People may wonder what the Quebec born lad was thinking when Rick Genest transformed himself from an unassuming teenage into The Zombie Boy; a living piece of artwork emblazed with tattoos and disturbing morbid imagery. But, if you ask Rico The Zombie Boy, a body inked with deadly symbols, rotting flesh and exposed body parts, it all makes sense.
Born Rick Genest of La Salle, Quebec and growing up in Chateauguay, “Rico” first appeared on the world platform in the Lady Gaga’s video, Born This Way. No, that was not make-up in the video… at least not on Rico. Over 80 percent of his body is covered in tattoos, including his face. Rick’s tattoos are what he calls, his “project”. Rico was not supposed to be amongst the living. In fact, as a teenager, Rick Genest was diagnosed with a life-threatening benign brain tumor. At the age of 15, Rick underwent a surgery that many had not survived in the past. Because of the tumor’s position, his options were death or if lucky, blindness and/or to live as a vegetable. When he emerged from the surgery, he was none of the above. Rick was indeed alive and well. Defying the odds, he literally jumped off of the Grim Reapers deck of cards and began a new life. The runaway embraced the underground Punk scene and became obsessed with body modification as he began to amass more tattoos. By age 21, the newly named Rico The Zombie Boy… a name his friends call him; enlisted the help of now retired tattoo artist, Frank Lewis. Together, Lewis and Zombie created a Frankenstein-like, skull-faced character, with Rick Genest’s body as the canvas. For over 6 painful years, they augmented the appearance of normal, healthy, human flesh into a frightening homage to horror films. Slowly and methodically, Genest’s body was transformed from an average 5’9” man, into a decomposing, Zombie-like corpses, with exposed cadaver parts revealing the skeletal, muscular and circulatory system along with crawling insects that devour the dead. Genest spent thousands of Canadian dollars on tattooing and he is not done. Although it is incomplete, Genest’s obsession led him to two admissions into the Guinness Book of World Records: one for the most bones tattooed on the body (134) and one for the most insects tattooed on the body (176). “My tattoos symbolize life through death, or death throughlife.”It wasn’t long before Hollywood took notice of the walking freak show he calls The Zombie Boy and he was casted to play one of the freaks in 2009’s Cirque du Freak: The Vampire’s Assistant.
After 1.5 million fans joined his social media fan pages and a fate changing photoshoot, Nicola Formichetti, Lady Gaga’s Fashion Director and Creative Director for Thierry Mugler noticed the soft spoken, horror film aficionado and wanted to use the tattooed god in the Mugler ad, as well as, model for the prestigious fashion house in Paris. He found Zombie Boy on Facebook. Unfortunately, there were a few youthful infractions on his record and Genest was unable to leave the country. Nicola flew to Canada, hired Immigration Lawyer, Colin Singer and paid his bills. Free to roam the world, Rico The Zombie partnered with Singer (now his personal photographer and business manager) and was able to get the living Zombie out of Quebec and into Paris and The United States. Rico was able to make his official debut in the 2011 Mugler campaign. Formichetti shocked the world with Zombie’s provocative imagery and re-invigorated the stagnant clothing line. Nicola fast-tracked Rico The Zombie Boy into the world of fashion and sent the living artwork down the runway for the Mugler Men’s fashion show and then paired him with his client, Lady Gaga for the women’s Mugler fashion show for Fall 2011. One month later, the Queen of the Little Monsters and Rico The Zombie Boy were dancing in the Gaga video with Gaga in full ‘Zombie’ make-up inspired by Zombie Boy. Since then, he has stalked the runways from New York to Paris, graced the pages of GQ magazine, been photographed by Steven Klein for Arena Homme Plus, popped up on a Vogue cover and is the brand ambassador for Dermablend Cosmetics. Zombie’s fame continues to grow exponentially. Think not? Then ask his mini-me. Zombie has a newly released, limited edition collectible doll and several movie roles opposite Hollywood giants like Lou Diamond Phillips in Carny and the soon to be released $320 million dollar epic, 47 Ronin opposite Keanu Reeves.
