Family of Hawaii’s iconic ‘Sailor Jerry’ sues company that makes rum by the same name

The real 'Sailor Jerry' once lived in Hawaii. His family says the liquor company is using is image illegally

HONOLULU, Hawaii (HawaiiNewsNow) - Heirs of an iconic Chinatown tattoo artist made famous during World War II are suing one of the world’s top-selling liquor manufacturers.

The reason: They accuse the maker of Sailor Jerry spiced rum of marketing its alcohol by illegally using the tattooist’s persona.

Born Norman Collins, the world-renowned tattoo artist’s work became wildly popular during World War II among servicemen in the Pacific.

It was inside a tattoo parlor in Chinatown where he became famous for his unique style and revolutionary technique.

Sailor Jerry standing outside of his tattoo shop, called Sailor Jerry Tattoo, on Smith Street in Honolulu.
Sailor Jerry standing outside of his tattoo shop, called Sailor Jerry Tattoo, on Smith Street in Honolulu.

Despite his popularity, Collins lived modestly with his family.

And he never losing sight of what was important in his life.

“Sailor Jerry was a true patriot,” said attorney Bill Meyer. “He really had no time for hippies and hooligans. He didn’t like rock 'n roll.”

Attorney Mark Davis added, “He was also not a drinker. So the whole use of his persona to be the representative and sales entity of a large liquor corporation is offensive to his family.”

Tattoo artist, Sailor Jerry became famous during World War II for his unique style and revolutionary technique.
Tattoo artist, Sailor Jerry became famous during World War II for his unique style and revolutionary technique.

On Thursday Collin’s widow and children filed suit against liquor conglomerate William Grant & Sons for unauthorized use of Sailor Jerry’s name, photograph and biography to market its spiced rum.

They’re demanding the company stop making liquor in his name. They also want to be compensated for all of the years they say the company used his persona illegally.

The lawsuit claims the company violated Hawaii’s post-mortem right of publicity law.

“If you’re going to use those attributes of a person’s personality for commercial purposes you need permission from that person of from the heirs of that person and William Grant & Sons has not done so,” said Meyer.

Attorneys say the manufacturer has been using Sailor Jerry’s persona for about a decade and in that time the company’s sold more than a million cases of the spiced rum.

HNN reached out to the Scotland-based liquor maker to get its side of the story but haven’t heard back. The company has 30 days to file a response to the lawsuit.

The 5th annual Sailor Jerry Festival will be held in Chinatown on June 15. It’s a celebration of the tattoo artist’s legacy. And, it is approved by his family.

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