One Wild Ride: The Rise and Fall of Kat Von D

Kat Von D is a lot of things. She’s a famed tattoo artist, a reality TV star, singer, author, and former beauty executive. But she is also one of the most controversial figures in the entertainment industry. You either love her, or you hate her. Despite her elaborate public persona (or probably because of it), you can’t deny that Von D has made quite the impact on pop culture.

Kat Von D / Kat Von D and her husband on their wedding day
Source: Getty Images / Twitter

From her dramatic exit from Miami Ink and to her questionable choice in men, to discussing her traumatic teen years, we’re taking a look at the controversies that have rocked Kat Von D. You better get comfortable, because there are a lot of them.

The “Doctor’s Kid”

Kat Von D , whose full name is Katherine Von Drachenberg, was born in 1982 in Montemorelos, a small village in Nuevo León, Mexico. Her father, René, came from a long line of missionary doctors, and when he realized that Montemorelos needed a hospital, it became his life’s mission.

Kat Von D as a child
Source: Twitter

Newly married, René and his wife Sylvia decided to pack up and move from Argentina to Mexico. But before you assume that Von D was a “doctor’s kid” living a life of luxury, think again. There is a huge difference between growing up with a father who works as a missionary doctor in Mexico rather than a regular doctor in the United States.

Very Humble Beginnings

“One of my first memories as a kid was running around barefoot on the packed dirt we had for floors. We didn’t have electricity or running water for a long time,” Von D wrote in her article for Popsugar in 2016. “And, in fact, one of my favorite photos from our family album is one of me taking a bath in a plastic bucket!”

A photograph of Kat Von D with a side-ponytail
Source: Twitter

She also says that in Montemorelos, you were more likely to see someone riding a horse than driving a car. Her parents didn’t expect to have three kids in that town (she has a brother named Michael and a sister named Karoline), but Von D is happy that they did and wouldn’t change anything about her childhood.

Moving Stateside

When she was six years old, her parents decided to move again. This time, to the United States. The seven-hour drive to the Texas border felt like “weeks.” Von D was too young to fully understand what changes lay ahead, but there was a buzz of excitement in the car. The family of five moved from one small town to another, until René and Sylvia finally decided to settle down in Loma Linda, California.

Two selfies of Kat Von D with her mother
Kat Von D with her mother. Source: Twitter

Never heard of it? Neither have we. Von D says that it is a tiny town in San Bernardino County, between Los Angeles and Palm Springs. The town has a prominent Seventh-Day Adventist congregation, which was the reason why the Von Drachenbergs decided to move there in the first place.

Music, Music, Music

Many people have not heard of this religion. In a nutshell, it’s Christianity with a few Jewish traditions. Von D and her family kept Sabbath, attended Church on Saturdays, and didn’t eat pork. Between going to school and Church, Von D and her siblings picked up English. But, like many immigrant families, they spoke Spanish at home.

Kat Von D on the red carpet
Photo by Evan Agostini / Getty Images

As the years went by, Von D began listening to Punk Rock bands like The Ramones and The Misfits. “I was inspired by music, music, music!” she told Dazed Digital in 2019. “I remember once I discovered punk-rock music, it wasn’t necessarily a style that I was emulating, but I subscribed more to the feeling of being free. The honesty that comes from not giving a f**k.”

She Did What?!

Von D began using makeup, and, by the time she was 14 years old, she was already giving her friends tattoos. The first tattoo that she ever did was a small Misfit’s skull. At the time, she was using a DIY tattoo gun that she had made from a guitar string and a motor from a cassette player. Crazy!

Kat Von D tattooing someone
Source: Twitter

Two years later, Von D dropped out of high school and was hired by Sin City Tattoo in Los Angeles, California. Von D’s parents were supportive of her art, but they had a hard time accepting that she was a tattoo artist.

Down the Wrong Path

“I think when I started getting tattoos, it was really scary for them, and, you know, I had a Mohawk, and I was 14 when I stopped going to school,” she told in 2008. In fact, her parents didn’t know what to do with her.

A close-up photograph of Kat brushing her hair behind her head in black and white
Photo by Rosdiana Ciaravolo / Getty Images

When she was 15 years old, the tattoo artist was sent to Provo Canyon School in Utah. “I was there for a total of six months, and they were definitely the most traumatic six months of my life,” Von D shared on Instagram in October 2020.

Shipping Her Off to Utah

According to the tattoo artist, a family therapist recommended the “school” once her parents saw that she was different than all the other kids at church. She went on to explain that three people came into her room while she was sleeping one night and told her to get dressed and calmly follow them to the car waiting outside.

