“Every time you get a tattoo, they wanna know all about it.” So said Johnny Depp to journalist David Blum in an interview published in Esquire, April 1995 . . . and those words are as true now as they were then. In 1995, Johnny had eight tattoos. Now he has more than two dozen (that we can document—of course, there may be others never captured by a camera lens). Deppheads can’t help but be curious about Johnny’s body art, since he has often said that his tattoos are “a journal” that tell the story of his life.
As Johnny told Chris Heath in May 1993, “I consider all my tattoos as specific moments in my life. My body is a journal in a way. It’s like what sailors used to do, where every tattoo meant something, a specific time in your life.”
Here is a list of Johnny’s known tattoos, with pictures (when available), and presented in chronological order. The Zone thanks FANtasticJD for her meticulous research regarding dates and tattoo artists.
(Click on images to enlarge.)
(1) Johnny’s first tattoo is a large, highly detailed image of an Indian chief on his right bicep, honoring his Native American bloodlines. Johnny had the tattoo done in 1980, when he was seventeen, and for several years this was his only tattoo.
(2) Johnny’s second tattoo, on his left bicep, contains the name “Betty Sue” emblazoned on a red pierced heart. This tribute to Johnny’s mother—“the greatest lady in the world,” Johnny told journalist Steve Pond in 1989—was done by Jonathan Shaw on May 31, 1988.
(3) Johnny’s third tattoo is probably his best-known bit of ink: the inscription “Winona Forever” in a banner on his right deltoid. The tattoo was done in February 1990 by artist Mike Messina, in honor of Johnny’s then-fiancee (and Edward Scissorhands co-star) Winona Ryder.
When the couple broke up, Johnny’s “Winona Forever” tattoo became the ink that launched a thousand punch lines . . . and it left the actor with a dilemma. “I think of my tattoos like a journal,” he told GQ in 1993. “To have it [the tattoo] removed, or erase it, is to try and say it never happened. If I alter it in some way, make it funny—put her next boyfriend’s name on top of it, say—it would still be honest.”
Johnny’s eventual solution to keeping his tattoo “honest” was to transform “Winona Forever” to “Wino Forever;” the modification was made in 1994. As Johnny told Playboy’s Bernard Weinraub in 2004, “It’s the kind of thing you do on the spur of the moment. Then you break up, but it’s still there. [. . .] I changed it to ‘Wino Forever,’ which is actually a bit more accurate.”
(4) Johnny’s fourth tattoo is a question mark tattooed by Jonathan Shaw on the inside of Johnny’s right ankle. This tattoo was done in 1991. Johnny tattooed the same image, a question mark, on Jonathan Shaw’s knee, inaugurating a tradition of shared tattoos as a celebration of friendship that Johnny would repeat with other good friends in later years.
(5) Johnny had an inverted triangle, an image by Russian painter Ilya Chasnik, inked on his left deltoid. This tattoo was done by Jonathan Shaw, probably in the summer of 1993.
(6) Another Jonathan Shaw tattoo, done sometime between late 1993 and very early 1994, is the phrase “Death Is Certain” with a skull and crossbones inked on Johnny’s outside left ankle. Shaw recalls that he, Johnny, Dead Man director Jim Jarmusch and musician Iggy Pop “were like a little gang back then in the ‘90s [. . .] We even called ourselves the ‘Death is Certain Club.’ We all wore the same skull ring and we all had the same [. . .] tattoo. A skull and crossbones with the words ‘death is certain’ that I did on us one night down in my little basement tattoo studio off the Bowery.”
(7) Johnny has the number 3 tattooed on his left hand between his thumb and index finger. Based on photographic evidence, the tattoo was done sometime after February 1, 1994 and before March 21, 1994. Why choose 3? “I just have always felt very close to the number three,” Johnny told Newsday’s Sean Mitchell in 1995. “For some reason I like it. One night I was at a friend's house who's a tattoo artist and I said, ‘Put a number three on my hand.’ I don't know why. I just felt it. It's been a very important number for me.”
(8) Continuing the “3” theme, Johnny has 3 small rectangles tattooed on his right index finger; the tattoo was done between September 6 and September 13, 1994. In many movie roles, Johnny wears a large ring to cover this tattoo—Captain Jack Sparrow’s eye-catching emerald is one memorable example.
(9) Johnny has The Brave symbol tattooed on his inside lower right arm, a tribute to the ethos behind the film Johnny directed in 1996. The tattoo was done by Jonathan Shaw sometime after the 1998 Cannes film festival and before March 1999. Johnny sees the symbol as emblematic of the human condition: “The ultimate questions of our existence: Where do I go? What do I do? What is this all about? . . . this kind of eternal confusion. And more [. . .] this drawing also represents the idea of always questioning the things you do. Never stop questioning. [. . .] Never give up.”
