GN’R guitarist Slash announced the death of Billy White Jr, who drew the cross as a tattoo for Axl Rose before the band became famous, on Instagram. “RIP #BillyWhiteJr og designer of GNR cross logo. & long time friend of the band. You will be missed,” wrote Slash.
White was an art student in Long Beach, California, when he was introduced to the unknown Guns N’ Roses in the mid-80s by his cousin. He was asked by Axl to design a tattoo for him after the singer spotted White’s work on his cousin’s wall.
“One day Axl called and asked if i could draw him a tattoo, after he’d seen a drawing I’d done on my cousin’s wall,” White told Culture Creature in 2016. “I said sure, and we talked.
“The cross and skulls that looked like the band was Axl’s idea, the rest was me – the knot work in the cross was a reference to Thin Lizzy, a band Axl and I both loved.”
White’s image ended up on the cover of Appetite For Destruction after the original cover image, a painting by underground artist Robert Williams, was rejected by the band’s label Geffen, for being too controversial.
“Axl called again, and said [my design] was going to be on the cover of everything, because the Williams painting got rejected," White recalled in 2016. “I was okay with that!”
Since its release in 1987, Appetite For Destruction has gone on to sell more than 30 million albums worlwide. Billy White’s pencil sketch of the original tattoo image sold at auction for $6,875 in 2009.