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Fashion muse Rick Genest, known as Zombie Boy, dies at 32

A model on the runway at Mugler's fall 2011 menswear show at Garage Turenne.
(Giovanni Giannoni / Thierry Mugler)

Fashion and music figures took to social media outlets on Friday to mourn the death of Rick Genest, known as Zombie Boy, the 32-year-old, tattooed Nicola Formichetti muse who had also worked with Lady Gaga.

“The entire Dulcedo family is in shock and upset by this tragedy,” said Montreal-based Dulcedo Management, Genest’s talent agency, in a statement on Facebook on Thursday.

“Thank you ZB for these beautiful moments in your presence and for your radiant smile,” it added.

The Canadian, who had described his profession to WWD as a “side show performer” and whose acts included writhing on beds of nails, shot to fame after being discovered by Formichetti on Facebook. The designer hired Genest for the Thierry Mugler 2010 campaign and flew him to Paris for the men’s show.

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“I like the whole freak-show atmosphere,” Genest told WWD in 2011, speaking backstage after his turn on the catwalk.

His fame continued to grow after he appeared in a high-profile advertisement for Dermablend that garnered millions of hits and launched endless Internet debates about how society judges physical appearance.

The video ran under the tag line “How do you judge a book?” and featured a clear-skinned Genest who stripped nude to the waist and proceeded to rub off concealer makeup to reveal his elaborate tattoos that transformed his head into a skull with dark circles around his eyes. Other tattoos included bones, ligaments, insects and a radioactive symbol.

Lady Gaga expressed her grief over the death of Genest, who appeared in her “Born This Way” video, on Twitter.

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“The suicide of friend Rick Genest, Zombie Boy is beyond devastating. We have to work harder to change the culture, bring mental health to the forefront and erase the stigma that we can’t talk about it. If you are suffering, call a friend of family today. We must save each other,” she wrote.

Formichetti posted a tribute on Instagram alongside a picture where he posed next to Genest.

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“Absolutely heartbroken. Rest in power, Zombie Boy. Sending all my condolences and love to his family and friends in this trying time. Please if you ever need help, reach out. 1-800-273-8255 is the number for the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline. You’re not alone,” he wrote.

In an interview with WWD in 2012, Genest said he got his first tattoo, a skull and crossbones, at age 16, and estimated he had spent tens of thousands of dollars on the designs, referring to them as his project.

“I’d always wanted tattoos. I’d see them on the bus or on TV or in movies,” he said at the time.

He relayed a positive view of the fashion industry, saying he respected it. “I’ve always surrounded myself with artists. I’ve always loved being around the art scene and the fashion world and designing sets and props and all of that. That’s all showmanship, that’s all art,” he said.

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When questioned about life beyond modeling, Genest hinted at other interests, including music, but also referred to his previous experiences: “When the fashion show is over, I want to go back to the circus.”


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