56-year-old Chuck Lamb is quite literally dying to succeed. In 2005, he quit his job as an IT engineer to pursue a very, very bizarre hobby – playing dead. Today, he earns up to $1,500 a day for playing the dead guy in various films and TV shows. Who knew there was so much money to be earned in the afterlife, right?
It all started one evening when Chuck was watching an episode of Law & Order: Special Victims Unit, with his wife Tonya. He suddenly realized that he could actually put his corpse-like appearance to use. In the next one week, he set up his own website and uploaded a series of photos and videos with elaborate setups and one common element – ‘dead guy Chuck’. Tonya was brilliant with creating the scenes, making fake blood and having Chuck pose as being run over, crushed under a garage door, electrocuted by a toaster, and more.
“It started as a joke, we live in the mid-west and there aren’t many film opportunities,” said Chuck. “I just thought: ‘Wouldn’t it be cool to be on TV?’ How could we do that being nobodies. I had a dream that I was the dead body on Law & Order. I woke up and realized: you don’t need any talent to play dead! So Tonya made up fake blood and started photographing the poses. She’s the brains behind it, I’m just the hunk of meat that lies around ‘getting slaughtered’.”
The videos went viral and the website (deadbodyguy.com) had over 50 million views shortly after its launch in 2005. Chuck was featured on popular shows like The Late Show with David Letterman and Have I Got News for You. Soon, casting agents were approaching him to play soon-to-be-murdered characters on TV. So far he’s done 25 different acting jobs, including a role in a Hollywood horror film called Vacancy.
“I look like a dead body,” Chuck says. “If you’re going to get somebody to play dead you might as well get the palest most normal looking guy you can find. No-one’s ever going to call me and ask me to be the leading man heart throb so I thought I’d put what God gave me to good use. I thought outside the box, by putting myself in the box. When I started doing this, I thought, ‘I really look like a dead guy. I’m pale, I’m bald, I have bags under my eyes – you could definitely pick me out as a zombie or a dead guy anywhere.”
In most of his work, Chuck is simply credited as ‘Dead Body Guy’, which seems pretty ruthless, but that’s the nickname that made him famous in the beginning and he wouldn’t have it any other way. He has appeared on TV shows like The Jury and movies like Horrorween and Kentucky Fried Horror. His biggest break so far was the budget slasher flick Thankskilling, which was at the top of Netflix’s most-watched horror list for months. The movie went on to become a cult hit in the U.S.
Despite all his success, Chuck is still waiting for a call from his favorite show Law & Order SVU. But according to David Waldron, who casts the background actors for that show, the competition is quite stiff (pun intended). “Everyone says ‘I want to be a dead body.’ And I say, ‘You don’t really want to be a dead body. If you’re working with me, you know it’s not an easy job.’”
Jonathan Strauss, SVU’s casting director, said: “The novelty goes quickly out of the window. That separates the professionals from the amateurs. The hardest working men and women in the show are ahead.” It’s true, murder victims on SVU do need to endure a lot – stuffed behind a dumpster with cats crawling over them, dumped in the mud, covered in red corn syrup and maggots, and more.
But Chuck doesn’t seem to be scared of the work. He realizes how hard it is to be in a movie. “To do a seven second scene took eight hours and I’ve been left waiting in all sorts of places. Once I was laid in a pile of fire ants by accident but I didn’t want to be a pain in the butt so I stuck it out. I laid there for ten minutes before I said, ‘These ants are biting the piss out of me!’ They had to hose me off, I had so many red ants on me. Like any great actor, I’ve really suffered for my art!”
Chuck also dreams of starring on Celebrity Big Brother, a hit reality show in the U.K. “I adore Celebrity Big Brother – it’s amazing,” he said. “I’d love to be in that house. Or the Walking Dead – man I’d love to be a zombie.” It’s amazing how a person could be so enthusiastic about playing a corpse, but Chuck does seem to genuinely love his job. “Everybody wants to make their mark in the world,” he said. “It’s fulfilling a dream. I know it might seem a weird dream, but it’s my dream.”