Kat Von D on the red carpet
Photo by Alberto E Rodriguez / Getty Images

They threatened to handcuff the 15-year-old if she didn’t do what she was told. From there, they put her on a plane and blindfolded her in the car. She then endured a “completely degrading” body search and was forced to shave her head.

Horrible Scare Tactics

But this was just the beginning of her six-month nightmare. After giving several blood and urine samples, the staff at Provo Canyon told Von D that she had contracted HIV from her tattoo work—a scare tactic used to stop her from tattooing.

Kat Von D on the red carpet
Photo by Jason LaVeris / FilmMagic / Getty Images

The tattoo artist was given mystery pills that made her “feel foggy,” and when she refused to take them, she was thrown into solitary confinement. She was also forced to stare at a wall for days at a time, unable to sleep or even get up to go to the bathroom.

Out of Control

Von D also added that she does not blame her parents for this traumatic experience and understands that they felt “out of control.” Nevertheless, after her six-month stint at Provo Canyon, Von D was unable to function as a normal human being.

Kat Von D posing looking into the distance
Source: Twitter

She suffered from severe PTSD and alcohol and drug abuse for the first part of her adult life (she is sober since 2007). Paris Hilton was also sent to the same facility and has since been an advocate for shutting down the school, which still operates today. Despite what she went through, Von D immediately returned to her work as a tattoo artist.

Her Lucky Break

A few months after her release, Von D got a job at Sin City Tattoo in Los Angeles, California. It was clear to everyone that she had a future in tattooing, but she didn’t reach international fame until 2005. TLC was in the middle of shooting their newest reality show, Miami Ink.

Kat Von D holding a goat
Source: Twitter

But when one of their tattoo artists, Darren Brass, broke his elbow, they needed to find a replacement and fast. Von D’s mentor was so impressed by her work that he recommended her for the show. Before she knew it, Von D was a rising reality star living in Miami.

Did She, or Didn’t She?

Her time on the show was dramatic, to say the least. Not only was Von D homesick, but she did not get along with the shop’s owner, Ami James. On top of everything, Von D was an alcoholic, which clearly began getting in the way of her work. In the dramatic Season Two finale of Miami Ink, James told her to pack her things and get out of his studio.

Kat Von D on the red carpet / Ami James on the red carpet
Photo by Rosdiana Ciaravolo, Getty Images / Ralph Notaro, Getty Images

There are rumors that Von D sent her former boss, who is an Israeli American, an anti-Semitic note. Von D was already signed on to film her spinoff show, L.A. Ink, and supposedly TLC refused to do anything about it.

A Messy End

“It didn’t end up pretty, and it was time for me to go home,” the tattoo artist said of leaving Miami Ink. In a 2008 interview with Inked Magazine, Von D says that her spinoff had triple the number of viewers of her former show, which she described as “monotonous and repetitive.”

Kat Von D on the red carpet
Photo by Tommaso Boddi / Kat Von D Beauty / Getty Images

“The guys weren’t willing to involve their real life in the show, whereas I promised myself, aside from my divorce, I would talk about anything,” Von D explained. “People can relate to you more when you’re real and show your imperfections.”

“Nothing but Jerks”

We’re just going to say it. Von D does not have the best taste in men. But it’s just us who think that! Von D has openly admitted that she has dated “nothing but jerks” before meeting her current husband. So, first up in her line of bad choices is her ex-husband-turned-tattoo rival, Oliver Peck.

Kat Von D and Oliver Peck posing together
Kat Von D and Oliver Peck. Photo by Sarah Kerver / WireImage / Getty Images

The pair were married from 2003 until 2007, and it was far from a happy union—at least according to Peck. In fact, Peck is the definition of bitter. Over the years, the former Ink Master star has no problem bashing his ex-wife to the press.

Someone’s Bitter

“She’s done nothing but screw over every friend she’s had,” he told InTouch after their divorce. “She cheated on me, got messed up, and left me.” He claimed that fame changed Von D, who spent most of their four-year marriage “drinking until she was throwing up every day.”

Oliver Peck on the red carpet
Photo by Albert L Ortega / WireImage / Getty Images

Peck also went on to say that his ex-wife was “the most self-centered person [he’s] ever been involved with.” Then again, this is coming from someone who not only tried to edge out Von D’s business by opening his own tattoo parlor down the street but lost his job on Ink Masters after photos of him in blackface emerged in 2020. Not a good look.