It may seem as though Rico The Zombie Boy has Hollywood wrapped around his skeletal inked fingers. But, at what price? There is clearly more behind the man with the hollowed eyes. This Masochistic Prince who tortures himself with painful tattoos and obsesses over death is in a constant battle with his inner demons. It is quite possible that his shocking exterior is an expression of his inner struggle between good versus evil, life and death, anarchy against authority as he fights against the pressures of organized religion. It would not be a stretch to assume The Zombie Boy is a rags to riches story. But, is he just an exaggerated reflection of the youth culture that are rejecting today’s system, living off the grid and gambling with their lives. Did cheating death and escaping from an ultra strict religious background lead to Zombie embracing this ‘Dead Man Walking’ persona? Is there a price to pay for a second chance and did God answer his prayers or did Zombie make a deal with the Devil? Are these Earthly riches and fan adoration gifts from the dark side? Obsessed with the capitalization of blasphemy products he calls Blasphemous Gear, a t-shirt with the command “KILL ME” and a female pet snake named Luci Fer’ leaves one to question his faith and intentions. And we should all make the sign of the cross.
The mysterious misfit Supermodel’s longevity has been questioned. Whether or not he lasts, only time will tell. But Rico has several plans in the future if the fickle world of glitz and glamour exorcizes him from the fashion pages and movie screens. He has two more years of ink work before his body is complete. And if work ever slows down, he plans to pick up his pet albino boa constrictor from her handler and hit the Carnival circuit again. With Carny-friends like The Executioner and Dr. Cuts, Zombie Boy is set to show the world that the inevitable is near. But, until that day comes, he will embrace his death defying acts, wear the finest clothes of the season and reign supreme over his own self-made…
Text & Interview by Ty-Ron Mayes
You recently were the focus of a body modification documentary. Can you share with us your role in this film and what does body modification mean to you?
Body modification means freedom to me… controlling your image. You have many people in your life that try to push you in a certain direction. It may be teachers, parents or authority figures that push you in places that may not work for you and you have to be able to break away from that and be yourself. Body mod is a great way to control your image and express yourself freely.
On the world platform, we became aware of you with the Lady Gaga video, Born This Way. How was it working with the most influential pop artist of our time?
It was great… she’s rock and roll man. Really, really fun. I had the opportunity to work wither on two different sets. She’s just a blast, full of energy, very open arms to everyone on the set.
We noticed in this video, Lady Gaga tapped into your essence by emulating your look with creating a make-up look on herself, in which she became a ‘Zombie’ as well. How did you feel about Gaga pulling parts of your essence into her ‘Little Monster World’?
When we got there, it was a big surprise at first. We had a memo and originally the draft we had at first was supposed to be a Unicorn character in the clip and I was supposed to be a Punk Rock Unicorn hybrid. They had a horse and they were going to blend my upper body into the horse and have it tattooed. But, on set, everything was completely different and changing at every moment. But, I thought the final result was great and I was extremely flattered to see her pull me into her whole ‘Monster Project’.
Well it was definitely exciting for us, in the fashion world, to see someone so inspiring. So much so that it would create a moment in time where a lot of artists and models would actually emulate that make-up as well. All of this attention led to you being catapulted onto the runways. How did you feel coming from the performance artist world and now becoming a fashion icon?
I love show business. I started getting into it when I was younger. Acting on stage in front of a camera has been a big part of my life and always something I wanted to pursue. And in the last 2 years it has hit a broader scale. It feels like a little bite of success.
It seems in some interesting way you were able to push destiny and go into this new direction in you life. You have been able to spin this ‘Zombie’ and ‘Little Monster’ moment into by merchandising and branding your likeness. Can you tell us about this incredible doll that everybody wants to get their hands on?
