He was his own best client: Sy Sperling, founder of Hair Club for Men, dies at 78

Chelsey Cox, USA TODAY

The founder of the Hair Club for Men has died.

Sy Sperling, the recognizable face from many a late-night commercial touting a treatment for hair loss, died on Wednesday in Boca Raton, the South Florida Sun Sentinel reported. He was 78.

Known for his iconic catchphrase, “I’m not only the Hair Club president, but I’m also a client," Sperling inspired like-minded consumers by revealing his own balding head to the masses in "before" photos.

The New York businessman with a receding hairline started out as a swimming pool salesman. He created his own solution for hair loss after becoming frustrated with toupees, according to the Los Angeles Times.

Rear view of a businessman scratching the top of his head.

“If you’re dating and going to be having special moments, how do you explain, ‘I got to take my hair off now?’” Sperling said, according to the Times.

Sperling opened a Madison Avenue salon in the 1960s where he practiced a weaving technique he learned from a hairstylist to attach hair purchased from women to a nylon cap glued to a male client's scalp. The procedure required periodic adjustments, but customers kept coming back, the Sun Sentinel reported.  

For several years, Sperling's salon was a success, and he was able to pay off the $10,000 in credit he invested. However, word-of-mouth advertising proved unreliable. Clients were reluctant to admit the source of their miracle hair growth and business stagnated in the 1970s, according to the obituary.

Sperling founded Hair Club for men in 1976, according to the Sun Sentinel, then turned to commercials to attract new clientele. The ads began airing nationally in 1982, costing him $12 million a year, the obituary said.   

The prevalence of the commercials, which ran 400 times a day on nightly TV, made Sperling a household name and generated 10,000 calls within the first month of airing, according to the Hair Club website.

Late-night television shows the "Tonight Show" and "Saturday Night Live" spoofed the ads, which always included dramatic "before" and "after" images of men. Sterling, himself, appeared at the end of each commercial to deliver his timeless catchphrase, the Times said.

Hair Club for Men swelled to 40 franchises by 1991. Clients paid between $2,000 to $3,500 for the system and $600 per maintenance appointment, the Sun Sentinel reported. 

Hair Club dropped "For Men" in the mid-90s to also cater to women's hair loss needs. Hair Club for Kids, invented to offer free hair to juvenile cancer patients, followed a year later, according to the company website.

The business was sold to a private investment group in 2000 for $45 million, the obituary said, then it was purchased by Regis Corporation in 2004. Tokyo-based Aderans Co. Ltd. purchased the company in 2014, according to the website. 

Sperling made television appearances on shows like “Wrestlemania,” “The Tonight Show with Jay Leno,” and “Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous.” He also hosted a radio show, “How To Succeed in Business,” which aired on WBSR in Boca Raton, the Sun Sentinel reported.

He died after a lengthy illness, spokeswoman Terri Lynn said. Sperling is survived by his wife, Susan; his daughter, Shari Sperling; his son, Andrew Sperling; and his sister, Rosalie Slute, according to the obituary.

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Founder of Hair Club for Men dies at 78