Moving on Quickly

Next up is the son of rock n’ roll royalty Roy Orbison, Alex Orbison (aka Orbi). This relationship marked the beginning of a decade-long trend of dating musicians. But Von D seemed particularly smitten in this relationship. Just a month in, the two lovebirds got a pair of matching tattoos of each other’s names.

Kat Von D and Orbi Orbison on the red carpet
Kat Von D and Orbi. Photo by Jeff Kravitz / FilmMagic / Getty Images

Of course, their relationship fell to pieces not long after. In many ways, their relationship is a relic of the MySpace years. Their breakup drama wasn’t splashed across the pages of tabloids; instead, Orbi complained about the relationship on the ill-fated social network.

Spilling His Heart Out

Orbi’s MySpace page is no longer available, but luckily TMZ captured the post. Orbi described Von D as “a parrot with no brain or emotion.” He also claimed that she “begged” him to propose, called him her soulmate, but then fell in love with someone else right in front of his face.

Kat Von D on the red carpet with Orbi in the background blurred out
Photo by Charley Gallay / WireImage / Getty Images

Apparently, this all went down after both Orbi’s dog and grandmother passed away within the span of just a few months. Well, it didn’t take long for everyone to find out the identity of the new guy that Von D fell head over heels for.

The Ultimate Bad Boy

News broke that Von D’s new man was none other than the ultimate bad boy of glam metal, Mötley Crüe bassist Nikki Sixx. Their relationship seemed to be written in the stars, at least in a covered in tattoos, head-to-toe, rock n’ roll kind of way.

Kat Von D on the red carpet with Nikki Sixx
Kat Von D and Nikki Sixx. Photo by Paul Archuleta / FilmMagic / Getty Images

We mean, the two even look like opposite-sex versions of each other. And although you would assume that Von D and Sixx’s two-year relationship would have ended on a bad note, the former couple seems to be on good terms. Sixx even included a tribute to Von D in his 2011 book, This Is Gonna Hurt.

All Things Come to an End

“I felt that being nice and kind to the relationship was important, and I know all things come to an end eventually, and when it did, I didn’t feel that it was my job to point fingers,” the bassist explained to Us Weekly.

Nikki Sixx looking at the camera while Kat looks to her side on the red carpet / Jesse James posing next to a car
Photo by Jeff Vespa, WireImage, Getty Images / Ethan Miller, Getty Images

It seems that Sixx has come a long way since the breakup, especially since Von D left him for the infamous Jesse James, who is known as Sandra Bullock’s cheating ex-husband (we’ll get to that horrible relationship in a minute). But, in 2010, the bassist was clearly heartbroken about their split.

That Infamous Relationship

“You know, it’s hard when you [were] just told by someone you dated for two-and-a-half years that you’re the love of their life, and then they move on so quickly,” Sixx told TMZ. Von D and James were all smiles while out being photographed out on the town and could clearly have cared less about what the public thought about their relationship.

Jesse James and Kat Von D on the red carpet
Photo by Neilson Barnard / Getty Images

Sandra Bullock had just left James for cheating on her “at least 20 times” throughout their 5-year marriage. The public clearly sided with the Academy Award-winning actress and could not understand what Von D saw in James.

“He’s the One”

James popped the question after only six months of dating, and according to Von D, he was the love of her life. “There is no one else for me. He’s the one,” she told People magazine. James was also quick to profess his love for his new fiancée.

Jesse James looking at Kat Von D for a photograph
Photo by Chelsea Lauren / WireImage / Getty Images

“2010 was actually the best year of my life because I fell in love with my best friend. An amazing woman who stood behind me when the world turned their backs,” he told the publication. “My love for her is beyond description.” Is that so, Jesse?

Once a Cheater…

It soon became clear to everyone, including Von D, that she had made a terrible decision by accepting James’ proposal. The pair called off their engagement twice before finally going their separate ways. So, what went wrong?

Kat Von D and Jesse James on the red carpet
Photo by David Livingston / Getty Images

Well, it doesn’t come as much of a surprise, but James is reportedly a prolific cheater. Just a month after their split, Von D spilled some major tea on Facebook. The tattoo artist wrote that the Monster Garage star cheated on her with not one, not two, but NINETEEN other women in the span of their year-long relationship.

I Told You So

“There was a time when I was confident and excited at proving the world wrong, because I believed so deeply in people’s ability to change for the better,” Von D wrote in her post. But as the saying goes, once a cheater, always a cheater. “I deserve a big fat ‘I told you so,’ from everyone.”

