But the hair stayed on Sperling’s head. Ordinarily, a journalist would not tug on his subject’s hair, and ordinarily a subject’s hair would not fall out upon tugging, but Sperling was not an ordinary subject, nor was the hair, which was not his.
Sperling, who died Wednesday at age 78, was the founder and chief executive of Hair Club for Men, a business born out of extreme personal necessity. Sperling, like most males in his lineage, became prematurely bald in his late 20s, when he was single and looking for pleasurable encounters.
The former pool salesman typically described this problem in two ways.
One: "If you’re dating and going to be having special moments, how do you explain, ‘I got to take my hair off now?’”
Two: “When a man wants to be intimate with a woman, he doesn’t want to wake up and have to say hello to his hair hanging on the bedpost.”
Sperling went to a hair weaver, but the results were not good. One day in the shower, he discovered that the hair was no longer on his head and was instead in his hands. He found a stylist with a different method, which the New York Times explained in 1993:
The process is a hair-fusion method. A fine nylon mesh is fitted to the scalp. The mesh allows the scalp to breathe and existing hair to grow through it. Next, strands of hair from India are colored and textured to match the customer. They are attached to the mesh with a polymer that acts as an adhesive. The mesh is similarly fused to the existing side hair.
The Times was explaining this — and Spy was tugging on his hair — because Sperling turned his new head of not-his-hair into a wildly successful business, which he later sold to a private equity group for $45 million. Five years later, it was sold again — for $210 million.
Sperling was Hair Club’s chief pitchman, appearing in a 1982 infomercial that aired late at night, when presumably bald and alone men were watching TV with their toupees hanging on bed posts.
The ad featured before and after pictures of Sperling, and the line that turned him into a celebrity who was parodied on Saturday Night Live.
“I’m not just the president,” Sperling said. “I’m also a client.”
The first month the infomercial rolled, more than 10,000 calls lit up the company’s phone lines. The money rolled in. So did the puns and one-liners. A profile in the Fort Lauderdale Sun-Sentinel carried this headline: “MEET SY SPERLING, HEIR APPARENT OF HAIR-REPLACING.”
In the story, Sperling says, “I’m probably one of the most recognized men in America right now.”
Strangers would come up to him, their eyes locked on his hair.
“For the record, Sperling’s hair does look like it’s growing from the scalp,” the Sun-Sentinel said. “You can see it when you stare at the top of his forehead.”
In addition to becoming rich and famous, Sperling’s business turned him — and millions of other men — into something more profound.
“A man,” the Sun-Sentinel said, “who can wear somebody else’s hair and be surprisingly at ease with himself.”
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