Norwegian who was paid £300 at the end of a session (which included sex) in George's apartment on their first encounter. On 16 January 2009, George was sentenced to 15 months' imprisonment for these offences.
George was initially incarcerated at HM Prison Pentonville but was then transferred to HM Prison Highpoint North. He was given early release after four months for good behaviour on 11 May 2009. George was required to wear an ankle monitor and submit to a curfew for the remainder of his sentence.
On 23 December 2009, George had his request to appear on the final series of Celebrity Big Brother (to be broadcast on Channel 4) turned down by the Probation Service. Richard Clayton QC, representing the Probation Service, said George's participation would pose "a high level of risk" to the service's reputation. Clayton argued that if he used the show to promote his status as a celebrity and earn "a lucrative sum of money" it could undermine public confidence in the criminal justice system.
When George was with Culture Club, much was made of his androgynous appearance, and there was speculation about his sexuality. Although he never flatly denied that he was gay, when asked in interviews about his sexual orientation, George gave various answers. He gave a famous, oft-quoted response to an interviewer that he preferred "a nice cup of tea" to sex.
In Take It Like a Man, George stated that he had secret relationships with punk rock singer Kirk Brandon and Culture Club drummer Jon Moss. He stated many of the songs he wrote for Culture Club were about his relationship with Moss.
In 2006, in an episodic documentary directed by Simon George titled The Madness of Boy George, George declared on camera he was "militantly gay". In a 2008 documentary Living with Boy George, he talks about his first realisation he was gay, and when he first told his parents. He discloses that he understands why men fall in love with one another as well as with women.
Transfer of icon to Church of Cyprus:
In January 2011, George transferred an 18th-century icon of Christ to the Church of Cyprus. The icon, which had adorned his home for 26 years, had been looted from the church of St Charalampus from the village of New Chorio, near Kythrea. George had originally purchased the icon from a London art dealer eleven years after the Turkish invasion of Cyprus. He returned the icon at the Saints Anargyroi Church, Highgate, North London.
Harper Collins published his first autobiography, Take It Like a Man, in 1995, written with Spencer Bright. The book was released to coincide with the timing of George's solo album Cheapness and Beauty, actually released at the same time, dealing with the same themes, and also including a number of photographs as in the book. Take It Like a Man was a best-seller in the UK.
In 2005, Century published Straight, his second autobiographical book, this time written with author Paul Gorman. It was in The Sunday Times best-seller list for six weeks. This latter autobiography starts off where the former had stopped, though the two works are different in style, due to their different co-authors, and all of the chapters have a title in the 2005 book, while the 1995 autobiography only featured numbered sections.
Gorman has also ghost-written Cry Salty Tears, the memoirs of George's mother Dinah O'Dowd, which was published by Arrow Books, in January 2007. The same year also saw the publication of Straight in paperback.
References in popular culture:
Boy George was portrayed on film by Douglas Booth in the BBC2 drama documentary Worried About the Boy. The TV film was aired in May 2010.
On the BBC series Ashes to Ashes, Boy George is portrayed as the cloakroom attendant at The Blitz.
Text from this biography licensed under creative commons license