(10) In honor of his daughter Lily-Rose Melody Depp, born on May 27, 1999, Johnny has the name “Lily-Rose” tattooed in ornate script over his heart. The tattoo was done by Jonathan Shaw in November 1999. In countless interviews since that date, Johnny has described the birth of his daughter as life-altering: “When Lily-Rose arrived, you know, it was sorta like . . . boom!” he told journalist Tom Shone. “You hit the pavement and it's strong beneath you and suddenly you realize, ‘Ah, that's what it's for. That’s why you care about integrity or doing things without compromise. It’s for that. It’s for her.’”
(11) Continuing the theme of “3,” Johnny has three dots tattooed on the inside of his left ankle. Very little is known about this tattoo, but it was done before February 2003.
(12) In honor of his son Jack, born on April 9, 2002, Johnny has the name “Jack” tattooed on his lower right arm, along with a drawing of a bird in flight. Based on photographic evidence, this tattoo was inked sometime after February 2003 and before May 2003; the art was done by Mark Mahoney. This tattoo is similar but not identical to Captain Jack Sparrow’s tattoo in the Pirates of the Caribbean films; while Captain Jack’s bird flies away from his body, Johnny’s tattoo reverses that direction, so that the bird is flying toward him. Since the bird represents his son Jack, as Johnny told an interviewer in spring 2004, “You always want him coming back to you.”
(13) On the inside of Johnny’s lower left arm is a tattoo reading, in large ornate script, “Silence Exile Cunning.” Deppheads first glimpsed the tattoo when Johnny accepted his trophies at the MTV Movie Awards in June 2008; later that summer, at the meet-and-greet after the Sheila Witkin Memorial Concert in Florida, Johnny told fans that he had gotten the tattoo in December 2007. Although Johnny has never spoken about its significance, the phrase probably comes from the conclusion of James Joyce’s A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man, where Joyce’s hero Stephen Dedalus declares: “I will tell you what I will do and what I will not do. I will not serve that which I no longer believe, whether it call itself my home, my fatherland, or my church: and I will try to express myself in some mode of life or art as freely as I can and as wholly as I can, using for my defence the only arms I allow myself to use—silence, exile, and cunning.” This declaration of the artist’s independence from any system that might stifle his creativity might appeal to Johnny Depp, who like James Joyce has always charted his own course.
(14) In 2009, Johnny was seen with a new tattoo on the inside of his upper left arm—another “3” tattoo, this one comprised of three linked red hearts. During an interview he was asked to explain the significance of the hearts, and “he pointed to each one in turn saying ‘Vanessa, Lily-Rose, and Jack.’” This tattoo was inked sometime after August 30, 2008 and before mid-April of 2009.
(15) One of Johnny’s most elaborate and detailed tattoos is a photographic representation of his grandfather, in a sailor’s uniform, on the inside of his lower right arm. The artwork was done by Mark Mahoney before January 2010, when the tattoo was first seen in photographs taken at the Kustendorf Film Festival. In an interview with Patti Smith in Vanity Fair in 2011, Johnny confirmed that the tattoo was his grandfather Jim: “We were very, very close, and I lost him. I was about nine. [. . .] He was a wonderful model. He drove a bus during the day and ran moonshine at night. He was a Robert Mitchum type, a man’s man. He just said things as they were.”
(16) A companion to the previous tattoo is this likeness of Johnny’s mother, Betty Sue, in a waitress uniform; the tattoo is on the inside of Johnny’s lower left arm and is the same size and style as the tattoo of his grandfather. It was done by the same artist, Mark Mahoney, in the same time period, and was first seen in January 2010. In one of his earliest national interviews, in Us Magazine in 1989, Johnny called his mother his “best friend” and acknowledged her hard work: “Her whole life she’s been a waitress, but I won’t let her wait tables anymore.”
(17) A tattoo of the Gonzo fist, in tribute to the late Dr. Hunter S. Thompson, is on Johnny’s left shin, with lettering above and below it. The Gonzo symbol was first seen in photographs on June 10, 2010, during the filming of On Stranger Tides in Hawaii; the lettering was added later that summer (we don’t yet know what it says). We do know, however, how much Johnny’s friendship with Hunter has illuminated his life. Johnny portrayed Hunter-figures in two films based on Thompson’s works, Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas and The Rum Diary, the latter produced by Johnny’s Infinitum Nihil. Although Thompson committed suicide in 2005, Johnny told journalist Martyn Palmer six years later, “I feel he’s still with me. There are certain people in your life who have gone away, people you love, and you think about them every day.”
