Billy White Jr., GNR’s ‘Appetite’ Cover Artist, Reportedly Dead
White, who was an art student in Long Beach, California in the mid-'80s, became friends with the guys in Guns N’ Roses as the band was cutting its teeth on the Sunset Strip. White was introduced to the burgeoning rock stars by his cousin, and one day he received an unexpected call from frontman Axl Rose.
“One day Axl called,” White explained during a 2016 interview, “and asked if I could draw him a tattoo, after he’d seen a drawing I’d done on my cousin’s wall. I said sure, and we talked."
Together with Rose, White helped create the now iconic logo of a Celtic cross featuring skulls of all five members of Guns N’ Roses.
“The cross and skulls that looked like the band was Axl’s idea, the rest was me,” White recalled. “The knot work in the cross was a reference to Thin Lizzy, a band Axl and I both loved.”
Still, the design was initially supposed to be for a tattoo, not an album cover. Things changed when the original artwork for GNR’s debut LP – a controversial painting by Robert Williams called “Appetite for Destruction” – was rejected by the band’s label. The title stuck, Williams' art was moved to the inner sleeve, and White’s cross-and-skulls design took its place on the cover.
“Axl called again, and said [my design] was going to be on the cover of everything, because the Williams painting got rejected," White recalled. “I was okay with that!”
Released July 21, 1987, Appetite for Destruction became historic. The LP sold more than 30 million albums worldwide, making it the most successful debut in history. White's iconic artwork became part of GNR's legacy and has remained one of the most distinctive images in rock. The artist's pencil sketch of the original tattoo concept sold at auction in 2009 for $6,875 (White was not involved in the sale).
In a post to social media following White's death, Slash referred to the artist as "a long time friend of the band."