I like it personally… when I first saw it made me laugh. It touched my heart for sure.
It’s damn cute and I know a lot of people would like to have one. I understand it is a limited edition. Are you planning on doing a mass production on the doll that is moderately priced in which more people can own a mini-me of yourself?
Oh, absolutely! The 17” doll boasts hand painted details of my tattoos and it has my facial piercing too. Robert Tonner did such a beautiful job on the doll. I was so excited for the final results. I mean… man it has all of these joints and articulations. It was a hit at the Comic Con in San Diego. It totally sold out. It would be great if Tonner can make more with accessories. Like put in a coffin, a guillotine or motorcycle in there. Something like that would be fun.
I understand you also have interesting friends. Is there any chance that you will pull them into this Zombie Boy collectible doll world. What is the possible future for the doll?
I would absolutely love for my team to be a part of this and that we can produce a little Executioner and a little Mad Scientist Dr. Cuts and get everyone involved would be a dream come true… for sure. Before all of this big hype, we have been work as underground performers. We plan to push our show upwards.
Tell us a little bit about this underground performing world. It brings a smile to your face. It seem that when you are thinking about your friends and this underground world you have embraced, you have a big smile behind the bones. This world is not exposed to the mainstream and you are the conduit that can bring this world to us.
Well, as Lucifer’s Blasphemous we started as an idea and we did a couple of shows. But since I have been catapulted into the mainstream, I am really traveling and our projects have gotten put on the sideline. But, we are still working on it. We are putting the finishing touches to a new electric chair. My friends are working on it and keeping busy while I am away. Down the line we are planning a bigger show. We are still working on it… we are not in performing mode right now but, we are perfecting everything and the time will come for it.
These shows, I assume are local. But, will they possible be available on DVD or live stream and get the experience as well? WestEast is an international magazine that will reach a lot of people. Will your show be available beyond your Montreal?
The last year and a half I have been busy flying around the world doing fashion and my side project has been pushed far off to the side. But, if my personal projects are more embraced, they will be released in time to come. It would be the plan for the near future to have the show be a video experience as well.
Let’s back it up a little bit and discuss your history. Who discovered you on the fashion scene and how did you get introduced into doing such iconic fashion moments such as the Thierry Mugler campaign, which led to the Lady Gaga video? Who was your mentor and made this all happen for you?
After many years of working on my tattoo, it started to take more shape. It wasn’t uncommon for people to take pictures of me. I was doing side gigs, doing some modeling in pictures… for photographers I was someone who would standout in shoots. I was doing shoots here and there. A lot of it was to do with the Carnival, side show industry and tattoo magazines. My first fashion mag was through a guy I met in the street; a man named Ludo with Tuxedo Agency. He had me come into his studio, put on some designer gear, take some flicks and published it in a magazine called Dressed To Kill. It ended up being a big enough magazine in which it got the attention of Nicola Formichetti and his people. They hunted me down through social media and was interested in me modeling for Mugler. And with that I did a project with Nicola and Mariano (Vivanco) and they liked it and they got positive feedback and for there on he kept inviting me to work along with him and his projects which ultimately got me to the Lady Gaga video.
You story continues to grow. How has this attention parlayed into an acting career? You just completed a movie with Keanu Reeves?
Yes, we were on film location in Budapest. It was my first role with a line. I have done movies with what is called figuration before. But this was my first big production with a speaking role and it is scheduled to come out in November.
What was your role in the movie? I understand there is an action scene? Give us a teaser.
Well, I haven’t seen the final cut, so let’s hope it makes it. It’s a really large budget film by Universal Studios. It’s going to be a 3D movie. The set was huge. I was really excited because I love Pirates. It’s a Pirate and Samurai movie, which is something I was very happy to be part of.
I understand you have some other hidden talents, such as writing. And you are working on conceptualizing a possible comic book series?
