MONTREAL — The death of a tattooed Montreal artist and model who shot to international fame for dancing in Lady Gaga’s “Born This Way” video was accidental, a Quebec coroner ruled Monday.
Rick Stephan Genest, known as Zombie Boy, was found dead at the foot of a Montreal apartment building on Aug. 1, 2018.
Coroner Melissa Gagnon told a news conference the 32-year-old had gone out on a third-floor balcony alone to smoke a cigarette and went over the railing.
She said Genest’s blood alcohol level was almost three times the legal limit for driving at the time of his death, but he did not seem to be in a state of psychosis or delirium.
She concluded the fall was likely accidental, and the cause of death was head trauma.
“The possibility of an accidental fall from a height of 8.14 metres cannot be ruled out,” she said.
“It is a likely scenario, given Mr. Genest’s habit of sitting on the narrow railing when he went out to smoke and the fact that he was highly intoxicated.”
Rise to fame
Genest’s head-to-toe body art helped propel him from humble beginnings to international fame on fashion runways and eventually a starring role in Lady Gaga’s “Born This Way” music video.
The Montreal native once known for frequenting homeless shelters got his first tattoo at 16 and went on to eventually cover more than 90 per cent of his body in ink, including the image of a skull over his face.
In early 2011, a photo of Genest in a fashion magazine drew the attention of designer Nicola Formichetti, who helped him secure contracts with French fashion house Mugler and later introduced him to Lady Gaga.
“It made absolutely no sense. He had rekindled a relationship that was very dear to him, and everything in his life was on track to lead to beautiful things.”
According to Genest’s website, at his death he held the Guinness World Book of Records for the most insects tattooed on a human body with 178, as well as the most bones inked on a human body with 138.
Lady Gaga first described Genest’s death as a suicide, but the artist later deleted a tweet discussing the cause of death and apologized for speaking “too soon.”
On Monday, Gagnon said there were elements that could support the hypothesis of suicide, including a history of mental health problems, substance use, and “sad, gloomy and melancholic written comments” Genest had made.
However, she also noted that friends had described him as happy in the weeks preceding his death, and that he’d just gotten engaged and was excited about upcoming projects. Video taken from surveillance cameras the night he died did not suggest he was in crisis, she said.
“After analysis, given that the investigation did not reveal a clear and unequivocal intention to end his life on Mr. Genest’s part, I cannot state that the death was a suicide,” she wrote.
Karim Leduc, Genest’s former manager, said it was “a relief” to finally get the coroner’s results after more than a year of waiting.
He said many of Genest’s friends and family members had questioned the suicide hypothesis, noting he had appeared happy in his personal and professional life.
“It made absolutely no sense,” Leduc said at the news conference. “He had rekindled a relationship that was very dear to him, and everything in his life was on track to lead to beautiful things.”
Now that the speculation over the cause of death is finished, Leduc said he hoped Genest would be remembered above all as an artist, a pioneer, and a generous friend. He said Genest had been working on an album, which Leduc is now hoping to release posthumously.
“He was also a poet — a lyricist. He wrote beautiful, beautiful things that I hope we can share with the world eventually,” he said. “His story is a lot deeper than meets the eye.”
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Oct. 28, 2019