Though she never took his last name, Starla Long and Richard “Ozzy” Suddeth are unmistakingly husband and wife.
Suddeth opened one of Carbondale’s first tattoo parlors in 1988. Originally from East St. Louis, he is now 50 years old and looking for work. Long, of Carbondale, was diagnosed with stage 4 lung cancer in 2009 and has since developed adrenal cancer as well as a form of muscular dystrophy that has left her unable to walk.
Despite the couple’s tribulations, they said their devotion to one another has allowed them to stay optimistic.
“My days consist of waking up early and helping Starla out with the sort of routine things she can’t do by herself anymore,” Suddeth said. “I always start out early looking for work, but it’s been hard these past couple months because people who have work these days probably aren’t going to quit their jobs any time soon.”
Data from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics showed Carbondale’s unemployment rate at 9.6 percent in July, which is the worst it’s been in more than two decades.
“If there’s one thing we’ve learned going through all this, it’s that patience is a virtue,” Long said. “We’re just thankful to be in love and have a roof over our heads.”
Unable to tattoo anymore because of back problems, Suddeth said looking for work is nearly a full-time job itself.
“When I first opened up Ozzy’s Tattoos behind PK’s in the late ’80s, all you had to have to be in business was a sterilizer,” he said. “The business has really changed a lot since then. So have the sort of people getting tattoos.”
Suddeth met Long when he first opened his shop in 1988. The two then started a family, and Suddeth began tattoo work throughout Carbondale.
But Suddeth’s story began long before he came to Carbondale.
He said he spent his childhood shifting between foster homes, but he took to the road as soon as he could, first hitchhiking through Carbondale in 1978.
“In the late ’70s, Carbondale was the place to be,” he said. “But I didn’t stay here long. I was headed south and have since lived everywhere from Atlanta to Eugene, Ore.”
Despite living on both sides of the country and many places in between, Suddeth said tattooing always remained a constant.
As he traveled, Suddeth said, he picked up different techniques and tips everywhere he went.
“No matter where I went, I made friends with people who got and gave tattoos, but I always remembered that little college town in southern Illinois without a parlor,” he said.
After spending nearly three years behind PK’s, Suddeth opened a parlor called Wizzard’s in 1991 on the Island across the street from 710 Bookstore. Three years later he went to work at another area tattoo parlor named Emerald City, and he began his last job as a tattoo artist in 2002 at Revered Body Arts Emporium in Carbondale.
Suddeth is what some area tattooists consider a “dinosaur,” which is someone who couldn’t survive working in today’s tattoo market. Though Suddeth is no longer in the tattoo business, some who have been tattooed by him tend to disagree.
“You’ll come across people all over town who have had work done by Ozzy,” said Delbert Holmes, 22, of Carbondale. “I’m probably one of the younger ones you’ll find, though.”
Though the couple’s life together has taken a recent turn, Suddeth and Long’s ability to keep their heads up through the hard times may just be what keeps them going.
“I have nothing to complain about, but everything to be thankful for,” Long said. “I may be sick, and he may be out of work, but we have each other and that’s what moves us forward.”