Boy George Takes Out NYC's Trash

Boy George, right, who was born George O'Dowd, is photographed by the press as he sweeps a curb, Monday, Aug. 14, 2006, in New York.
AP Photo/Diane Bondareff
Singer Boy George tried out a new look, an orange reflective vest, as he reported for his first day of community service on Monday with the city's Department of Sanitation. It didn't take long before he got into a dust-up with the media.

The one-time Culture Club singer, told by a Manhattan judge that he must decide whether his court-ordered community service would be an "exercise in humiliation or in humility," was ordered to spend five days as a garbage worker after pleading guilty in March to false reporting of an incident.

As he went about his duties, the singer was swarmed by reporters and photographers while he stood on the median of a Lower East Side Street. He used his broom to sweep dust and leaves into the lens of a video camera.

"You think you're better than me?" he yelled. "Go home. Let me do my community service."

"This is supposed to be making me humble. Let me do this," he said. "I just want to do my job."

Shortly before that, his manager, Jeremy Pearce, told reporters: "He doesn't show any kind of emotion about these things. He takes it in his stride."

"He doesn't need to be humiliated. He's a humble person," Pearce said before the incident, calling the judge's remarks "an unfortunate comment."

"It's been a bit over the top, I guess," Pearce conceded later.

Boy George's workday had begun at 7 a.m., as a sport utility vehicle pulled up at a Lower East Side sanitation depot. The singer, who wore dark pants, shoes without socks, a black sweatshirt and black wraparound sunglasses, walked inside without speaking to reporters.

About a half-hour later, he emerged from the building, flanked by camera crews, and got into a Sanitation van. With about seven cars following the van, he was driven several blocks and went into a small building with a sticker on the door that read, "NYC Recycles."

He came out again wearing the bright orange vest with yellow stripes, bearing the words "New York City Department of Sanitation," placed an empty trash bin in the back of the van, and was taken to the median, where his sweeping was interrupted by the confrontation. The van left again after that.

"Things outside in the street were a little chaotic," said Sanitation spokesman Keith Mellis. "We'll see if there's some cleaning that can be done inside."

Two other people, a young man and a young woman, were on his community service crew.

The sweeping later resumed in a gated Sanitation parking lot, where a police car blocked the driveway. The parking lot did not appear to be especially dirty, but the aroma grew pungent as garbage trucks began returning from their routes.

"This is for everyone's safety," Deputy Sanitation Chief Albert Durrell said as photographers crowded outside the gate. He said the day's work also might include mopping inside the depot.

"I think he was probably a bit fed up," the singer's manager said later. "He just wants to get on and do what he's meant to be doing. He's not looking for all this attention."

The singer, born George O'Dowd, has struggled with drug problems for years. He called police with a bogus report of a burglary at his lower Manhattan apartment last October, and the responding officers found cocaine inside.

In June, Manhattan Criminal Court Judge Anthony Ferrara issued a warrant for the singer's arrest when he initially failed to complete the requirements of his plea deal. When O'Dowd appeared in court ten days later, Ferrara called off the warrant but warned the singer he could not escape his community service commitment.

"It's up to you whether you make it an exercise in humiliation or in humility," Ferrara told O'Dowd, known for his androgynous appearance and hits like "Karma Chameleon" and "Do You Really Want to Hurt Me?"

Defense lawyer Louis Freeman said the judge's annoyance was "based on a misunderstanding."

O'Dowd, 45, initially envisioned a service project more in line with his status as an '80s icon.

He petitioned to spend the time helping teenagers make a public service announcement. Among his other proposals to the court: holding a fashion and makeup workshop, serving as a D.J. at an HIV/AIDS benefit or doing telephone outreach.