Hair club president wins with a hair-brained idea

February 19, 1992|By John Hughes | John Hughes,Fort Lauderdale Sun-Sentinel

The guy goes shiny on top, gets some woman's hair sewn into what's left of his own, admits it to millions on late-night television and makes enough dough from his hair-brained idea to live where he wants to when he wants to.

It's a goofy world, isn't it?

"Yeah," laughs Sy Sperling, and though his hair doesn't move when his head does, there is nothing necessarily remarkable about his thick dark locks. Which is as it should be.

His hair looks very hairlike, as though it is there because that's what heads do, they grow hair. Yet the ancillary purpose of this famous hair -- known well to Mr. Sperling -- is that it hides the baldheadedness of the man who not only is the Hair Club president, he is also a client.

"Some have God-given hair, and others can have hair anyway, thank God," Mr. Sperling says.

And thank Sy Sperling, God of hair replacement, for giving bald guys hope and the rest of us a cult figure in the fashion of Orville Redenbacher and Dave Thomas.

"I'm probably one of the most recognized men in America right now," Mr. Sperling says, without a hint of ego but with a tone that says Sy is in on the gag with the rest of us. And like the rest of us, Sy is frequently awakened in the slow hours of morning by his own reality-altering commercials.

"Isn't it great that for the right price for advertising, anybody can be famous," he says. "Instead of talent, I paid my way into being a celebrity."

Which is what Mr. Sperling looks like, sitting for coffee in the Guest Quarter's Hotel in Fort Lauderdale. Like a celebrity. Not like you'd look at him and say, "That's Sy Sperling." But more like you'd look at him and say, "That guy's a celebrity."

In fact, he looks like Casey Kasem without the bad sweaters. A very young 50. Bigger than in the commercials. Hipper than in the commercials, dressed for his morning in a black jogging suit.

His day will end with a visit to an Intracoastal club or two, after a workout at the Boca Pointe Health Club, where he just bought a membership. He might play some basketball and maybe visit Bread of Life to stock up on vegetarian staples.

He became a vegetarian (soon to be profiled in Vegetarian Times) when he got his new hair 24 years ago. A lot of things changed when Sy Sperling got hairy.

"I lost 30 pounds," he says. "It was the beginning of a whole new lifestyle."

It began with a visit to a Long Island hair replacement specialist whose system was better than his ability to market it.

In walked chrome-domed Mr. Sperling, a swimming-pool-selling son of a Bronx plumber. And out walked, well, not only the president of Hair Club but . . .

There are 45 Hair Clubs in the country. One had its grand opening in Miami recently. This year the company will do about $50 million in business, at $2,000 to $3,500 a head.

The Hair Club system, originally called the strand-by-strand method, uses human hair (there are women in this world who sell their hair to replacement companies) to "polyfuse" bald heads back to their original studliness.

"We put the hair in one strand at a time," Mr. Sperling says, "so that it looks like it's growing from the scalp."

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