Last month, retired Marine Cpl. Alex Minsky’s life took a surreal and unexpected turn. He was sitting on a plush couch at ABC’s studios on West 66th Street in New York City for his first-ever live interview. Next to him sat Barbara Walters, Sherri Shepherd, and Jenny McCarthy. The ladies of The View were cooing and gushing, not over Minsky’s heroic military service, or even the fact that he’d been awarded the Purple Heart. The reason he was invited on the show was his recent success as fashion’s hottest new underwear model.
As the interview began, racy pictures of a tattooed, half-naked Minsky were plastered all over the set’s jumbo screens. But what made this different from any other fluffy segment on the industry’s latest hunk wasn’t his perfect abs, or his killer smile. Along with his God-given attributes was one characteristic that made Minsky an anomaly in the fashion world: his prosthetic leg.
“I never thought in a million years that I would become a model,” Minsky says during a shoot in Los Angeles. “Even before the accident it was never one of my goals.”
Minsky’s journey from the battlefield to the runway is straight out of a Hollywood movie. On June 1, 2009, barely three weeks into his first tour in Afghanistan, Minsky’s Humvee ran over a roadside bomb. His bottom jaw was broken in four different places, his arm was torn to shreds, and his right leg was blown off just below the knee. A plastic tube lodged in his trachea was the only thing keeping him alive. Doctors told his mother, Jackie, that Alex had suffered a traumatic brain injury and would probably not survive. If he did, they said, his life would never be the same.
To everyone’s surprise, Minsky pulled through. He spent 47 days in a coma and 17 months in the hospital recovering from his wounds. He has little recollection of the explosion. Most of what he knows has been pieced together from what other people have told him.
“My brain injuries were so severe they thought I was going to be a vegetable for the rest of my life,” he says. “I had to learn how to walk, how to talk, even how to form memories. That was a big one. It’s not like in the movies where you wake up and just talk.”
Though his recovery is remarkable, he struggles at times. “I’m still in the process of relearning. I’m never finished,” Minsky says. His speech is almost normal, but, every now and then, it comes out slurred. “I over-enunciate everything because if I don’t, I’ll mumble,” he says almost apologetically.
Following his release from the hospital, Minsky fell into a downward spiral—a dark period of depression and alcoholism that nearly killed him. “I was searching,” he said. “I lost my job, my leg, and my purpose in life. Then my brother passed away, and it was all downhill from there.”
Soon, Minsky had to look up to see rock bottom. “I was getting hammered seven days a week. I was getting into all kinds of trouble,” he says.
After getting three DUIs in less than three months, Minsky was ordered by the court to attend an outpatient rehab program.
To keep busy, he hit the gym twice a day, six days a week. On his second day of sobriety, a photographer approached him during one of his workouts, and asked whether he’d ever consider modeling. Minsky thought the guy was out of his mind. But the photographer was persistent, and Minsky eventually relented.
Over the next year, Minsky’s test shots went viral, setting the Internet aflutter. He was a good-looking guy with a perfect body covered in badass tattoos. But it was his blasé attitude towards his prosthesis that captured people’s imagination. Minsky became a role model for those living with disabilities, redefining long-held standards of beauty and perfection.
“He gives people hope,” said photographer Cedric Terrell, himself a former Marine. “Models who work the runway are made to blend in. But he is a personality. People are designing photo shoots around him.”
Although he’s nowhere near top model status, Minsky has garnered a fiercely loyal following online. His Facebook fan page boasts close to 200,000 followers, more than Simon Nessman and Sean O’Pry, the industry’s top moneymaking models, combined. A picture on his Instagram account can easily fetch 2,000 likes. And the fashion world is starting to take notice. He’s become one of the new faces of up-and-coming underwear company Jack Adams and has appeared in countless fashion blogs and magazines.
“It’s been crazy,” said Minsky. “People are starting to recognize me.”
Born in Orange County, California, Minsky is the oldest of four siblings. At 13, he was already headed for trouble, skipping school and getting into drugs. After high school, he decided to join the Marines. He was excited about the possibility of going to Afghanistan, even after learning he’d be deployed to Helmand Province, one of the most dangerous places on earth.
He insists he wasn’t devastated when he first learned he’d lost his leg. “All I wanted to do was get back to my unit,” Minsky says. Instead, he’s spending his days in front of the cameras.
And he’s already showing signs of becoming a pro. With every click of the shutter, Minsky changes his pose. His prosthetic doesn’t seem strange or out of place, even when he puts on a pair of red Speedos. In a way, Minsky’s attitude, or lack thereof, is his secret weapon. He doesn’t make an issue out of his prosthetic, so nobody else does either.
The photographer is clearly excited with the results. “Look at that,” he says as he shows me the viewfinder. “First picture, and it’s perfect.” There’s no question the camera loves him.
But, it’s hard to say whether Minsky will be able to translate all the hype around him into a full-time career as a model.
“I was surprised at how popular his pictures became,” says photographer Michael Stokes, whose photographs helped catapult Minsky’s career. “He’s not a fragile guy and that’s appealing.” But even though Stokes is a big fan, he acknowledges it might be too early to tell whether the fashion industry will embrace him. “He’ll be a game-changer when a major underwear company hires him for a campaign.”
Stokes says he was disappointed when one of the mainstream underwear brands passed on the idea. “To me, this is a no brainer,” he said. “The fact that they don’t want to take any kind of risk is very disappointing.”
But that may still happen. “He’s the perfect affiliation for any brand,” said Chad Kawalec, marketing expert and founder of the Brand Identity Center. “He’s someone who everyone is rooting for. He’s an American veteran who’s overcome tremendous odds to succeed in ways no one would have ever dreamed possible. Not to mention, he’s magnetically attractive. A smart brand will cozy up next to him and try to absorb some of that good will for its own benefit.”
If Minsky never becomes the next Marlon Teixeira, he’s OK with that. “It’s all about my sobriety, and right now this just keeps me busy.”
And just when you thought you couldn’t be more impressed with a man who lost his leg for his country, then managed to become an underwear model, he strikes again with this final tidbit: “What would I do if I actually made it big? I’d help my mom retire.”