Behind the scenes of Boy George’s first feature film PEOPLE — Opening on Culture Club and its genderfluid style in 1983!

As the magazine celebrates its 50th anniversary in 2024, we look back at the stars’ first appearances in our pages

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Boy George in London in 1983

PEOPLE is celebrating its 50th anniversary this year! Throughout 2024, the magazine will share flashbacks highlighting a celebrity’s very first PEOPLE article. As part of Boy George’s memoir Karma: My Autobiography hits bookstores, we look back at the Culture Club singer and pop icon’s first appearance in the August 1, 1983 issue: “A boy named George breaks gender barriers in rock’s outrageous Culture Club.”

Now that rock reputations can be made—or destroyed—on MTV, the most important thing for a new band is not how they sound but how they look. It’s no wonder that British singer Boy George impresses with his plucked eyebrows, layers of makeup and strawberry-coloured lipstick. Not to mention his brightly coloured knee-length blouses and ballet slippers. But what’s most remarkable about George is that he has the effrontery—or is it calculation?—to chafe at the idea that he’s the most sexually ambivalent poseur since Tiny Tim met David Bowie. “I’m a very masculine person,” George pouts, if implausibly. “I don’t dress well. That’s just the way I am.”

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Got it? OK. Now you should know that George, 21, rose from working-class London (his father, Jeremiah O’Dowd, ran a boxing club) to become the founder and lead singer of the latest theatre rock phenomenon, Culture Club. Their debut album, Kissing to be smartwent platinum in the UK and gold in the US, and their reggae single, “Do You Really Want to Hurt Me?”, sold 6.5 million copies worldwide. A second single, “Time (Clock of the Heart),” reached the Top 5, and a third, “I’ll Tumble 4 Ya,” is currently at the top of the charts. Yet despite their diversity and live brilliance, Culture Club’s greatest achievement is producing their ambitious and undeniably seductive fusion of American soul, Caribbean reggae, and British new wave.

Boy George in “People” in 1983

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It’s not a bad landing for a boy who says he was expelled from school at 15 for dying his hair orange. Even his father accepted his son’s behavior. “He started dressing extravagantly at 15 and suffered a lot,” his father says. “But he refused to give in.” George rejoices: “It’s people’s attitudes that have changed, not me.”

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Yet Boy George leaves even his most devoted fans wondering: “Does he hurt me or not?” He reportedly wrote “Do You Really Want to Hurt Me?” about a former flatmate, Kirk Brandon of the English band Spear of Destiny. When asked by a British pop weekly about his sexual preferences, George ambiguously replies: “I’ve never done either.” To bolster his claims to masculinity, he boasts that he once punched a guy who stole his hat. George shares his tiny attic flat in London’s St. John’s Wood with two flatmates – one of each sex – and a collection of dolls, gifts from teeny-bopper fans.

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Dave Hogan/Getty

Boy George in 1985

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The third of six children (five boys), George grew up in Bexleyheath, south London, one of the few children of the Irish Catholic clan. While his father trained the local kids at his boxing club (one brother, Gerald, 19, is the local welterweight champion), young George would go to nightclubs in stilettos and a Carmen Miranda hat. “I started wearing my hair like that out of boredom,” George says of the exotic tresses that fell to his chest. “I had long hair and I didn’t know what to do with it.”

At first he paid his bills by working as a fruit picker and printer, then worked as a make-up artist for the Royal Shakespeare Company and landed a few modelling gigs portraying punk rockers in bank and beer adverts. His gift for outrage soon made him an underground celebrity, and in 1981 George began fronting the New Wave band Bow Wow Wow. Later that year he teamed up with bassist Michael Craig, drummer Jon Moss and guitarist Roy Hay to form Culture Club. George, who couldn’t play a note of music himself, wrote the band’s songs by singing into a tape recorder, and drew loosely on American R&B groups like the Four Tops and Gladys Knight and the Pips. “I’m a plagiarist,” he admits. “I try everything.”

But George does have his own criteria. For example, he disdains the Sex Pistols, calling them “a bad version of the Rolling Stones” and he says: “I never liked punk because I like quality.”

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