Eternal bad boy Tommy Lee is definitely a bad man now: His October 3 birthday finds him hitting the half-century mark. Coincidentally enough, 50 isn't just his age but also the number of tattoos he's estimated to have accumulated, give or take a few garishly colorful dragons, skulls, cheetahs, or ex-wives.
But even Lee doesn't know exactly how many tats he has, because they do tend to blend together, especially when there's so little unlinked skin left to work with for a canvas. When a tattoo magazine asked him in 2009 just how many inkings he had, Lee answered, "One! One big one." He elaborated in his 2005 autobiography, Tommyland: "My tattoos were done at separate times in many places, but I don't think of them as individual pieces anymore. They've become one big work of art."
To the extent that it's still possible to distinguish any of his tattoos as separate illustrations, though, we can get a good glimpse into what's been important to the Motley Crue drummer and reality star in his five decades of living the easy life the hard way.
BOYS WILL BE BRACELETS
Is there anything more sentimental than getting "Mom" inked on your bicep? Only if it's involves immortalizing your affection for your kids. The two sons he had with ex-wife Pamela Anderson are both prominently represented in his body art, as Lee had Brandon (now 15) and Dylan (now 13) scrawl their names on the outside of his wrists, which he then had a tattoo artist permanently emblazon. It makes him look like an attentive dad, and let's face it, advertising your love for your kids like that is probably also good chick bait.
HEATHER LOSES A LETTER
Lee has had several tattoos removed or modified. After ending his seven-year marriage to Heather Locklear in 1993 and taking up with future ex-wife Pamela Anderson, he reportedly found a provocative way to take care of that pesky "Heather" tattoo: He covered up the "H" with a star so the abridged tattoo would read simply… "Eat her." This one may be more legend than reality, though, as photos of the altered nametag are hard to come by.
PAMELA GOES POOF
When Lee and Anderson wed after a whopping four days of dating, they had each other's names inscribed on their ring fingers. (A more apocryphal version of the story had Lee putting the new missus] name on a less visible body part.) When they split up, Anderson altered her wedding tattoo, which prompted Lee to ditch his. "I heard that she had changed her wedding band tattoo from 'Tommy' to 'Mommy'," Lee said in The Dirt, a Motley Crue biography. He said Pam's maternal alteration to their shared sacred symbolism "upset me so much that I later had my wedding tattoo removed. I just wanted to get that s--- off my finger and change my life."
MAYTE'S LIPLOCK STAYS PUT
Lee was engaged to Prince's dancer/ex-wife, Mayte Garcia, from 2001-2003. She left a lip-print on the left side of his neck, which he had an artist make permanent. That one was generic enough to stay after the breakup. "'He got a tattoo of my lips on his neck," Garcia said in 2006, "but I knew all along he was still in love with Pamela."
MIGHTY MOUSE SAVES HIS SHOULDER'S DAY
His first love was also immortalized in ink. It was the cartoon mouse also famously beloved by Andy Kaufman. "At 17, I got my first tattoo: Mighty Mouse flying through a bass drum, at the top of my right shoulder, where it still is today," he wrote in Tommyland.
Was it nostalgia, rebellion, or a bit of both? Getting that first tattoo was a "clincher" in breaking away from staid home life, he wrote, "because by then my parents knew I was just going to go and do whatever I wanted." At the same time, he wrote in his memoir, "I got him right when I started Motley because Mighty Mouse was my childhood hero. He always saved the day, he was a good guy, he was a role model who did the right thing, and at the end of every episode, he always got the chick." Well, Lee definitely got the getting-the-chick thing down, if not the role-model part.
A fellow band member was with him, offering moral support. when he got Mighty Mouse put on his shoulder. "Nikki Sixx was definitely the guy that kicked off tattoos in Motley," he said. "I didn't know anybody with tattoos other than him. Younger readers, check this out—back then, most rock bands didn't have tattoos."
MAYHEM VS. TRANQUILITY
Lee's chest is dominated by the word "Mayhem," which would seem to be a mission statement—and also, conveniently, an advertisement for his side project, Methods of Mayhem, which released a gold-selling debut album in 1999 and a less noticed follow-up in 2010.
