Rachel Larratt 1980 – 2022

It is with a broken heart that I must make this announcement. On June 24th, 2022, Rachel passed away in her sleep. What can I possibly say? Rachel was a force and a light in the world. She had a passion and a love for the body modification community. She did so much for so many and without looking for any praise. In addition to our BME community, Rachel was well known in the car racing community and had just returned from the Gold Rush Rally, where, I’m told, she had the time of her life.

Right now, we are broken. We are deeply grieving this magnificent person whose life was cut far too short. Please keep her fiancee Marks and her daughter Ari in your thoughts and please respect theirs (and my) privacy at this time, while we try to come to terms with the unimaginable. Rachel leaves behind countless friends and loved ones who mourn her.

Rachel’s good friend Jimbo posted a video that can be seen, here.

We’ll miss you, Rachel. Your memory will remain a blessing for all who knew and loved you.

Isobel Varley 1937-2015

It is with sadness that we share the news that Isobel Varley has passed away. Our thoughts are with Isobel’s family and friends.


The following was taken from her official Facebook page:

It is with deep sorrow that we must announce the passing of Isobel.

Shortly before 7 this morning Isobel passed peacefully onto her next adventure.

The Varley family would like to express their thanks to everyone for their support, their friendship and kind words expressed to, and about, Isobel and her numerous achievements during her time.

We would like to invite everyone to share their experiences and photographs with her on here as a tribute.

Heaven has a gained a new Angel.

Shannon Larratt 1973-2013


I have started and stopped this update several times because I honestly don’t know what to say and nothing I could say would be adequate.  It is with sadness and regret that I have to announce that Shannon has passed away.  We will post something more at a later date but right now we are all still reeling and grieving.  We ask that you please respect Rachel and her daughter’s privacy at this time as well as the rest of Shannon’s family and friends.  Thank you for understanding and being such a wonderful and supportive community.

You can visit Shannon’s personal blog here.


Erl Van Aken, RIP (1939 – Jan 17, 2013)

I’m sorry for waiting longer than I should have to write this; after the recent deaths of other body modification figures like ManWoman and Stalking Cat it’s difficult to have to follow those up with the loss of another significant body modification pioneer. Unfortunately I must write that Erl Douglas Van Aken II (see Erl on the BME wiki and his web page) passed away at his home after a richer life than anyone could ask for.

Erl was born in Brewer, Maine, and then moved to California at age four where he grew up in Orange County, a region he characterized as having “a very narrow band of perception, and being a person of ‘different’ thinking, not subject to peer pressure, I was not well… tolerated.” Always forward thinking, in the early sixties he worked in the space program at NASA, Bell Labs, JPL, and similar institutions where he worked on some of the first satellite programs, as well as Mercury, Gemini, and the Apollo program where he contributed significantly to the rover (moon buggy) — “in that sense I’m on the moon,” he said.

Wanting to explore a wider range of expression and not really fitting in to an increasingly “professional” environment, Erl left to become a multi-media artist, working in nearly every medium — as well as doing a lot of “motorcycle riding and hell raising during this period as well — you know, sex, drugs and rock’n’roll”, a dangerous lifestyle that would nearly cost him his life “on more than one occasion”. In the mid-90s (by which point he was a well-established body modification icon already) he began modelling for fine art, which lead to him joining the Screen Actors Guild (usually credited as Erl Van Douglas, although many of his non-speaking roles are uncredited, such as his 1996 appearance in The Cable Guy, the first movie I remember seeing him in — and my favorite thing about that movie). Lance Richlin, an artist who recently painted a series of portraits of Erl wrote me saying,

“Erl was no ordinary man. He was a Mystic. He had deep insight. The body modification was literally only the surface of the man. I didn’t even notice it after the first few encounters. When he was younger, he was a dangerous fellow. But he became a very gentle and compassionate man in old age.”

Although body modification was only a small part of a much more complex personality, Erl’s role in the world of body modification was significant. While the name has fallen out of fashion in favor of the anatomical moniker “bridge piercing”, for a long time “Erl” was what the piercing was called (as in “I’d like to get an Erl piercing”), as Erl was the first person known to wear it (done for him by The Gauntlet). Erl wasn’t only an early piercing and tattoo fan and innovator — he was also one of the first heavy body modification enthusiasts whose focus was significantly aesthetic. There have always been heavy mod practitioners, but the vast majority until the mid-nineties were doing it in private, almost exclusively in a sexual realm. Erl on the other hand was not only one of the first people in the West to explore surgical body mods on an artistic level, but also to do it “out”, sharing his love for it with those around him — for example, his radical and way, way, ahead of its time bipedical flap procedure was documented in Body Art magazine. Thereby he influenced many of the early body modification artists, as well as inspiring other serious enthusiasts, and changed culture more than he probably realized.

On the left, a recent painting of Erl by artist Lance Richlin (visit him at lancerichlin.com), and on the right, a pre-firing sculpture of Erl by Nicholas Mestanas (visit him on Facebook) — note that the piece includes Erl’s chest implants and bipedical flap (the artist was planning on adding the piercings post-firing).

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Finally a few photoshoot images from Erl’s webpage — visit justerl.com to explore more.

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Whether the name “Erl piercing” returns or falls out of our language, Erl’s pioneering exploration of body modification and the impact it had on popular culture lives on in hundreds of thousands of people’s lives — to say nothing of the myriad of other positive ways he touched those around him.

