NEW YORK – With a city-issued broom in his hand, Boy George started his court-ordered community service early Monday, sweeping leaves and trash off the sidewalks of New York.
It took less than an hour for the former Culture Club frontman to get into a spat with the media.
"You think you're better than me?" he yelled. "Go home. Let me do my community service."
Boy George took to the streets of Manhattan as a Department of Sanitation worker wearing an orange vest, dark capri pants, shoes without socks, and without the wild makeup and androgynous style that made him so recognizable as the '80s icon who sang "Karma Chameleon" and "Do You Really Want to Hurt Me?"
"This is supposed to be making me humble. Let me do this," he said. "I just want to do my job."
The singer, born George O'Dowd, was ordered to spend five days working for the Department of Sanitation after pleading guilty in March to falsely reporting a burglary at his lower Manhattan apartment. The officers who responded found cocaine instead.
At 7 a.m. Monday, a sport utility vehicle pulled up at a Lower East Side sanitation depot. The agency planned to issue the singer a shovel, broom, plastic bags and gloves for the job of picking up trash on the city's streets.
In June, Manhattan Criminal Court Judge Anthony Ferrara issued a warrant for O'Dowd's arrest after he initially failed to complete the requirements of his plea deal. When O'Dowd appeared in court 10 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.
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 DJ at an HIV/AIDS benefit or doing telephone outreach.
Boy George's manager, Jeremy Pearce, told reporters shortly after the singer arrived for his first day on the job: "He doesn't show any kind of emotion about these things. He takes it in his stride."
"He doesn't need to be humiliated," Pearce said. "He's a humble person."
"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."
The sweeping later resumed in a gated Sanitation parking lot.
"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.
Boy George appeared to be in good spirits during a late-morning break, waving to reporters on the other side of a chain-link fence and yelling, "How are you?" before returning to work.