Right below that is the Hindu "ohm" symbol, also seen permanently etched into the bodies of fellow spiritual seekers like Rihanna, Vanessa Hudgens. Jessica Alba, and Alyssa Milano. Below that? A lotus flower. Was Lee trying to be purposely ironic when he juxtaposed "mayhem" with these symbols of peace and tranquility, or is their proximity a coincidence of epidermal real estate? Only his inker knows for sure.
Also representing tranquility—as well as the power of orange—is a koi fish on his left arm. "I have a koi pond and a Japanese garden in the back of my house, which is usually where I like to take my time-outs," he's explained. And if anyone needs a time out on occasion, it's probably Tommy Lee.
Lee has a couple of other tattoos that provide a go-to in moments of stress. On the inside of his left elbow, he has two switches, or buttons, that he had put on when he was visiting a tattoo artist with his late pal Dimebag of the group Pantera. One button says "reset," and the other says "kill." To hear him explain it, he literally pushes these, for symbolic purposes, when life is getting to him.
"They are my out when s--- gets too f---ked for words," he wrote in Tommyland. "I concentrate on what effect I want it to have, and push the button. I 'kill' sparingly. It's huge—I only blast that one when someone needs to die and I can't do it myself because I don't want to spend the rest of my life in jail… 'Reset' is used more frequently. It's what I do when I'm hung over, tired… I push 'reset' when I wish everything could be done over."
THE DISAPPEARING-INK SWASTIKA
Lee apparently had a do-over when he reportedly had a swastika tattoo removed in the 1990s. It became an issue of public record when he was being sued by a photographer over an alleged 1996 assault outside the Viper Room. Lee pleaded no contest to criminal charges of battery and was sentenced to probation and a fine, but photographer Henry Trappler also filed a civil suit that was eventually settled out of court. Trappler's attorney, Gloria Allred, noted that Trappler was Jewish and argued to a judge that a swastika tattoo purportedly visible on Lee's arm during the dust-up was relevant to introduce into the case. But Lee's attorney, E. Todd Trumper, filed a motion stating that "`the swastika was not a reflection of Mr. Lee's views. Instead it was simply a stupid tattoo obtained several years ago… The tattoo was insignificant to Mr. Lee, and he eventually removed it."
Oddly, another Lee representative insisted to MTV News at the time that he'd never even had such a tattoo, but his lawyer apparently never got that news.
PHOENIXES AND DRAGONS
Most of Lee's back is taken up by an abstract, black-and-white "tribal" design that to some resembles a pair of wings. Dominating his chest are two opposing dragons. These may be an example of what Lee calls "Oriental" art. "Mighty Mouse was my start because he summed up my childhood to me," he explained. "After I began hanging around tattoo shops, though, I immediately gravitated toward the Oriental style. It was peaceful, easy to look at, colorful, and so beautiful."
WISHING UPON A CHEETAH
This one, on his right arm, is… aspirational. "What I put on my body is what I want to bring into my life and what I want to say about myself," he says. "I've got koi fish tattooed on my arm, and I have a koi pond. I've got a cheetah, and someday I'll have one. Most of what I have on my body has manifested itself in one way or another in my life." Fortunately, perhaps, for the wildcats of the world, a cheetah cage is harder to install in the Hollywood hills than a pond.
In talking and writing about his tattoos, Lee has been up-front about the fact that location matters. Particularly when it comes to pain. "A tattoo hurts like f--- while it is happening but I'm thinking 'My God, when this is over it is going to look amazing.' I've got the word 'tattoo' on my wrist. And it [bleeping] hurt like hell. Wrist skin is sensitive, please believe."
Asked three years ago if he had any room left on his body, Lee said, "Oh, yeah. I'm working on the legs now. I'm getting there, I'm getting close."
Why such a completist? It's all about symmetry, by his reckoning. "To me, adding tattoos to my body was like buying art," he said in Tommyland. "But it was better because art hangs in a house or a museum and tattoos are f---ing on you, wit you, right there with you, every minute of the day. I started adding more almost immediately. When I looked in the mirror at that first one, I thought. 'Wow, that's really beautiful, but I'm out of balance.' I started putting them here and there on my arms, on my legs, trying to get it all to balance in my head. They're totally addictive. Like potato chips—there's no way I'm having just one."
By 60, certainly, if not far sooner, he'll be ready to star in a remake of Ray Bradbury's The Illustrated Man. But his body may already be too densely painted for one omnibus story. With Tommy Lee's penchant for cramming a lot of art into a limited body space, they might have to make a movie out of just one appendage.