I have always been kind of and astronaut with my ideas. I have always been a creative person. As far as the comic book goes, I am still playing with the whole Lucifer’s Blasphemous concept with The Executioner and The Zombie with the eternal battle of between the two. It’s like a Roadrunner and Coyote kind of series where one is always trying to kill the other except for he never dies. Just with this idea, we have done several photo series that I’d like to publish eventually. Also, turn it into a comic book. Telling stories through photos is something I’ve worked on for a long time. Also, we want to do on-stage concepts with taking chapters onto the stage one chapter at a time. I’ve been working on this whole Zombie Project for a while. It’s all just bits and pieces but we are going to try to put the puzzle together.
Let’s move back a little further into your past. I understand you had a brush with death. What happen when you were 15 years old?
That is very vague… can you break it down?
This living artwork can from various directions… Can we discuss your tumor and eventual tattoos?
Whoa… let me fast forward. If we are talking about my artwork, I didn’t realize this until after it already started… I’ll say, living life everyday for it’s fullest… when you got nothing to lose… this is after you realize how fragile life is… you start grasping reality every day. Being surrounded by every day is living on the edge; no pun intended. I was living on rooftops and under bridges and every day was one day at a time. That’s when I started my project.
This project obviously changed your life. It bought you into a complete different direction. How did it connect with your moment in which you faced with going through a very serious surgery? How did your brush with death affect your life? Tell us what you want to tell us.
In the face of death… I had a pretty hard life before the surgery as well. When it was going down like that… I couldn’t deal with it. I was saying, “No way!” I was being born in this world just to be put back down. That was hard to deal with, so I fought it. I said no way. Don’t believe in any religious propaganda or anything. But when I was under the knife, I prayed to God. I am not a politician, but when you are faced with possible death, going blind, retarded… all of the possibilities when your brain is being cut. I told God that if I get a chance in my life to come through this I would do my best to change the world. I can’t take credit for anything… I just fought, I fought, I fought my whole life! And I have a lot to pay back. And if granted a chance, there’s a lot I want to give back to my people close to me and my loved ones and I do that everyday and the fights not over yet. I am still working on it. I take this job seriously.
We do feel that you take this seriously and that’s why this was not an easy question to ask nor answer and I thank you for sharing that with us because this is a point of curiosity, in which we know that it made a major impact in your life. And sometimes speaking about this can help somebody else that is going through the same process. Let’s go back to more highlights in your career and things that are coming up. Tell me about your Carnival act and the bed of nails?
I am going to bring you back to when I was about 22. By then I had me sleeves done, my chest piece, I had the outline of my ribs. I had some bugs going up my neck and my face just started looking like a skull. I started to look more like a Zombie. The work started to show. I was approached by some different cats to do some shows. I did a couple of side-show gigs. I was in this movie called Carny starring Lou Diamond Phillips. We had a couple of headshots together. On this set I met Kayla Pin Lynn, Canada’s Pin Cushion Queen. She invited me to Toronto to meet The Great Mysterion who is a mentalist. I did some shows with his crew. I was one of his side-show acts. He bought me on MTV Canada in less than 2 years. I performed with his troop. Prior to his act, I was featured in Bazaar Magazine looking like a Zombie. I started to bill myself back then. After working with Mysterion, I started to work with Cirque du Monde which is a company that train street kids how to perform, how to make money in the streets showing them how to juggle and things. I worked with them a couple of times. The summer before last, I was invited by Wayne de Graff, who has one of the two major traveling Carnivals in Canada, to live under a tent with other freaks. The show was based on the Seven Deadly Sins with seven freaks with seven different attributes. I was Sloth because I’m the dead guy. And that was one of the best times of my life. It was the real Carny deal, not just playing it in a movie. So, I got to do that fro two and a half months before that ended. Working with friends in Montreal, people were taking pictures, one thing led to another and it worked up to fashion.
