The last time I saw Vidal Sassoon was a few weeks ago when we got together to do an interview for a BBC radio documentary I was writing.
There, in his Bel Air mansion, while his devoted fourth wife, Ronnie, hovered nearby, he broke the news to me that he had leukaemia. He was frail and spoke with less verve than usual. Yet his warm smile was still in evidence.
He’d had a good life, he told me. He had risen from the East End to the top of his game and had revolutionised the world of hairdressing. It had been a wonderful life and, at 84, he said, he felt he could not complain if it was nearing its end.
There was always something about Vidal Sassoon that set him apart. It wasn’t that he was the best haircutter in the business, although he was. It wasn’t that he was the most famous hairdresser in the world, although he was that, too. And it wasn’t that he had gone from rags to riches, which he had.
No, it was his gentleness that stood out. In a dog-eat-dog world, Vidal was considerate, gracious and very gentle. Devoid of arrogance, he exuded confidence, yet with it a humility rare in one so successful.
I had known “Viddy” — as my parents called him — from a very early age. He and my father, also a hairdresser, had a mutual friend, my “uncle” Robert Zackham, whose Croydon salon my father ran. He was often popping in to see Robert and, I, still a child, was fascinated by this handsome man who always seemed to be smiling.
In Hollywood in the ’80s, Vidal hosted his own TV talk show, which is when my father caught up with him. I took him backstage for a reunion and he was amazed at how young and fit Vidal appeared at 55.
He’d always taken good care of his health. He even wrote a book about health and beauty with his second wife, Beverly. And he later published a recipe book in which he pioneered smoothies. He always drank green tea. And every morning he would swim dozens of laps in his pool before having a health drink for breakfast, which he had done for 60 years.
His legacy will be his phenomenal contribution to the world of hair fashion along with his lifelong devotion to Israel and to fighting antisemitism.
“You do what you can in this life,” he told me once. “And if what you do can make a difference then that’s all you could ask for.” Vidal Sassoon made a difference.