Meet the Lit Professor Turned Tattoo Artist of the Hells Angels

Samuel Steward, aka Phil Sparrow, was unconcerned with sexual and societal taboos.

DePaul University Professor Samuel Steward had always wanted more from life. He became a professor in the early 1950s, but did not find himself moved by the students. They were content with “TV, beer, and sex,” Steward wrote in his memoir, Bad Boys and Tough Tattoos: A Social History of the Tattoo with Gangs, Sailors and Street Corner Punks.” So he left the university and literally became a new person: Phil Sparrow, Skid Row tattooer. Steward got his first tattoo — an anchor on his shoulder — and felt like it confidently enabled him to keep company with sailors, derelicts, and thieves. Sparrow started to tattoo Chicago’s “riff raff” on south State Street and went on to become a famous tattooer and mentor. He relocated to Oakland, CA, and became a favorite artist of the Hells Angels. Steward kept careful records of every sexual encounter he had, maybe as a way to enhance the gay male experience, but eventually started writing short stories about his escapades, like with his fellow Naval trainees during his brief enlistment. Steward died in 1994 after choosing “to remain on the margins.”

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