With Hank Stuever
Sunday, October 30, 2005
Boy George, aka George O'Dowd, is one of those celebrities who could easily walk the streets unbothered, unless he did himself up in the guise of his Culture Club years in the 1980s -- the drag-queen makeup, the cornrow braids and muumuu, the felt hat. But that probably would strike him now as a terribly unclassy and even desperate thing to do. When he wants to be "Boy George," he can be a new kind of Boy George, so long as it involves eyeliner and a goofy chapeau.
When arrested for cocaine possession earlier this month in his Manhattan apartment (he'd called the cops to report a burglary; while investigating, they found a small amount of cocaine, which the singer denied was his), O'Dowd was photographed leaving court wearing no makeup whatsoever.
And there he was: just some bald dude in a Misfits (seminal punk band) T-shirt. He immediately got on a plane for London (his court appearance in the States is scheduled for December, when he'll surely have more say in his wardrobe prep). "Don't ask me any questions because you are not going to get any answers at all," he told reporters at Heathrow Airport, quickly adding what I think is the most charming and true washed-up-celebrity salutation in a long time: "It's nice to see you, though."
One of life's smallest (and perhaps sickest) pleasures is to see the literal mask come off the famously disguised. MTV's "unmasking" of Kiss still ranks as a thrilling moment of early cable, and soon enough it was possible to identify Gene Simmons as himself, sans maquillage, before the band realized that the costumes were the moneymaker and went back to wearing them. The 1991 mug shot of indecent exposer Pee-wee Herman (Paul Reubens) was at once disturbing and enthralling -- "That's Pee-wee?" people demanded of the unkempt, long-haired man who stared sullenly at his fate. Ru Paul, so ubiquitous in the '90s, when drag queens took on the role of goodwill ambassadors, dabbled in showing the world his true (and rather handsome) self. It made for an interesting picture but took away all his marketable appeal.
These celebrities have the best and worst of fame: They can move, dine and live among us with a certain level of security, whenever the glam meter isn't running. But they also cannot show their true, incredibly dull selves. Not at least, until a cop pulls them over.