(18) The words “Salve Ogum” surround an image on Johnny’s left forearm. Johnny has never discussed the significance of this tattoo, which was first seen in photos taken on July 27, 2010.
(19) In an obvious salute to pirate lore and his own role as Captain Jack Sparrow, the most famous movie pirate of our time, Johnny has a black skull and crossbones tattooed on the inside of his upper right arm. We don’t know the artist, but the tattoo was first seen in photographs taken on August 14, 2010, when Johnny was finishing the location work on Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides in Hawaii.
(20) Johnny has a rook tattooed on his left wrist—a black bird perched on one talon and holding playing cards in the other talon. This image comes from the Parker Brothers card game of Rook, first introduced in 1906, where the rook card is the most powerful card in the deck—a true game-changer. The rook tattoo was first seen on August 10, 2011.
(21) On October 12, 2011, Johnny had the I Ching hexagram of “Wind Over Heaven” tattooed on the back of his right arm by Mark Mahoney. Johnny was accompanied by Damien Echols, one of the members of the West Memphis Three, who received an identical tattoo; Echols had just been released from prison where he had been unjustly incarcerated on a murder charge for nearly 20 years. (Johnny and many other celebrities had campaigned ardently for the West Memphis Three’s release.) Later that month, when Johnny was in Austin promoting The Rum Diary, he spoke about his newest tattoo: “Recently, right before coming to Austin, I went to Disneyland with Damien (Echols) of the West Memphis Three. He had just gotten out of jail. He wanted to see Disneyland, so I took him. Afterwards we went and got tattoos together. That’s my way of documenting things in my life.”
For the curious, the interpretation of the “Wind Over Heaven” hexagram reads: “Forcing your way will only bring misfortune. Remain focused on your plan and surpass obstacles with gentleness and decorum. Stay focused on the long term. Plant the seeds for success now, and reap a bountiful harvest in the future. Cultivate tolerance, patience, detachment and adaptability. Understand that all you have the power to change is yourself.”
Damien Echols wrote about this hexagram in the journal he kept in prison, and Johnny read that section of Damien’s journal aloud during his performance at the Voices for Justice concert in Little Rock. “What it’s about is that whenever you’re facing huge obstacles in your life, don’t focus on the huge obstacles or else you’ll lose heart and be defeated,” Damien explained in an interview in August 2012. “Instead, just focus on putting one foot in front of the other. It’s by doing that that you eventually defeat the huge obstacles.” The hexagram is “nicknamed The Taming Power of the Small.”
(22) Johnny has a skull-shaped skeleton key tattooed on his inner left arm, just above the wrist. Johnny’s tattoo was done by Mark Mahoney and was first seen in photographs taken on March 29, 2012. Damien Echols has a similar tattoo, and in August 2012 Damien told Inkmag about the significance of the image. “[F]or me, when I was a child, I thought that a skeleton key could literally open any door. So that if you ever got your hands on a skeleton key, you’d be almost unstoppable—no barrier could hold you back. It seemed like an incredibly magical thing. For me now, that’s still what it represents.” Damien and Johnny got their skeleton key tattoos at the same time but not in the same place! Johnny was in Los Angeles, Damien explained, “and I was in New York and we were on the phone at the same time both sending each other photographs back and forth, keeping track on the progress and everything else.”
(23) The phrase “No Reason” is tattooed in capital letters on the inside of Johnny’s right wrist; this is a reference to Marilyn Manson’s song “Overneath the Path of Misery” on Manson’s Born Villain CD, in which the words “No reason” comprise the refrain. Marilyn Manson has an identical “No Reason” tattoo, but Manson’s is on his left wrist. Presumably the friends got their tattoos to celebrate the release of Born Villain; Johnny’s tattoo was first spotted when he appeared onstage at CinemaCon on April 24, 2012, and Born Villain was released a day later. One of Born Villain’s tracks is a rousing cover of Carly Simon’s “You’re So Vain” featuring Johnny Depp on guitar.
(24) Johnny has an elaborate circular tattoo on his upper right chest which was designed by Damien Echols of the West Memphis Three. This tattoo, inked by Mark Mahoney, says "Brother" in Theban symbols around the outside of the circle; the runes inside spell Johnny and Damien’s names. This tattoo was first seen in a photograph taken on May 10, 2012, the day after the London premiere of Dark Shadows. According to interviews Damien has given, he has an identical tattoo.
When Johnny appeared with Damien at the Toronto Film Festival for the screening of the documentary about Damien’s court case, West of Memphis, Johnny discussed this tattoo with John Carucci of the Associated Press. Touching the tattoo on his chest, Johnny confirmed that
Damien had designed it, saying, “It's one of my all-time favorites, and it means quite a lot to me.”