Kat Von D posing in an orange dress in front of white flowers
Photo by Vivien Killilea / Kat Von D Beauty / Getty Images

Years later, the tattoo artist was on Anna Faris’ Unqualified podcast, where she continued to trash her ex-fiancé. “I don’t even know how it’s physically possible to f**k so many people,” she said. We wonder what Bullock has to say about this messy breakup.

A Virtual Proposal

After the ultimate betrayal (that everyone saw coming), Von D found love again. This time it was with DJ Joel Zimmerman, aka Deadmau5. The two were on and off for around a year before the DJ got down on one knee, well, in his version at least.

Kat Von D and Deadmau5 sitting at an art studio together
Lat Von D and Deadmau5. Photo by Tim Mosenfelder / WireImage / Getty Images

Deadmau5 proposed to Von D on Twitter before her ring was finished being made. How romantic! But, just like their engagement, everyone saw the lovebirds’ split playout on social media. Someone needs to tell Von D to stop airing her dirty laundry for the world to see!

What Happened Exactly?

Just six months after the engagement, rumors of a breakup began to swirl. Then came Von D’s Tweet: “Cheating on your loved one is the most hurtful thing one could do. I hate to have to admit, that this relationship is indeed over.” So, her DJ fiancé cheated? Not so fast.

Kat Von D and Deadmau5 walking down the street holding hands
Photo by Bauer-Griffin / GC Images / Getty Images

Deadmau5 defended himself (in a Facebook post, of course), saying that the couple split in November 2012 before reconciling a month later. He admitted to being intimate with another woman during their month break but stated that he and Von D had already moved past it. “I was not, at any point, unfaithful to Kat during our time together,” Deadmau5 wrote.

Done With the Drama

Von D’s third engagement was not the charm. After their game of Kat and Mau5 was over, the tattoo artist realized that she was sick of dramatic relationships. So, she decided to move on with comedian Tom Green.

Tom Green and Kat Von D arriving at a movie premiere
Tom Green and Kat Von D. Photo by Jerod Harris / WireImage / Getty Images

The couple was photographed on a movie date, just one month after Von D left Deadmau5. This relationship was completely out of left field, especially since Green seemed like a great guy. He had a pretty random dating history, including a short marriage to Drew Barrymore, but, other than that, he was squeaky clean.

A Jacka** Move

Nothing really came of the pair’s unlikely love, but this wasn’t the end for Green and Von D. According to The Daily Mail, the pair reportedly rekindled their romance three years later when the tattoo artist—sorry to say—needed another rebound.

Kat Von D and Steve-O posing together / Nikki Sixx and Kat Von D on the red carpet
Photo by Jeff Kravitz, FilmMagic, Getty Images / Chris Weeks, WireImage, Getty Images

However, Green was not Von D’s only repeat relationship. Somewhere between divorcing Oliver Peck, and dating Orbi and Nikki Sixx, Von D went out with Jacka** star, Steve-O. Let’s just say that the stuntman was pretty bitter after their first break up. He even posted some of their private conversations on his MySpace page.

Another Bitter Ex

In a blog post, titled Kat Von D’s Lies Catch Up to Her, Stevo-O slams Von D for sleeping with his friend and fellow Jacka** star, Bam Margera, while she was still married to Peck. He also claimed that the tattoo artist did, in fact, write that anti-Semitic note to Ami James in 2008.

Kat Von D and Bam Margera on the red carpet
Kat Von D and Bam Margera. Photo by David Livingston / Getty Images

“She’s on record lying about a lot of things,” he bitterly wrote, adding, “I don’t care, I’ve moved on now. I’m a happily married family man.” Well, apparently, Stevo-O really didn’t care that much because the two rekindled their romance in 2016. The pair dated for three months before officially calling it quits.

A Match Made in Hell

Following her split from Steve-O, Von D dated a few guys, including non-celeb Cody Carlson and artist Kevin Llewellyn, before finally finding the one. Von D found herself falling head over heels for singer Leafar Sayer. In fact, she fell so hard that she married him twice. And this all happened just months after the couple announced their relationship on Instagram.

Cody Carlson and Kat Von D on the red carpet / Kat Von D and Kevin Llewellyn at an event
Kat Von D with Cody Carlson (left) and Kevin Llewellyn (right). Photo by JB Lacroix, WireImage, Getty Images / Gregg DeGuire, Getty Images

The girl moves fast, but, hey, if you know, you know. In February 2018, Von D showed off their wedding bands (and matching black manicures). Four months later, the lovebirds married each other again, but this time in a gothic-themed ceremony.

