Splitting Hairs, Edwards's Stylist Tells His Side of Story

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By John Solomon
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, July 5, 2007

For four decades, Joseph Torrenueva has cut the hair of Hollywood celebrities, from Marlon Brando to Bob Barker, so when a friend told him in 2003 that a presidential candidate needed grooming advice, he agreed to help.

The Beverly Hills hairstylist, a Democrat, said he hit it off with then-Sen. John Edwards of North Carolina at a meeting in Los Angeles that brought several fashion experts together to advise the candidate on his appearance. Since then, Torrenueva has cut Edwards's hair at least 16 times.

At first, the haircuts were free. But because Torrenueva often had to fly somewhere on the campaign trail to meet his client, he began charging $300 to $500 for each cut, plus the cost of airfare and hotels when he had to travel outside California.

Torrenueva said one haircut during the 2004 presidential race cost $1,250 because he traveled to Atlanta and lost two days of work.

"He has nice hair," the stylist said of Edwards in an interview. "I try to make the man handsome, strong, more mature and these are the things, as an expert, that's what we do."

It is some kind of commentary on the state of American politics that as Edwards has campaigned for president, vice president and now president again, his hair seems to have attracted as much attention as, say, his position on health care. But when his campaign reported in April that it had paid for two of his haircuts at $400 each, the political damage was immediate. With each punch line on late night TV his image as a self-styled populist making poverty his signature issue was further eroded.

Edwards said that he was embarrassed by the cost and that he "didn't know it would be that expensive," suggesting the haircuts were some kind of aberration given by "that guy" his staff had arranged. His wife, Elizabeth, made lots of jokes at her husband's expense and the campaign wished the whole issue would go away.

But Torrenueva's account of his long relationship with Edwards -- the first he's given -- probably guarantees that won't happen quite yet. And if $400 seemed a lot for a haircut, how about one for three times that?

Asked for a comment, the Edwards campaign said this week that Edwards had arranged for the stylist to give him numerous cuts over the past four years. But it said that a personal assistant handled paying for the haircuts and that Edwards didn't realize how much they cost.

"Breaking news -- John Edwards got some expensive haircuts and probably didn't pay enough attention to the bills," said spokeswoman Colleen Murray. "He didn't lie about weapons of mass destruction or spring Scooter Libby; he just got some expensive haircuts."

In the days after the $400 haircut first caused a stir, Torrenueva did not give many details about his client to reporters who called or came by his Beverly Hills salon. But Torrenueva says he was hurt by Edwards's response to all the flap.

"I'm disappointed and I do feel bad. If I know someone, I'm not going to say I don't know them," he said. "When he called me 'that guy,' that hit my ears. It hurt." He paused and then added, "I still like him. . . . I don't want to hurt him."


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