Led by soulful tenor and ever-quotable androgyne Boy George, Culture Club took its blue-eyed soul to the top of the charts. An exponent of London's postpunk New Romantic club scene, which saw disaffected youths sporting flamboyant clothes and makeup, Boy George charmed with his disarming playfulness and basically wholesome wit. Culture Club's music, ridden with sensual rhythms and irresistible hooks, proved equally accessible. George's decidedly feminine makeup, long braided locks, and penchant for long, dresslike tunics clearly stood out amid the other acts in heavy rotation on the then-nascent MTV, where for a time Culture Club was a staple. But after two huge albums, the band and its frontman began a downward spiral that culminated in one of the biggest pop star drug scandals of the 1980s.
George appeared briefly in the Malcolm McLaren - managed pop outfit Bow Wow Wow before meeting bassist Mikey Craig. The two enlisted drummer Jon Moss, who had played with Adam and the Ants and the Damned, and guitarist/keyboardist Roy Hay. Culture Club had its first major hit with the reggae-laced 1982 single "Do You Really Want to Hurt Me," which went to #1 in England and #2 in the U.S. The group's debut album reached America in early 1983, yielding two more Top 10 singles that year, "Time (Clock of the Heart)" (#2, 1983) and "I'll Tumble 4 Ya" (#9, 1983). A second album, 1983's Colour by Numbers, shot to #2 and spawned the hits "Church of the Poison Mind" (#10, 1983), "Karma Chameleon" (#1, 1983), "Miss Me Blind" (#5, 1984), and "It's a Miracle" (#13, 1984). Culture Club won the 1983 Grammy
for Best New Artist.
A disappointing third album, which contained the simplistic single "The War Song" (#13, U.S., #2 U.K.) followed, and before long rumors were circulating that George was addicted to heroin. Pressured by police raids, the singer publicly revealed his drug habit in July 1986, months after the release of Culture Club's fourth and final album. George was arrested on possession charges, and sought treatment with Dr. Meg Patterson, who had helped Eric Clapton
and Pete Townshend overcome dependencies. Once weaned off heroin, however, George turned to prescription narcotics. Later that year two of his friends died of drug overdoses - one, musician Michael Rudetsky, at George's home.
After being cleared of charges implicating him in Rudetsky's death, George successfully completed another drug rehabilitation program. Several solo albums followed, producing dance hits in Europe (including a reggae-inflected cover of Bread's "Everything I Own"), but George failed to reemerge significantly on the U.S. pop chart until his cover of Dave Berry's 1964 British hit "The Crying Game" was featured in the 1992 film of the same name. Buoyed by the movie's success, the single reached #15.
In 1995 George released a new solo album and a telling autobiography, Take It Like a Man, in which he wrote openly about his homosexuality and revealed that he'd had a romantic relationship with drummer Moss during the band's heyday. (Moss later married and maintained that he was heterosexual.) George became a successful DJ on the London club scene and ran a small, independent, British dance music label called More Protein Records. Then in 1998, Culture Club reunited for a nostalgia tour with other '80s acts, the band's first comeback performance was a taping of VH1 Storytellers, which was recorded as half of a new double-disc set. George released another solo album the following year.