RIP ManWoman

This morning at 4:38AM, the beautiful artist and [best] friend of the swastika ManWoman passed away peacefully after a battle with cancer. He lived a passionate and revolutionary life, and his impact on this community continues to grow. Thankfully after seeing his life’s work vindicated and bringing joy and open eyes to more than he ever could have imagined when it first began, he found himself in the terrible position of having a painful and debilitating disease with no cure, and he made the decision to stop treatment knowing it would mean the end of his suffering within days. If you see a swastika, that symbol of light and love, tattooed on someone, you can thank Manny. All of the spiritual and geometric tattooing that is exploding today owes his efforts a great deal of credit and thanks. Although he was often unknown by those he helped transform both physically and spiritually, like some benevolent and hopeful puppetmaster bard, he touched almost all of us in one way or another, and was one of the most influential guides in this community.

Manny was one of the few universally respected wisemen of this community, and his passing will hit a lot of people very hard and he will be deeply missed.

“I like to think that God is dreaming and we are the dream. I wake up in the morning and I say, gee, that was an interesting dream, but you know what? I’m gonna wake up from this life when I die and go, boy, that was an interesting dream! And I’ve had a really interesting life.”

But even though Manny has passed, he lives forever in not just his art and the retelling of his own story by others, but he lives forever in the millions of tattoos that carry his message and a small part of his soul. Manny cannot die, because his passion and his ability to inspire others to make the light he rediscovered a part of their lives as well gave him immortality.

In the video above are some of Manny’s final thoughts, recorded at the start of November, and below is a picture of my family with Manny’s family, taken in 2004. In the picture are Manny and his daughter Serena, myself, Rachel, and our daughter as well. He was just a wonderful, wonderful person. This post feels shamefully sparse, but in some ways I don’t even need to say a thing, because I don’t know anyone who met ManWoman that wasn’t completely captured by his warmth and charm.

RIP Stalking Cat

This morning’s post comes with heavy news, and I’m in the terrible position of reporting the death of body modification icon Dennis Avner, often better known as Stalking Cat or just Tiger. A US Navy vet more recently working as a programmer and technician, Dennis identified strongly with his feline totem animals and in what he told me was a Huron traditional of actually adopting the physical form of ones totem, he transformed himself not just into a tiger, but a female tiger at that, blurring and exploring the gender line as much as the species line. Much of his work had been done by body modification pioneer Steve Haworth, who rebuilt Dennis’s ears, lip, nose, and face to resemble a tiger, including a multitude of transdermals that held artificial whiskers. In addition to being almost completely covered in tattoos, he’d also sculpted his face and body with extensive silicone work, had custom teeth built to emulate his inner nature, and regularly wore contact lenses and an artificial robotic tail.

Dennis’s boundary-breaking life was never an easy one, and as he was fond of saying, he “found fame, but never fortune”. A wonderful and complex person, he was at times as troubled as he was remarkable, and he recently took his own life at the age of 54 (August 27, 1958 – November 5, 2012). You can download an interview that Dennis and I did for BMEradio about ten years ago at this link: BMEradio/Cat.mp3. The photos below were taken at ModCon III by Philip Barbosa when Cat visited us here in Toronto. In the bottom photo he appears with fellow concept transformation artist, Erik “The Lizardman” Sprague.

Rest in Peace Arwen Rosa

I hate this.  I hate having to write posts like these, but this one in particular just sucks so much.  As many of you know, Arwen “Spliff” Rosa was in a tragic accident earlier in the year.  Yesterday Spliff passed away after his lungs collapsed.  Arwen’s wife Jill was able to get to the hospital to say farewell to her partner, before he finally succumbed to the injuries of the accident.  I wish that I had the opportunity to meet him, as his presence can be felt throughout the entire suspension community.  He was filled with so much positivity and love that he passed on to all those he knew.  Today is a sad day because we’ve lost someone truly special, but we should also remember all the good that he was able to accomplish in his too short time with us.  In the coming days Hooklife will be setting up a memorial page for those who wish to pass on their memories of Arwen.  A donation page will also be established for those who wish to help out Jill and their beautiful daughter Odessa, who will sadly grow up without her father.

Rest in peace Arwen.

Photo courtesy Gary Driscoll.

Remembering Mike Shaw

Back in September of 2009 long-time BME supporter and IAM Member Namicoj passed away.  Shannon, the mother of Mike’s son Morgan is going to be participating in the Out of the Darkness walk in Indianapolis, IN. Here’s the e-mail from Shannon:

I don’t know how many people know, but Mike Shaw aka namicoj passed away September 2009 by suicide. He was a huge fan of BME and all that it stands for. I was curious if you guys would help put out the word for his Indianapolis friends that there is an Out of the Darkness walk In Indianapolis, IN and we have a team walking in his memory called Mike’s Crew. Shirts are being sold for $15 by Mike’s mom. If anyone needs to get ahold of me my email is [email protected]. My name is Shannon Coon, mother of his 10 y/o son, Morgan. I would greatly appreciate the help if possible. I didn’t know all his BME friends and have no way of getting in contact with them. Here is a link to donate or sign up to walk.


Shannon will be walking in support of The American Foundation for Suicide Prevention.

The American Foundation for Suicide Prevention is at the forefront of research, education and prevention initiatives designed to reduce loss of life from suicide. With more than 33,000 lives lost each year in the U.S. and over one million worldwide, the importance of AFSP’s mission has never been greater, nor our work more urgent.

Feel free to contact Shannon if you have any questions regarding the shirts, and if you’re able, please give a little to the cause.