Sadly, my longtime friend, Vidal Sassoon, died Wednesday at the age of eighty-four. Vidal, who grew up in poverty in London, changed the entire beauty-salon industry with his ultra-short and easy to manage hairstyles.
He later became a business mogul when he developed a line of shampoos and hairstyling products, and also built a chain of Vidal Sassoon Academies to teach his craft to aspiring young hairstylists. In 1980, Vidal sold his business interests so he could devote his time to philanthropic activities.
I hadn’t seen or spoken to Vidal for many years, but his passing brought back a lot of memories, one of which was how he and I first met. It happened when I was a guest on a television talk show that he and his second wife Beverly co-hosted. We hit it off right from the start, and discovered that we belonged to the same health club in Century City, which is where we subsequently became good friends.
The second vivid memory I have of Vidal is that we were “hanging out” together (I think they now call it “chillin”) at a party the night I met my wife. Like me, he was quite taken by her startling good looks and upbeat personality, but cautioned me that my attraction to her might be nothing more than infatuation.
Eleven months later, at our wedding, Vidal said to me, “Well, I guess it wasn’t infatuation after all.” To which I responded, “You were right the first time. It was infatuation, and I intend to stay infatuated with her the rest of my life.” And, sure enough, after thirty-five years of marriage, I’m still infatuated.
Finally, I remember Vidal and his wife visiting us at our beach home in Malibu one Sunday afternoon. Vidal was one of what is now a nearly extinct species — a sincere liberal with good intentions. Even so, we never talked politics. But on that particular day, we somehow stumbled into a discussion that had political overtones.
Vidal strongly challenged a statement I had made to the effect that helping the needy should be left up to private charities. I responded by asking him, “Would you rather have politicians, who are by and large corrupt and focused mainly on achieving and maintaining power, take money from you by force and dole it out at their discretion?”
His answer was swift and adamant: “Yes!” We never talked politics again.
But it wasn’t hard to understand why Vidal Sassoon — like Br’er Rabbit in the briar patch — felt right at home in Beverly Hills, which is ground zero for default liberalism. For me, however, it was a strange place where I became more and more uncomfortable as the years passed, and I ultimately opted to escape to saner surroundings.
Ironically, Vidal leaves behind an exciting legacy of success that should be an inspiration for aspiring young entrepreneurs. Liberal beliefs notwithstanding, Vidal started with nothing – growing up in a London orphanage from the age of three when his mother found herself homeless — and became a household name with a purported net worth of $150 million.
My first choice would be for every person on the planet to be a libertarian-centered conservative, but the world would still be a better place if all liberals were like Vidal Sassoon. He was a good and decent person, and I am saddened by his passing.