Tattooing legend Rick Walters passed away on Monday afternoon at the age of 73. The world-renowned artist, machinist, shop owner, and long-time manager of Bert Grimm’s World Famous Tattoo on the Pike had been battling health issues recently after doctors found blood clots in his lungs to add to myriad other ailments. Still, the consummate professional, Walters actually was at work in his Sunset Beach shop—Rick Walters’ World Famous Tattoo Parlor—on Sunday.
Born on September 5, 1945 and considered the most recognizable name and face at The Pike, Walters ran Bert Grimm’s for 25 years until the shop closed down in 2002. He then convinced his tattoo granddaughter Kari Barba to buy the nation’s oldest tattoo shop and convert it into Outer Limits Tattoo.
“Rick was such a loved man,” Barba said. “A man many looked up to in our family world of tattoo. He will be greatly missed and honored forever in this world of tattoo.”
But Barba is far from the only tattooer to be impacted by Walters’ passing. Walters’ brand of American traditional tattooing has spread far and wide for the previous half-century, and his tattoo children (artists who apprenticed under him), grandchildren, and even great-grandchildren can be found at hundreds of shops around the world.
“I lost a tattoo mentor today,” wrote Tim Hendricks, renowned artist and owner of Classic Tattoo in Fullerton, on Twitter. “I hope that I can uplift the younger generation as much as he uplifted me.”
Hendricks liked to tell the story how he as a novice had gone to Walters to get his first tattooing machine. Walters, wearing a hat that read, “Yes, it hurts” showed Hendricks how to use the device by painfully tattooing his name on his hand without using any ink.
The South Bay native’s enormous tattoo family was one of the focal points of the Long Beach Post’s profile on him just one day before his death. It’s hard to imagine a tattooer with more of an impact on the community and industry. The mourning of his passing can certainly be felt in tattoo shops across the globe, Instagram is a steady stream of memorial posts from fellow tattoo legends like Freddy Negrete, and anyone lucky enough to get an eagle, pike rose, or equally iconic tattoo from the man himself is just a little more thankful for the time they got to share with him.
Everyone who studies tattoo history will learn Walters’ name alongside those of Norman “Sailor Jerry” Collins, Don Ed Hardy, Bob Shaw, and the other all-time greats. Perhaps the best tribute to the rambunctious artist is that tattooers will proudly display their “RICK WALTERS HATES YOU” stickers and tell his tales for generations to come—hopefully with each telling turning him into an even more grandiose version of the incredible human being who inspired so many.
In addition to his massive tattoo offspring, Walters is survived by his wife, Robin, and a eight children.
A Walters-themed fundraising art show on March 30 at Collective Ink Gallery and corresponding GoFundMe page set up by his friends will now go toward covering his funeral costs and helping his family.
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