Vidal Sassoon was more than just a legendary styling tycoon who revolutionized the world of hair care–he was also a family man, a humanitarian, and a passionate Zionist.
Sassoon was born to Jewish immigrants in London on January 17, 1928. His father Jack was Greek and his mother Betty came from Spain. Jack left the family when Sassoon was 3, causing Betty to place young Vidal and his brother Ivor in a Jewish orphanage. At the age of 14, Sassoon left school and began work as a messenger, going on to become an apprentice in a salon.
At 17, Sassoon joined the war effort, even though he was too young to serve in World War II. He became part of a Jewish resistance group, the 43 Group, fighting anti-Semitism even after the war ended. That attitude of service continued when, at the age of 20, he joined the Haganah, which would go on to become the Israeli Defense Forces. Sassoon fought in the 1948 Arab-Israeli War, an experience he once called “the best year of my life.”
After the war, Sassoon went on to train with yet another hairdresser, honing his skill and crafting a style that would come to define him. He is credited with patenting the “wash and wear” coif, allowing women freedom from the then-trend of a weekly stop at the beauty salon. His first salon opened in London in the 50’s, the start of a slew of stores that would launch over the next five decades. In the 80’s, after a move to the US, Sassoon created a line of shampoos and conditioners.
Sassoon styled hair for a multitude of celebrities, like Mia Farrow during her turn in “Rosemary’s Baby.” He authored several books and received a Commander of the Order of the British Empire, a UK honor of chivalry, in 2009. He also founded the Vidal Sassoon International Center for the Study of Anti-Semitism as well as the Vidal Sassoon Foundation, which supported causes like the Boys Club of America.
Despite his professional successes, Sassoon suffered several personal setbacks in his lifetime. He was married four times and experienced the loss of his daughter Catya to a drug overdose in 2002, as well as the death of his brother when Ivor was just 46. In 2009, Sassoon was diagnosed with leukemia.
Sassoon passed away at his home in Los Angeles on May 9, 2012, at the age of 84. He was survived by his wife Rhonda, and three living children, Eden, Elan and David.