It is hard to remember a group that rocketed to the top the way Culture Club did. Do You Really Want To Hurt Mezoomed to No. 1 on the pop music charts in 51 countries when it was released in 1982. The following year Karma Chameleon sold a million copies in three weeks in Britain alone, and Culture Club was named “Best British Group” by the national record industry. The most fervent accolades were reserved for that strange hothouse plant, lead singer Boy George, 25, who was said by no less than Rod Stewart to have “the most soulful voice I have heard in years.” Culture Club appeared to be on an absolute roll. Then, suddenly, its own karma turned chameleon. After racking up seven Top 10 singles with their first two LPs, the group barely eked one tune into the No. 17 spot with its third. Culture Club was reportedly jeered offstage in Athens, and then returned home to discover that the group had been excluded from Bob Geldof’s Live Aid concert.
The latest news from London is that Boy George may have continued that downward spiral into heroin addiction. Certainly Scotland Yard appears to think so. Last Tuesday, in one of a series of drug raids, police broke into the singer’s posh digs. George was nowhere to be found, nor could the police find any drugs. In another raid, however, they rounded up Marilyn, the singer’s transvestite friend, and booked him for heroin possession. Kevin O’Dowd, one of George’s four brothers, and three other people have been charged with conspiracy to supply heroin to George. Although no warrant was issued for George’s arrest, detectives pointedly appealed for him to come forward.
The arrests comprised a denouement of sorts for a scandal that had been gathering force since Boy’s youngest brother, David O’Dowd, first publicized the singer’s alleged drug problem. A 21-year-old rock photographer, David told the London San two weeks ago that his big brother had a $1,200-a-day habit. “He just sits in his house taking heroin,” said David, adding that George had lost 56 pounds, his teeth had started to rot, and a doctor had warned the singer’s fear-riven family that he may have just a few months to live. “We’ve just been waiting for a phone call from a reporter to tell us George has been found dead from a drug overdose,” said David, who added that he had received no money for the tabloid revelations: “The only reward I want is my brother back—his habit is destroying my family.”
George’s response to his brother’s accusation verged on the bizarre, and some saw in it symptoms of drug-induced mood swings. “I’m an out-and-out heroin junkie,” he told one reporter, apparently confirming the rumors that have swept through music industry circles in London and New York. “You don’t have to be a doctor to look at me and know I’m dying.” But by the evening of the same day, George seemed to have changed his tune. Gerald, still another of Boy’s younger brothers, began heatedly telling everyone that the problem had been “exaggerated.” Perhaps inspired by this closing of familial ranks behind him, George went on British television and told the world that far from being a heroin addict he didn’t even dabble in drugs. He’d lost so much weight “because of the press. They kept calling me a fat pig, so I decided to be a thin pig.” Indeed, George blamed the press for the whole imbroglio. “I just think I’m very cocky, arrogant, very clear. I’m a clever dick [smart aleck], and basically they are getting back at me.”
The press had little to do, however, with the wavering fortunes of Culture Club, which brother David believes propelled Boy George into drug use. Other sources declare it was George’s distress over the breakup of his close friendship with Culture Club drummer Jon Moss that had led him to heroin. Though Moss has denied any sexual element in their relationship, George suggested there was. “I really love Jon,” he told one interviewer. “Jon makes me cry a hell of a lot.”
Rumors that George was sick first began to surface in April (“Killer Disease Hits Boy George,” screamed one headline over a story that speculated he had amoebic dysentery). Then in June, photographer David Levine reported a photo session during which George borrowed $200 to buy cocaine. The photographer’s story included an emotional plea to George: “For God’s sake, give up drugs before they kill you.”
But George’s downfall may have begun long before that. According to brother David, it was on a visit to New York in January of last year, while fleeing the band’s failure and hanging out with his pal Marilyn, that he crossed the border from cocaine to heroin. “When he came back I asked him what he’d done [in the way of drugs] and he told me, ‘David, I don’t remember a thing. I’m lucky to be alive.’ ”
David apparently felt he was too, and having no success talking his brother out of his drug problem, he said, he felt bound by familial duty to go public. The singer, who phoned his brother after the article came out, appeared to concede that, to a point. “George just said he loved me,” David reported. “But he would never speak to me again for the rest of his life.” The last word from London suggested that Boy George could have his outspoken brother to thank for the rest of his life. A day after Scotland Yard issued its appeal for George to come forward, his record company confirmed that he was under 24-hour medical treatment. Said David: “We hope it will save his life.”