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Moments in Cult: The Ballad of Cowboy George

Television shows have a long history of booking A-list musical guest stars to attract viewers and higher ratings. Miami Vice was the sultan of the such cameos during the ‘80s when Glenn Frey, Leonard Cohen, Frank Zappa, Phil Collins, Little Richard, and Miles Freaking Davis queued up to stand next to Don Johnson and roll their jacket sleeves up. But MV wasn’t alone in pursuing elite musical talent.

For much of the 1980s, the A-Team were everyone’s lunchbox heroes. The team’s quartet of lively, preposterous characters was perfect for kids reliving episodes in the playground: George Peppard as “Hannibal” Smith, the cigar-chomping leader of the pack; Dwight Schultz as pilot “Howling Mad” Murdock; Dirk Benedict as Face, ladies’ man and con artist; and of course, the show’s breakout star, Mr T’s BA Baracus.

Of course, The A-Team was a daft proposition. How did you get in touch with them? Was it a good idea to rely on a pilot who had to be broken out of a mental institution every week? And why didn’t fly-phobic Mr T ever get suspicious when he was handed yet another “glass of milk” near a plane?

But it contained the four key ingredients of the 1980s TV show: catchphrases (“I love it when a plan comes together”); a cool vehicle (a black GMC van with a red stripe); a pumped-up theme tune from Mike Post and Pete Carpenter (also responsible for the intros to Magnum PI, The Rockford Files and many, many more); and a stack of star cameos, including Isaac Hayes, Hulk Hogan, Rick James, and – yes! – 80s pop superstar Boy George.

On Feb. 11, 1986 Boy George delivered the greatest musical guest star appearance of all time in a legendary episode called “Cowboy George.”

The story was music-focused: Faceman (Dirk Benedict) has hired the highly praised group Cowboy George and The Range Rats to play at a low-key venue called the Floor ‘Em. However, the performer who shows up is Boy George, who thinks he’s playing the Arizona Forum.

That mistake doesn’t go over well with the club, which was expecting a different act (“I booked Cowboy George, and some turkey in a sequined coat shows up”) and figures the new waver wearing “eyeball glitter” will not sell tickets. The singer also isn’t delighted with the mix-up, remarking with lively passive-aggression about the venue, “Excuse me, I can’t play this place because it’s a certified toilet.”

Good old Cowboy George comes around, however: After another barbed dig (“This place is really American, but I think people will like us once they hear the music”), he and the rest of Culture Club (I mean The Range Rats) end up playing two songs in the episode. First up was their single “Move Away,” which became the band’s last Top 40 single, peaking at No. 12 on the Billboard Hot 100 and remembered by no one. Later, as the episode ends, the band returns for an energetic lip-sync of the mega-hit “Karma Chameleon.”

In between these performances, George gets involved with another subplot involving the A-Team springing into action to fight off bad guys. This being the A-Team, they are wiped out with nary a squeal, and never a drop of blood.

Murdock (Dwight Schultz) enlists the musician to help jimmy a locked door; George gives a bobby pin and moral support. When Murdock notes, “A really honest man doesn’t have an appetite for this” as he struggles to open the door, George says, “Who needs honesty?” and then kicks the door in himself.

Boy George’s The A-Team appearance has become legendary over the years – and, in interviews, he’s revealed plenty of nuggets about his role. The singer revealed that his Culture Club bandmates wanted to be on the red-hot Miami Vice, although it wasn’t meant to be. “I think because of me – we were a little too camp for Miami Vice,” he said during a 2020 interview

In his 1995 autobiography, Take It Like a Man, he recalled the actual filming was rough: “I had to stay stoned to get through the experience.” While The A-Team co-star Mr T was “fabulous,” the icon had a big ego: “There was some fun, hiding from Mr T, who would charge into my Winnebago every morning and talk about how wonderful he was.” Mr T and actor George Peppard (who played Hannibal) also didn’t get along, which caused mild stress, although George has fond memories of Peppard and his wife.

And while George’s kicking in the door has become an iconic move, in the moment, things were different. “The last day’s filming was the pinnacle of cringe,” he wrote. “I felt and looked like a total prat. For the rest of the day, everyone was calling me Rambo.”

So, there you have it.  If you have a problem, if no one else can help, and if you can find him…. maybe you can hire Cowboy George.

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Stephen Pryde-Jarman is a Cult TV and Film journalist, award winning short story writer, playwright and screenwriter. A natural hoarder, second hand shopping fulfils his basic human need for hunter-gathering; but rummaging through a charity shop’s bric-a-brac shelf also brought him the inspiration for his novel Rubble Girl having seen a picture of a Blitz survivor sat amongst the rubble of her house with a cup and saucer. Rubble Girl has been described as " thought-provoking" and "fast paced ... with plenty of twists and turns." Amazon.

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