All Red Everything

The wedding took place at the Beverly Hills hotel, which was covered floor-to-ceiling in elaborate red decorations. The bride and groom sported quite the unconventional looks, and, honestly, we’d expect nothing less. A pregnant Von D wore a long-sleeved, red ruffle gown, complete with a red veil and devil horns.

Leafer Sayer and Kat Von D walking outside of the wedding / Leafer and Kat taking their vows
Source: Twitter

As for Sayer, he donned a simple black coat and pants combo. Their wedding truly was the most beautiful gothic wedding of all time. But now that she’s a married woman, what did Von D do about her ex-lovers’ names tattooed all over her body?

All That Ex Ink

While a relationship is temporary, tattoos are forever. Von D’s dating history wouldn’t be complete without all that ex-husband, fiancé, and boyfriend ink. We know that she has Orbi’s name, as well as a portrait of Jesse James on her ribcage.

Leafer and Kat posing in all black clothing in the woods
Source: Twitter

And then there’s her face ink, which is a tribute to Nikki Sixx: the stars reportedly represent Mötley Crüe’s song, Starry Eyes. So that means that she has to think about Sixx every time she looks in the mirror, right? Well, according to Von D, her tattoos remind her of the good times in her life, and she has no intention of removing them.

No End in Sight

“I have lots of people’s names on me and it’s not so much like, ‘Oh, I’m gonna regret my ex-husband’s name on my neck,'” the tattoo artist shared with Inked Magazine. “It’s more like a time in my life that I don’t regret. I don’t regret my divorce either. I’ll rock it forever.”

Leafer Sayer and Kat Von D on the red carpet
Photo by Gregg DeGuire / Getty Images

Well, there is one that she decided to remove—the portrait of Jesse James—and we completely understand why. All those toxic relationships are now behind her, but that doesn’t mean that Von D is done with drama. For starters, her husband has a huge hate symbol tattooed across his neck.

Controversies Keep Coming

Then came the Instagram post stating that she wouldn’t vaccinate her unborn child. In a now-deleted post, Von D said she had been “bombarded with unsolicited advice” since announcing her pregnancy in 2018.

Kat Von D posing against a black wall with her beauty brand logo printed on it and roses all around
Photo by Jack Taylor / Kat Von D Beauty / Getty Images

The tattoo artist wrote that she planned on having a natural, drug-free home birth with a midwife and doula and that her son would be raised vegan without vaccinations. People were outraged and began boycotting her beauty brand (which was already on the rocks due to her questionable choices in product names).

Welcoming Her Son

“I was six months pregnant at the time, and I was still trying to figure out my birthing plan to have my son,” Von D told The Los Angeles Times in 2020. “But the truth is, I’m not an anti-vaxxer at all. I just made a mistake, and I was completely uninformed.”

Leafer Sayer and Kat Von D posing while she holds her pregnant stomach
Source: Twitter

“It was stupid, and I really shouldn’t have opened my big mouth on the subject.” Controversy aside, Von D and Sayer welcomed their son in late 2018. “Meet our beautiful baby boy, Leafar Von D Reyes,” Von D wrote on Instagram, alongside a photo of Sayer holding their baby.

Taking a Step Back

Von D’s dedication to her career, which includes her beauty line, several books, a vegan show line, and, of course, tattooing, has been unwavering throughout the decades. However, that does not mean that she doesn’t make time for her family. “I’d do anything for this little one,” she wrote on Instagram in 2020.

Two photographs of Kat Von D with her son
Source: Instagram

It seems that the notorious tattoo bada** has become a complete softie. Von D most notably stepped away from her brand, Kat Von D Beauty, that same year. “It has become clear to me that I just can’t do everything at the maximum capacity,” she wrote in her official press release.

What’s Next for Kat?

In the same press release, Von D said that she’s “busy prepping to release [her] long-awaited album,” which will be followed by an international tour. And as for her tattooing: Well, according to the High Voltage website, she has stopped taking appointments, but that doesn’t mean that she’s stopped tattooing completely.

Kat Von D performing
Photo by Vivien Killilea/ Kat Von D Beauty / Getty Images

“I wanted to be able to tattoo freely and offer my craft as a gift to whomever I tattooed,” she told Dazed Digital in 2019. “For me, it was liberating to take the financial part of it out.” It’ll be interesting to see what the future holds for Kat Von D.