Widow of tattooist Sailor Jerry sues whisky giants William Grant for "cashing in" on her husband's legacy

The widow of tattooist Sailor Jerry is unimpressed.
The widow of tattooist Sailor Jerry is unimpressed.
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THE widow of an American tattoo artist is suing whisky giants William Grant and Sons after accusing them of cashing in on her husband's legacy.

The drinks firm, which is owned by Scotland's richest family, is facing a multi-million pound lawsuit over their bestselling Sailor Jerry spiced rum.

The spirit's name was inspired by Norman Keith Collins, who served in the US navy and became a well-known tattooist in Hawaii.

Nicknamed 'Sailor Jerry', Collins died in 1973 and the rum featuring his name and artwork was launched in the 1990s. It was bought by William Grant and Sons in 2008 and is now one of the world's biggest-selling rums.

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However, Louise Collins, the widow of Sailor Jerry, has claimed his family never gave permission for his name to be plastered across bottles of the beverage.

She has filed a lawsuit with the state court of Hawaii for unauthorised use of Sailor Jerry’s name, photograph and biography to market the spiced rum.

She is demanding the company stop making the rum in his name and wants to be compensated for all of the years his persona has been used.

The lawsuit claims that Sailor Jerry was not a drinker and that he would not have approved of the use of his name and art to market alcohol to "a young hipster crowd", using themes said to emphasise "sex, drugs, and rock'n'roll".

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Mrs Collins, 83, said: "I am appalled to see what these folks have done with Jerry's name and legacy.

"This was my husband, the father of my children, and no one ever even asked our family for permission to use him in this way."

The lawsuit claims a pair of tattoo artists who had studied under Sailor Jerry bought the contents of his shop after his death and began marketing merchandise bearing their teacher’s name and tattoo designs without seeking permission from Mrs Collins or other family members.

One of those products, according to the complaint, was Sailor Jerry spiced rum.

The lawsuit also claims Mrs Collins has been forced to survive on social security payments and her home is in the process of being repossessed.

Bill Meyer, an attorney who is representing the Collins family, said: "Sailor Jerry was not a drinker and the use of his persona to be the representative and sales entity of a large liquor is offensive to his family.

"If you are going to use attributes of a person's personality for commercial purposes you need to get permission from that person or from the heirs of that person and William Grant and Sons has not done so."

Meyer said he intends to hold the Scottish whisky giant "accountable" and to secure a better financial future for Collins and her family, which includes children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren.

Collins was born in Nevada in 1911 and nicknamed Jerry by his parents. The "Sailor" part came after he enlisted in the navy.

He settled in Honolulu and opened a tattoo parlour where his designs, inspired by western and Japanese tattoo art, gained huge popularity among military personnel and civilians during the Second World War.

Glenn Gordon and his family, who own William Grant and Sons, top Scotland's rich list this year with an estimated fortune of almost £3billion.

They enjoy enormous profits from the likes of Grant's whisky and Hendrick's gin, as well as earning a tidy sum from investments. Founded in 1887 by William Grant, the firm is now run by the fifth generation of the family under 61-year-old Glenn.

A spokeswoman for William Grant and Sons declined to comment on "ongoing litigation" but stressed that the Sailor Jerry trademarks were bought "in good faith".

She said: "As part of this process, William Grant and Sons undertook due diligence, tracing back a number of decades, to ensure the purchase was fair and lawful.

"Since we bought the brand, we have recognised and valued the intense passion and loyalty of Sailor Jerry fans around the world.

"We have enormous respect for the family of Norman 'Sailor Jerry' Collins and have no desire to cause upset or anger."