Allstate's series of "Mayhem" commercials is one of the most successful ad campaigns
in recent memory.
It's easy to understand why they've caught on.
"I'm your phone, stuck down here between your seat and you console.
Playin' a little hide and seek.
If you've watched these spots and felt like the guy playing Mayhem seems familiar, you're
right he's popped up in a number of shows and films over the last couple of decades.
Here are some surprising facts you didn't know about Allstate's Mayhem man, Dean Winters.
A guy walks into a bar…
Winters landed his first movie role in the 1997 Mel Gibson and Julia Roberts thriller
But that wasn't Winters' first screen acting gig overall.
In the 1995 TV season, he had a recurring role as Tom Marans on NBC's acclaimed police
drama Homicide: Life on the Street.
He got that part via [vee-ah] his connection with Homicide creator and producer Tom Fontana.
Up to that point, Winters had primarily paid the bills with a bartending job in New York
Fontana walked into Winters' Upper East Side bar at about 2 A.M. one night and the two
struck up a friendship.
Fontana offered to write a role into the show for Winters, and eventually he accepted.
It turned into a good decision for the young actor - when Fontana moved on to create the
prison drama Oz for HBO, he wrote the role of Ryan O'Reily specifically for Winters.
30 Rock runaway
For viewers of the Tina Fey sitcom 30 Rock, Winters will always be Dennis Duffy, Liz Lemon's
sleazy, on-again-off-again boyfriend.
"It's a fancy briefcase.
Cuz you're classy and important, like a dude."
"Thank you Dennis."
Duffy's many quirks made him a fan favorite, but he almost didn't get the gig.
Winters later said:
"I went to the audition for 30 Rock - I walked in, and there was, like, 30 guys up there
reading for my role, and [...] they were the funniest guys in New York City."
Faced with that level of talented competition, Winters bolted.
When his talent agency found out about it, they issued an ultimatum: Go back to the audition,
or they'd drop him as a client.
Needless to say, Winters went back - and got the gig.
"Dennis what are you doing?"
"I'm gonna mount a TV on your wall, I just, I can't find a stud."
He actually died
One morning in June 2009, Winters awoke with a fever and stayed in bed all day.
The next morning he went to his doctor's office, and that's where he collapsed.
He later told Page Six:
"I was turning black, and my whole head was swelling up."
An ambulance raced Winters to the hospital, but on the way, his heart stopped… for two
and a half minutes.
Paramedics revived him, and he wound up spending three weeks in intensive care to recover from
a bacterial infection.
Winters was too sick to work for a year.
Right before his brush with mortality, he'd filmed a pilot for an ABC show called Happy
Town, and when it was picked up, producers replaced him.
However, exactly one year and a day after he collapsed, his best-known work hit screens
when Allstate launched its "Mr. Mayhem" campaign.
Winters almost didn't live to make those Mayhem ads - and in fact, he almost didn't appear
in them at all.
After his medical nightmare, he had to re-learn how to walk.
"I was feeling sorry for myself - I had lost toes and half a thumb and the tip of my nose
fell off - and this nurse took me to the children's burn unit.
I saw these eight kids with prosthetic legs playing soccer and I thought, 'That's it.'
That's the moment when I turned everything around and decided to learn how to walk again."
When Allstate Insurance sought him out to play the Mayhem guy in its huge commercial
campaign, Winters turned them down at first.
He told HuffPost Live:
"When they offered me the commercial, I said no.
My smartass remark was that I became an actor so I wouldn't have to put on a suit and sell
And then my agent slapped me around and said, 'Come on, get real.'"
Shooting a string of 30-second TV commercials is Dean Winters' most widely known gig, but
it leaves him enough time to do lots of acting in movies and on TV shows, where he often
plays street-smart tough guys and cops.
Since the Mayhem campaign began in 2010, Winters has surfaced on sitcoms like Brooklyn Nine-Nine
In addition to his recurring roles on 30 Rock, Rescue Me, and Law & Order: SVU, Winters also
starred on Battle Creek, a short-lived CBS crime dramedy co-created by Breaking Bad's
Winters has also appeared in films like John Wick.
As a young man, Dean Winters wrote himself an acting "bucket list" of all the different
kinds of projects he aimed to perform in someday.
He later recalled:
"I was, like, 'I want to be in a horror film, I want to be in a Western, I want to be in
this, I want to be in that."
One item Winters can cross off that list is a horror movie.
Winters played a sleazy businessman mourning his wife and dealing with amnesia in the 2002
direct-to-video release Hellraiser: Hellseeker, the sixth film in the series featuring the
It wasn't necessarily a dream come true, however.
In fact, Winters didn't have the best time shooting the movie.
"I took that movie at the last minute, I got to Vancouver, and if there were 120 scenes
in the movie, I think I was in 116.
And I got sick, like, at the end of the first read-through."
Winters wound up being extremely ill for three weeks out of the four-week shoot, and it didn't
help that the film was shot in a real psychiatric facility.
"I was having nightmares and seeing visions in the hospital.
It was just bananas."
The hands of Mayhem
The Leo Burnett advertising agency conceived the Mayhem ads, and in 2011, Burnett executive
vice president Nina Abnee unequivocally told Ad Age that one of the inspirations behind
Mayhem was simple, saying:
"We wanted to kick Flo's ass."
She's speaking, of course, about Allstate rival Progressive's extremely popular advertising
Thanks in part to the Flo ad onslaught, Allstate's market share dropped for two straight years.
The Mayhem campaign reversed Allstate's fortunes with Winters' character and an emphasis on
value over price.