Speaking of puzzle, it seems that your puzzle was hidden under a lot of make-up recently and that you have this interesting contract with Dermablend. There is an interesting video on their website with you removing their make-up which looked like your original face. How long did it take to put it on?
It took a good three hours to apply and to completely cover me up. And we only had one shot to take it off. For those who had not seen it before, you didn’t know what to expect for the first time viewing it. It made an impact. You should all go and see it at gobeyondthecover.com.
Speaking of contracts, you have a recording contract as well?
I have always been very passionate about music. I’ve always been close to music. Growing up it was held in my heart. It had a lot to do with my lifestyle and the scene. You know music… you feed off of it. Everywhere I go I wear my headphones and listen to music. I look up to many of my idols or inspirations are through music. As a kid in high school, I was playing guitar and I always wanted to be in a band and all of that kind of stuff. I am looking forward to possibly this year… breaking into music with a recorded album.
Speaking of role models, who are some of your idols? Who do you listen to? Who’s in your iPod right now?
Some of my favorite artist would be. Immortal Technique, Jedi Mind Tricks, Keny Arkana and Las El Dianos… revolution music… power to the people.
It looks like you are becoming a Master of Multi-Media as you go further into film, recordings and music videos. It seems like you are capping things off with a fashion line of your own. Can you tell me about your clothing?
So when I first started working in fashion; what really grabbed me was working alongside of Nicola Formichetti, who brought me into the upper scale of the world. He invited me to a couple of events that really touched me. There are real artist that create whether it’s couture, or the clothing itself or make-up artist, video artist and all of these different talents brought me into their world and included me in charity events that collected money for good causes. I was invited to a model photoshoot against using nuclear power that correlated with the power plant meltdown in Japan. These things really grabbed my attention. Maybe being a model, it can hold a greater power. Being in my position, I can bring greater attention and awareness to causes. And this attention can bring funds, as well as, an awareness.
So do you feel you have a voice and a platform now?
That made me feel like I did.
So, now that you have a voice and a platform, can you tell me about your upcoming fashion line named Zombie Boy Gear?
I have always been a DIY (Do It Yourself) kind of guy. I have sewed my own leather… patched pants, studded things, studded gloves, hats, jackets. Studding leather and sewing. It’s just what Punk Rock kids do. When you don’t have much, make your own. You need an imagination. Same with music or graffiti… you got to make your own to get by.
So you feel like you have not lost that imagination and you can channel this into a lucrative fashion line?
Yes. It’s the same with tattoos… you got to build from the bottom up, stay strong in what you believe in.
There definitely a niche market that has not been filled as of yet. There are a lot of skull and skeleton t-shirts and things that people wear. Are you planning on becoming the Ed Hardy of skull apparel and things that are frightening?
Until a couple of months ago, I didn’t know who Ed Hardy was. I am just going to be myself and do what I do.
What is your driving force? What is your mantra?
I always had a hard head and I am very persistent. For better or worse you reap what you sow. The fearless generation… I’m saying… we gotta stick up to our bullies. Especially, in the age of my youth, everyone says with all the protests going on… what has the industrial revolution left for our generation? I’m saying that to not fall for that not having anything to gain. We can take the world back. Being independent is power and we got to find the power in ourselves.
You have a Zombie App called Zombie Hits?
I first saw it at the Comic Con convention. I love arcade games. I’ve always been a huge Nintendo, Super Nintendo fan. I know all of these games by heart. I beat several games. You stick one in front of me and I will most likely defeat the game. I am really big on games and as little participation that I had in the App, I’m really ecstatic that I got my own App and I want to work hard on developing it.
Do you want to eventually develop a Rico The Zombie Boy video game in the future?
Absolutely! I want to take this project by its horns and I want to contribute to the Zombie App. So, I hope your readers stay tuned.
Photography: Colin Singer Styling & Art Direction: Ty-Ron Mayes Model: Zombie Boy Make-up: Ty-Ron Mayes Styling Assistant: Coco Johnsen