‘I was looking at death’: how the world’s most tattooed man, Lucky Diamond Rich, came back from the brink
Performer and tattooist Lucky Rich has overcome drug addiction and is now living a relatively ‘normal’ life after years of excess. Photograph: Christopher Hopkins/The Guardian
The Australian found fame as a highly decorated performer but slipped into drug addiction and homelessness before turning his life around
L ucky Diamond Rich was at the top of his game in 2007. Travelling the globe, making “ridiculous” money doing circus performances and just crowned the most tattooed man in the world by Guinness World Records. By 2017 he was homeless, living in a storage facility, addicted to crystal meth and slipping into psychosis.
Back in 1987, when Rich was 16, he got his first tattoo, a small juggling bat on his hip. He made sure it was easy to hide, afraid his mother would disapprove.
Rich was born Gregory McClaren, and back then he was an oddball teenager from a dysfunctional family in Brisbane who joined the circus to avoid falling into a life of crime.
At 49 Lucky Rich is building a new life, complete with an apartment, two dogs and his loving partner, Megan. Photograph: Christopher Hopkins/The Guardian
“I was instantly attracted to tattoos,” he says. “Any money I would get from performing, I would invest it back into getting tattooed,” he says. “I already felt different from a young age, so to look different too? I never second-guessed it.”
The more tattoos he got, the more popular he became, and he was able to live comfortably flying from country to country, earning money as a street performer and partying every night till dawn.
In order to become the world’s most tattooed man, Rich covered everything from his eyelids to his gums to his genitals.
“I’m more than 100% covered,” he says. “I’ve had tattoos over tattoos over tattoos.”
People would stare, but Rich didn’t mind. Instead, he just felt sorry for those living the drudgery of a nine-to-five life.
“In London, when I came out of the Covent Garden station, there was this street sweeper guy who would always be whistling and singing. And I remember looking at him and I had a weird resentment, this anger,” he says.
In his younger days Lucky Rich didn’t mind people’s stares – he felt sorry for those living the drudgery of a nine-to-five life. Photograph: Christopher Hopkins/The Guardian
“Further down the track, I realised that the reason why I was angry was because that guy had something that I didn’t – an internal happiness.
“I was making ridiculous amounts of money. Anyone would think that I would be the happiest man on the planet, but I was quite sad. Successful but empty.”
Partying was a staple of Rich’s 30-year career, but what started as a few drinks quickly became lines of cocaine, and eventually turned into an addiction to crystal meth.
“That was the drug that brought me to my knees,” he says.
It’s like night and day if you look at my life three years ago and now
He would get clean for years at a time but always slip back into old habits. “You know, you’re the most tattooed man in the world and people are wanting to show you a good time.”
Rich always lived a nomadic lifestyle, but when he started using too often to even perform, homelessness stopped being a choice and became an unavoidable reality.
“I had all my stuff in the storage unit already, and I just started sleeping there,” he says.
“I started losing my mind. I thought there was a whole bunch of stuff going on that wasn’t … I was always getting in trouble with the police. Basically, for the first time in my life, I felt probably as crazy as I looked,” he says. “I was looking at death, institutionalisation or jail.
Lucky Rich in his home tattoo studio, which has been unusable during the Covid-19 lockdown. Photograph: Christopher Hopkins/The Guardian
“A friend of mine who worked in a rehab in Sydney called and asked me how I was doing. And I decided to let him know that I wasn’t doing that great.”
Rich’s friend told him there was a bed for him if wanted it, he just needed to fly to New South Wales.
“The day I got the money to buy the ticket, a drug dealer turned up in front of me … I had this moment where I was like: do I want my life back or do I want this drug?The Australian found fame as a highly decorated performer but slipped into drug addiction and homelessness before turning his life around ]]>