Obituaries

Remembering Legendary Hair Stylist Vidal Sassoon

From orphan to hair icon, the legend credited with revolutionizing women's style along with "the Pill and miniskirt" died at 84 on May 9.
Vidal Sassoon
Joe Pugliese

This story first appeared in the May 25 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine.

Vidal Sassoon, who died May 9 in his Mulholland Drive home, was famous for inventing the '60s architectural "wash and go" haircut, snipping Mia Farrow's locks for Rosemary's Baby and being the first to create hair product lines, salons, schools and global outposts for all of the above. Like Halston did in fashion, Sassoon invented self-branding in the beauty business.

Nobody goes from being raised in a London orphanage from age 5 -- because his mother couldn't afford him -- to having a net worth of $130 million without some amazing stories along the way. They're all collected in the 2010 documentary Vidal Sassoon: The Movie and in his memoir, 2011's Vidal: The Autobiography. At 14, he got a barbering apprenticeship, and at 20, the son of Sephardic Jews went to Israel to fight in the 1948 Arab-Israeli War. Yes, the perfectionistic British hairdresser also was a badass.

STORY: Frederic Fekkai on Vidal Sassoon

In 1954, Sassoon opened his eponymous salon in London, but it wasn't until nine years later -- when he styled the hair of iconic designer Mary Quant and all of her runway models for her 1963 fashion show -- that the geometric five-point cut he invented became famous. "Before Vidal, it was simply hairdressing," says Quant, whose miniskirts, paired with Sassoon's asymmetrical bobs, made up the look that defined the era. "Vidal Sassoon, the Pill and the miniskirt changed everything."

His impact can be explained by the fact that "Viddy," as friends called him, had a zest for life that ran rings around everyone he knew. A fitness fanatic, swimming nearly four miles a day, Sassoon married four times, had four children and was an architecture buff, an art collector with his fourth wife, Ronnie, and an avid reader. This reporter, who knew him socially, recalls he would always ask: "What are you reading? Anything exciting?" Usually, he already had read it.

Only two weeks ago, two of his closest friends, The River Wild screenwriter Denis O'Neill and real estate mogul David Philps, went with Sassoon to the Beverly Glen restaurant they have frequented every week for the past decade. "He loved football, politics, Winston Churchill and George Bernard Shaw," says O'Neill. Philps says Sassoon, who was diagnosed with leukemia in 2009, knew the end was coming -- and coped with characteristic style. "I really had a great life," he told his two friends. "I have nothing to complain about. I'm only grateful." Philps sums up his friend: "He never stopped being curious. He was always engaged. He was a rare beast in the human jungle."

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