(AOL)Getting tattooed to look like a cadaverous zombie was the best career decision Rick Genest ever made.


Yeah, there were some people who thought Genest was crazy 10 years ago when he made the fateful decision to tattoo his entire body to look like a cadaver.

To be fair, many of those same people probably haven't changed their minds about whether it was a wise decision for Genest to make his outsides look like his insides.

In fact, a year ago, someone created a Facebook fan page called "I bet this guy will regret getting this tattoo once he's older!!"

However, a lot can happen in a year.

Ironically, that page, which was set up to make fun of Genest, led to his being discovered by Nicola Formichetti, the creative director for fashion designer Thierry Mugler and a frequent collaborator with Lady Gaga.

As a result, Genest now has proof that his unique look has paid off in tangible ways. Not only was he featured in the new Thierry Mugler Autumn/Winter men's collection when it debuted in Paris in January, but Gaga hired Genest to appear prominently in her "Born This Way" video.

"It's proof of the power of the Internet," Genest told AOL News.

Now he's got a whole bunch of offers from Italian television; a film role in "Ronin 47," a Keanu Reeves movie set for release at the end of 2012 ("If the world doesn't end," he jokes); and other major fashion shows.

Not bad, considering he had no ambition other than to be a zombie when he first tattooed his hands to look like skeletons a decade ago. In fact, he never imagined that lifestyle choice would lead him to where he is now.

"I didn't see [the modeling job] coming," Genest said. "But I'm grateful. It's been a fun trip."

Genest doesn't see himself as the traditional model or as a traditional role model, either.

Then again, most models -- or role models -- haven't thought about having their ears removed, a goal he once confessed to Bizarre magazine.
Still, he thinks his story does have value to the next generation of kids, whether they choose to look like zombies or not.

"You gotta do what you love or else you'll be doing something you hate. I wish everyone would do what they love," he said, quickly adding, "But don't take drugs."

Genest's decision to treat his body as a living, breathing canvas made him a kindred spirit to Lady Gaga, who befriended him when they filmed the "Born This Way" video earlier this year.

Although both Genest and Gaga have tattoos, what really made their friendship stick was bubble gum, specifically Bazooka Joe.

"Gaga asked me what made me consider getting tattooed the first time," Genest said. "I just started pulling s--- out of my a-- and told her when I was young, I liked to eat Bazooka Joe and stick the temporary tattoos on my body.

"She laughed and, later that day, she had everyone chewing Bazooka Joe gum."

But while Genest is reportedly getting lots of interest as a model, folks in the industry have mixed opinions on whether he can be the next Fabio or even Derek Zoolander.

Professional model Christina DeHart, who runs ExploreModeling.com, a website that helps young models and their parents navigate the modeling industry, says Genest's look, while unique, may have a limited shelf life.

"The fashion industry loves things that are unique, and Rick Genest definitely is uncommon," DeHart said. "As far as long-term modeling success, I am not so sure about his opportunities there.

"When modeling, you are asked to take on a new character or vision for each designer. The model tells the designer's story. Rick Genest is already a complete statement without a lot of room for another's vision. Not to say that he won't ride a wave after Thierry Mugler. I just don't see a longstanding career."

Bruce Lemler, a former model and booker at top New York City modeling agencies who now does photography, is slightly less diplomatic.

"Genest was used by Thierry Mugler because, to put it bluntly, he's a freak," Lemler said.

"Being a freak got him to Lady Gaga and Mugler, but he's their freak. He's been used."

Lemler figures anyone else who wants "a freak" wants their own freak, associated only with their brand.

"After this, he's old news," Lemler said. "He may get campaigns for B-level clients, acting as parasites on his current fame as a freak, but that type of fame dies quickly."

Lemler says Genest could theoretically be a decent model if he covered up the ink, but he says the cost of a good makeup artist -- or even a good Photoshopper -- is "an unnecessary expense when models as good as, or better-looking, than Genest are available."

On the other hand, celebrity photographer Mike Ruiz sees Genest as an outlier for future fashion models.

"In Genest, we are seeing a new generation of cutting-edge models whose confidence and intrinsic artistry raises the bar for the entire industry," Ruiz said. "He's here for the long haul."

That may be the case, but Genest is eager to prove he's more than just a handsome face covered by tattoos designed to make him look like a half-dissected corpse.

For instance, he's well-trained in the carnival arts and is a major force in Lucifer's Blasphemous Mad Macabre Torture Carnival, a contemporary side show.

"I do fire eating, lie on beds of nails, do geek stuff like eating brains and worms, and I can do the blockhead bit," Genest said.

But Genest's manager, Colin Singer, who also worked as his immigration lawyer when he needed help getting to France for the Mugler show, believes his client is selling himself short.

"I think he's being a little humble here," Singer said. "He's an impresario and a director. He creates themes and directs up to 10 people."

Singer sees Genest as a star and believes the coming months will see his tattoo-covered star rise to new heights.

"We've signed contracts with European TV," Singer said. "He'll be doing a show in Italy, and he's auditioning for small acting parts that are related to his character, plus lots of major fashion shows."

But Genest has a bigger personal goal: Completing the tattoos covering 80 percent of his body.

"It takes a lot of time," he said. "It's a hobby, but you can't do it all at once. It gets easier the more you do it, but it's like stubbing a toe. Every time you do it, it's going to hurt."

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