(25) Johnny has a simple, large zigzag tattoo on the back of his left hand. This symbol is significant in Native American tradition, and perhaps Johnny originally designed it as part of his characterization of Tonto in The Lone Ranger. However, the zigzag tattoo has been made permanent in honor of Johnny’s adoption into the Comanche Nation on May 16, 2012. Johnny’s zigzag tattoo was first seen in photographs on May 25, 2012. A few days earlier, on May 22nd, Damien Echols tweeted that he had gotten a similar zigzag tattoo on his left hand "in honor of my dear friend who was brought into the Comanche Nation."
(26) On the back of Johnny’s upper left arm, behind his “Betty Sue” tattoo, is a line drawing of a boy wearing a baseball cap and holding a guitar. The charming artwork is by Johnny’s son Jack; this fact was confirmed by Jack’s godfather Bill Carter, who has an identical tattoo. Bill posted a great picture on his Facebook page in which the men display their matching tattoos; Bill’s is on the left and Johnny’s is on the right.
Johnny and Bill Carter have a long history of friendship; they played guitar together in the band P in the 1990s, and Johnny has played drums several times recently for Carter’s new band, Bill Carter and the Blame. The guitar-player tattoos were done by Southside Tattoos in Austin, Texas. Johnny’s was first seen (in a partial view) in photographs taken on June 22, 2012 in Creede, Colorado, when he did a meet-and-greet at the Creede Town Hall for local residents after The Lone Ranger wrapped its location filming there.
(27) Johnny has a black crow tattooed on the back of his right hand. Johnny had the tattoo done in Toronto on September 9, 2012, after his appearance at the Toronto International Film Festival with Damien Echols in support of the documentary West of Memphis. Damien and Bill Carter also have identical crow tattoos on their hands; Damien tweeted, “It's our celebration for a great reception for West of Memphis.” Bill Carter’s song “Anything Made of Paper” is featured in the film, and he traveled to Toronto to play a by-invitation-only celebratory gig after the screening on September 8, 2012.
In an interview with People, Damien Echols explained the significance of the crow tattoo: it refers to the 1994 movie The Crow about a man who is murdered, but comes back to life. It’s a theme that resonates strongly with the former death row inmate. “[In the movie], they talk about the mythology of how [the crow] is considered to be something that transports souls from the realm of the dead to the realm of the living,” Damien said. “When somebody comes back to life, it's the crow that brings them back to the living.”
(28) Photos taken during Johnny’s appearance as Grand Marshal at the Comanche Nation Fair in Lawton, Oklahoma on September 29, 2012 show another new tattoo honoring his Native American roots: a snake symbol inside a black oval on Johnny’s lower right forearm. The tattoo is above the crow and below the lettering that says “Jack.” The snake is a positive symbol in Native American culture, signifying transformation and renewal and conveying healing energy. Since photos taken during Johnny’s appearance in New York on September 19, 2012 (to launch Damien Echols’ book tour) do not show this tattoo, he must have obtained it in the ten-day period between September 19 and September 29, 2012.
(29) Another new tattoo celebrating Johnny’s adoption into the Comanche nation is a large drawing of a Comanche shield on his right calf. The red-and-blue shield features four black feathers dangling from its rim. Although we don’t know when or where Johnny obtained the shield tattoo, he displayed it at the Comanche Nation Fair in Oklahoma on September 29, 2012, and a photo taken during the fair appeared in The Comanche Nation News, Volume 12, Edition 11.
This list contains all the tattoos that the Zone can confirm with absolute certainty; we acknowledge that our data may not be complete. For example, in an interview with Loudwire in July 2012, Marilyn Manson hinted that Johnny might have a tattoo on his back that we have never seen: “Johnny Depp is like a brother to me. We have matching tattoos on our backs–Charles Baudelaire, the flowers of evil, this giant skeleton thing. It’s kind of a secret. People say to us, ‘Why did you get that?’ And we say, ‘No reason.’” Paparazzi photographs from location shooting on The Lone Ranger do indicate that there may be a tattoo on Johnny’s back, but there isn’t enough evidence for us to add the tattoo to the official list yet.
Furthermore, Johnny was photographed on June 25, 2012 visiting Bart Willis at Southside Tattoos in Austin. Perhaps he was having additional work done on his tattoo of the guitar-player, or perhaps he was adding yet another new entry to the personal journal he inks on his body. Time will tell—maybe.
The Zone thanks andieinwonderland, Cyn, eps, Fairy, FANtasticJD, humiliatedgrape, Kitty, MinaDM, Part-Time Poet, and Theresa for sharing photographs of Johnny’s tattoos, and the contributors to the Zone’s 2012 “Tattoo Review” thread for their research.