Lyle Tuttle, whose tattoo of a heart on Janis Joplin’s breast is credited with making her "the world’s first tattooed celebrity," passed away Monday at the age of 87.
It's sad news for the tattoo community in the Bay Area and beyond today, as SFGate reports that San Francisco’s most renowned and well-known tattoo artists has left us. An internationally recognized ‘tattoo artist to the stars’ for decades, Tuttle was known to SFist readers for continuing to operate and hold court at Lyle Tuttle’s Tattoo Studio and Museum in North Beach, one of our favorite tattoo shops and one of the coolest niche museums in the city. Tuttle was 87.
Tuttle’s official Instagram account confirmed his passing in a Tuesday evening post. “Lyle inspired so many of us with his joy for living, his boundless creativity, humor, and unconditional friendship,” the post says. “He will always be our favorite tattooed prince. He lifted us with the magic in his soul and his bright spirit across oceans, time and space.”
His cause of death was not disclosed.
Here we see Tuttle famously featured on the October 1970 cover of Rolling Stone, where he is photographed by Annie Leibovitz and interviewed by Dick Cavett. He would tattoo a who’s-who of 1970s pop artists, including Cher, the Allman Brothers, and a particularly famous heart on Janis Joplin’s breast. A 1973 New York Times article credited his work on Joplin with popularizing tattoos among women.
Tuttle got his first tattoo in 1945 right here in San Francisco, a ‘Mother’ tattoo that cost $3.50 at the time. He would go on to have tattoos covering 95 percent of his body, and earned this distinction of being the first person to apply tattoos on all seven continents — including Antarctica. He technically retired in 1990, but continued to speak and teach at tattoo seminars and professional events.
“Tattoos are travel marks, stickers on your luggage,” Tuttle aid in his later years. “Tattoos are special, you have to go off and earn them.
A public memorial and celebration of Tuttle’s life is scheduled for this Saturday, March 30 at Ukiah’s Eversol Mortuary at 2 p.m.