Rick Genest, the 32-year-old model best known as Zombie Boy, was found dead from an apparent suicide in his Montréal home on Thursday, six days before his 33rd birthday. In addition to being an artist and actor, he also famously appeared alongside Lady Gaga in the 2011 music video for her pro-LGBTQ anthem “Born This Way.”
Genest distinguished himself from other models by covering himself with tattoos of the body’s inner organs, veins and skeletal structures, earning him his Zombie Boy nickname.
In a 2011 interview (below), Genest revealed that he’d been diagnosed with a brain tumor early in life and had contemplated suicide while spending time in treatment and in the hospital. He got his Zombie Boy tattoos as a way to process his feelings around life and death. It’s unclear whether his suicide is at all connected to his brain cancer.
Here is Rick Genest in the music video for Lady Gaga’s “Born This Way”:
Responding to Genest’s death, Lady Gaga wrote on Twitter, “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 or family today. We must save each other.”
She continued, “Science tells us that it takes 21 days to form a habit, if you are suffering from Mental Health issue I beckon for today to be your first day or a continuation of the work you’ve been doing. Reach out if you’re in pain, and if you know someone who is, reach out to them too.”
She then announced that this fall she’ll explore the launch of a campaign about building “cultures of kindness and wellness” with her anti-bullying organization the Born This Way foundation.
In a 2012 interview with Wonderland magazine Rick Genest explained the reasoning behind his Zombie Boy tattoos, stating, “The zombie concept is also often used as a metaphor for runaway consumerism. Rebelling from this notion is the very meaning of punk. The origins of the zombie creature came about from stories of people being buried alive in times of plagues and such crises; that would come out the other side ‘transformed.’ Zombies, to many, represent a pervasive xenophobia. As in my life, I was often out-casted, hated or misunderstood.”
Here is Rick Genest in a 2011 interview explaining his views on art and death:
Sculptor Marc Quinn created a life-size sculpture of Genest in 2018, showing the Zombie Boy tattoos that Genest had become known for. The tattoos reportedly covered 90% of his body. The sculpture is now a permanent fixture within London’s Science Museum.
Genest was also a musician who had worked on several rock-n-roll dubstep tracks, collaborating with music and film producer Rob Zombie. Together they released a medley music video mash-up of Genest’s tracks in 2015, but it seems the album itself never reached completion.