NEW YORK - Hair Club for Men founder Sy Sperling, famous for the TV commercials where he proclaimed “I'm not only the Hair Club president but I'm also a client,” died in Florida. He was 78.
Sperling died Wednesday in Boca Raton after a lengthy illness, spokeswoman Terri Lynn said Thursday.
In the late 1960s, Sperling was a balding New York City swimming pool salesman who was growing frustrated with toupees. "If you're dating and going to be having special moments, how do you explain, 'I got to take my hair off now?'" he said.
Using a weaving technique he learned from his hair stylist, Sperling took $10,000 in credit card debt to open his own salon on Madison Avenue where he perfected a system where a nylon mesh cap was glued to the scalp. The client's remaining hair would grow through it and then hair purchased from women that matched the color was woven into the mesh. The clients would then come in several times a year for adjustments.
Business took off but by the late 1970s had stagnated. Word of mouth was unreliable as many clients weren't eager to tell their friends they were using a hair-replacement system. He began advertising on television and in 1982, he went national with commercials running 400 times daily on late-night TV. They became so ubiquitous they were spoofed on the “Tonight” show and “Saturday Night Live.”
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The ads featured before and after photographs of men who used the system, ending with Sperling himself who would proclaim in his slightly stilted and stiff manner, “I'm not only the Hair Club president but I'm also a client." He then held up a photo of himself without his hair. The commercials cost him $12 million annually but were generating 10,000 calls a month.
By 1991, Hair Club for Men had 40 franchises. Men paid between $2,000 and $3,500 for the system and then $65 for maintenance appointments. Revenue reached $100 million annually.
“For Men” was later dropped from the name as women who lost hair naturally and from cancer treatments became clients. He started Hair Club for Kids, which provided free hair to children who lost theirs in cancer treatments.
Sperling sold the business to a group of investors in 2000 for $45 million.
He is survived by his wife, Susan, daughter Shari Sperling, son Andrew Sperling and sister, Rosalie Slute.