John Wayne, aka the Duke, appeared in at least 77 movies but always wore a white hat, not only because he played cowboys but because he was the good guy. Throughout his career he won multiple awards, including three Academy Awards and three Golden Globes, and helped shape the notion of American masculinity along the way. Because of his charming candor, handsome looks, and, to borrow from one of his most famous films, grit, he became one of America’s greatest actors and a role model for countless young viewers, so it only makes sense that fans have tipped their hats to him by getting tattoo portraits in his honor.
I remember the first time I saw a movie starring John Wayne. I was eight years old, and there was a five-films-for-five-days-for-five-dollars deal at this place in my hometown. Amidst picking out things like the old Captain America (1990), FernGully, The Goonies, and some kung fu flick, my grandmother suggested that I rent The Cowboys, plucking the VHS from the rack, because it was a “good story for a kid like me.” She was right. It’s still one of my favorite westerns to this day. The movie follows the story of an old cowboy (it was one of his later films, released just seven years before his death in 1979), who takes a group of boys on a cattle drive. Watching it, I felt like I was on the trail as well, riding along on a perilous adventure into the Wild West.
If it were not for a bodysurfing accident, of all things, fans like me would have never come to know John Wayne as the iconic cowboy that he’s so well remembered as today. After suffering an injury while riding a wave, he lost his football scholarship at The University of Southern California. This forced him to report to picking up small parts here and there, but in 1930 he got his break, starring in The Big Trail, which landed him more lead roles in other B movies, especially westerns — the frontier where he rose to fame. But his career really took off nine years later with the release of Stagecoach, which launched him into full-blown superstardom.
Depictions of him range from different periods of his career; there are examples from films as famous as True Grit, The Searchers, and El Dorado to more obscure ones from earlier in his career. Regardless of what films they’re based on, all of these portraits show how John Wayne shaped the popular imagination surrounding the Old West.
To see more amazing portraits, make sure to follow all of these artists on Instagram. Should you want to show your love of the John Wayne’s films, saddle up, pilgrim, and have one of them design a tattoo of the Duke for you.
That was Lasting Action Hero, our series where we rock out to portraits of our favorite badasses from cinematic history. We hope you liked looking back at the life and times of John Wayne. If Westerns aren’t your things, check out our other installments on more recent movie stars like Danny Trejo and, the Last Action Hero himself, Arnold Schwarzenegger.