Sharon Feinstein meets
legendary Hollywood
tattooist Freddy Negrete,
and hears about his
troubled past and
celebrity clients
The Jewish News Sunday March 31, 2013

elebrity tattooist Freddy Negrete has seen his designs sported on many a famous body in his home city of Los Angeles, from One Direction’s Harry Styles to The Saturdays’ Frankie Sandford – but his life wasn’t always so razzmatazz. Just a few years ago, the 56-year-old was a heroin addict who was only saved after reaching out to the Jewish community.
The son of a Jewish mother and Mexican father, Negrete credits the Beit T'Shuvah rehab centre, and founder Mark Borowitz, an ex-convict turned rabbi, with helping to claw him back from his drug addiction.
Now Negrete is repaying their work by leading programmes for young Jewish addicts, many of whom, shockingly, come from good homes with loving parents.
He describes the situation as an epidemic, saying: “They have Jewish parents with good jobs and a lot of money. That’s the shocker – why are their children turning to heroin?
“If you look at these kids, you would never imagine they’re on drugs. They’re well-educated with seemingly solid upbringings. None of them have had any abuse, they speak kindly of their parents and put the blame on themselves.
“I lead a group of under 25-year-olds on a three-prong programme, the 12 steps of AA, individual and group psychotherapy, and Judaism.
“I get them comfortable, talking, and give them my advice. There’s an epidemic out there with young people on heroin and opiates.”
This intense voluntary work happens when Negrete isn’t at Shamrock Tattoo Club, inking leading celebrities and, most recently, One Direction heartthrob, Harry Styles.
Styles, just turned 19, now has six of Freddy’s tattoos, including his sister’s name, Gemma, in bold Hebrew writing.
Freddy said exclusively to Pulse: “Hebrew writing has become very popular now. It’s beautiful and makes for a great tattoo, and can’t be easily read. It has to be translated. It’s an ancient language.
“Harry came with the translation ready to go. I told him I was Jewish and he thought that was very fitting, and said I was the right guy to be doing it, then.
“I wear a Star of David anyway, given to me while I was in rehab. I’m proud to wear it because my mother’s Jewish and that makes me Jewish and I’m not ashamed of it.
“A lot of people can’t imagine that I’m Jewish and wonder why I wear it, so I let it be known that way.”
It was tough-talking Rabbi Borovitz who hauled the tattooist over the coals and helped change his life and when Borovitz’s own 25-year-old daughter, Heather, asked Negrete for a tattoo, he was terrified to go ahead without first consulting the rabbi.
Negrete laughed: “He’s a tough guy, not your easy pushover rabbi. He was really hard on me about changing my appearance and the person I was.
When his daughter told me she wanted a tattoo I was like, ‘uh-oh, everybody’s scared of the rabbi’, you know. I had to hear it from him that it was OK before going ahead.
“I won’t be tattooing the rabbi, but I did a beautiful Star of David on his daughter and the hand, with some Hebrew lettering under it, on her shoulders.
“Because I was a heroin addict and have a Jewish mother, I was taken in by Beit T’Shuvah five years ago, and started getting more in touch with my Jewishness. Now I get a lot from working with young Jewish addicts.
“They saved my life. Jews always hold out a hand to other Jews, and even with all my tattoos and my upbringing, they accepted me into the community.
“There are 150 people living in the rehab part and 350 members of the temple.
“The rabbi was more open and accepting after getting to know me and even started seeing the positive side to tattooing, and the great art form it is.”
Negrete has seen many A-listers in Shamrock Tattoo Club, including all the members of boyband, One Direction. Now Harry Styles’ tattooist of choice, Negrete said: “Harry has the most incredibly high pain threshold and can bear it in the worst spots.
“He was in there with Taylor Swift and they were obviously seeing each other, but you could see Harry wasn’t in love with Taylor.
“They weren’t romantic at all. He was just casual. They weren’t staring into each other’s eyes. I know Harry a bit by now and there wasn’t a sparkle in his eye. They were kind and respectful to each other, but seemed more like friends.
“He wasn’t in love and it wasn’t real serious for him – it was almost like on a trial basis.
“Taylor came towards the end of his ship tattoo and sat with him, but there was nothing magical going on.”
“He was just watching it, and it ended real quick, because the first little thing that went wrong he was like, ‘Okay, that’s it, this isn’t going to work’.
“If there was a fire, like with love at first sight, you’ll face any hardship together, jump over any obstacle, but for Harry and Taylor it wasn’t like that.
Negrete says Styles chose a ship because he is always pining for home, and it had to be an authentic English ship from a book of artwork.
He revealed: “He wanted something that means homeward bound. He said: ‘We’re always on the road, but my heart’s at home and I want a ship’. I did a compass on Niall with the needle pointing to home instead of pointing North. “It represented the feeling they both have that they’re always homeward bound.
“Negrete, who learnt to tattoo in prison, is known for his pioneering black and grey style.
The One Direction star had his first tattoo at his parlour, and the next six,and has told Negrete to expect him again soon.
He added: “Harry’s got tattoo fever now. If you get a tattoo and you like it, you want more. It happens to a lot of people... and he’s got it.
“He’s going at it a slow enough pace though and he keeps them small and hidden, so it’s not bad.”

Above left: Freddy Negrete (right) with son Isaiah and One Direction's Harry Styles who is one of his most frequent customers.
Above, right: Styles with his most recent tattoo - his sister's name, Gemma, written in Hebrew.