Born as Richard Cowen in Bethesda, Maryland, USA, he was the son of Chet and Juanita Cohen. Dean attended Winston Churchill High School in Potomac, Maryland and the Lawrenceville School in Princeton, New Jersey. He attended the University of Delaware on a football scholarship. He died on December 27, 2006 of pancreatic cancer at Beth Israel Medical Center in New York.
He began working as a fashion model in the mid-1980s and later became a fashion and advertising photographer after teaching himself to take high-profile photos. His clients included Gianni Versace, Yves St. Laurent, Giorgio Armani, Reebok, Nike, Fujifilm, Beck's, Michelob, Fila, Playboy and TV Guide.
Dean's first appearance on a TV reality show was on UPN's America's Next Top Model. In 2006, he joined model Frederique van der Wal on TLC's Cover Shot, in which "supermoms" were transformed into "supermodels".