Good Ol' Boy

updated 06/07/1993 AT 01:00 AM EDT

originally published 06/07/1993 AT 01:00 AM EDT

This chameleon has changed more than his karma

WHEN LAST HEARD FROM, BOY GEORGE, THE First Conundrum of androgynous camp, was executing one of the most flamboyant flameouts in pop-music memory. After a quick liftoff to stardom in the 1980s with a string of hits as beguiling as his makeup and muumuus, the Boy disappeared in a heroin-weighted free-fall. "Most people have the difficult part of their career at the beginning," he says. "With me, I had it easy from the beginning, then I sank to the depths."

And nearly drowned. Which is why it comes as a pleasant shock to see George O'Dowd, now 31, back on the pop charts once more. Appropriately, the song resuscitating his career is "The Crying Game," the title track from the hit movie that, with its gender-bending major character, seems tailored for George's comeback. "I have been that woman," he says.

And more. George, of course, had parlayed his own cross-dressing style and soulful vocals into quick-order hits like "Do You Really Want to Hurt Me?" and "Karma Chameleon" that helped him and his band, Culture Club, sell 25 million records between 1982 and 1987. Then, amid dissension between George and his Club mates, came the band's demise and an escalation of his heroin habit.

Shocked by the overdose deaths of two close friends, one of them in George's London house, he tried 12-step recovery programs, experimented with homeopathic medicine and finally kicked the junk about six years ago while immersing himself in Eastern religions. "Krishna and Buddha are the two main influences in my life now," says George, who was raised in an Irish-Catholic London household. Another anchor in his life is the group therapy he attends with his live-in lover of seven years, video producer Michael Dunne, 31, and the ever patient elder O'Dowds, contractor Jeremiah, and mum Diana. "For me, it's very important my parents treat Michael as part of the family," he says.

Set on a quiet street near Hampstead Heath, George's neo-Gothic town house has become the center of his new, health-first lifestyle. A Joni Mitchell CD spins soothingly on the stereo near statues of Buddha as George sits, serene in a chair, sporting black Vivienne Westwood pants and a Gaultier jacket. A tilak—a Hindu symbol George wears in tribute to Krishna—is painted on his forehead.

He prepares almost all his own meals now—strictly vegetarian—and practices yoga-style Tibetan exercises daily. Having kicked the cigarette habit, he forbids smoking at home by everyone except his mum, whom he makes puff away "in the toilet, like she's at school." In an upstairs studio, he has been busy lately producing demo tapes for young British singers and rappers. "His energy is amazing," says Eve Gallagher, 36, a singer-protégée of George's and a sometime lodger in his home. "I'm half dead at night, and he can just carry on."

With his career getting a second wind, George is working even harder lately, trying to finish Popularity Breeds Contempt, his first solo album since 1991, and his autobiography, now seven years in the writing. "I became a junkie, so I couldn't really finish it," says George, who, at last, may now have provided his own happy ending. "I'm not just going to chuck out any old book," he says. "It's going to have to be a great book so that it can be made into a movie." Indeed, the Boy is back.

STEVE DOUGHERTY
LAURA SANDERSON HEALY in London

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