April 02, 2001 12:00 PM

At last the truth can be told: The biker garb that helped make Glenn Hughes a pop phenom had its downside. It wasn’t just that the leather dye would bleed onto the mustachioed singer’s body during a Village People concert, but the elaborate getup was also high-maintenance. “He had to take care of that costume the way you’d take care of a horse,” says David Hodo, 53, the band’s buff construction worker. “It had to be oiled. It was no fun.”

Still, Hughes, 50, went to his grave flying the Village People colors. At the wake following his death on March 4 in New York City, he was laid out, as he had requested, in the outfit that made him famous. “He looked great,” says Eric Anzalone, 35, who in the mid-’90s replaced Hughes as the band’s biker after Hughes, then a heavy smoker, was diagnosed with the lung cancer that killed him. “He had chains with him, his storm trooper cap. It was quite an image. I won’t forget it.”

Nor will anyone else who saw the group in its heyday. In 1977 Hughes, an aspiring singer, was working as a toll taker in a Brooklyn tunnel when he answered an ad placed by a record producer looking for “macho types…for disco group.” The next year the six-man ensemble scored big with “Macho Man” and, later, “Y.M.C.A.”—which, despite their subtly gay overtones, sold millions and had universal appeal.

Although Hughes’s father, Patrick, 75, a retired financial planner, recalls his son as “a born entertainer,” Hodo remembers another aspect of his friend’s personality. “I was reluctant to ask Glenn for anything,” he says, “because I knew he’d drop everything to help me. He was really an elegant human being.”

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