Gene Shacove, the Beverly Hills stylist who helped invent the celebrity hairdresser and was the inspiration for the movie "Shampoo," died Wednesday of a thoracic aneurysm and subsequent kidney failure at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center. He was 72.
Shacove made friends with world-famous personalities, often becoming their longtime stylist and confidant, an association that granted him a fairy-tale social life.
As he had nearly every weekend for 30 years, Shacove visited his close friend Hugh Hefner at the Playboy Mansion for a Labor Day party before he fell ill late that night.
Shacove gained fame as a model for the libidinous hairstylist Warren Beatty portrayed in "Shampoo," a 1975 movie satire of the era's morals and mores. Shacove's friendships with Beatty and screenwriter Robert Towne helped launch the fictionalized account of his love- and fame-laden life.
"He was, in fact, the only rooster in a very beautiful henhouse," said Towne, who stayed for a few days with Shacove to study his lifestyle and mannerisms for "Shampoo." Hefner recalled that Shacove, a Los Angeles native who married many times but was more often single, "got into hairstyling because he thought it would be a wonderful way to meet girls." Clients of both genders poured into his spacious salon.
"He was the first superstar hairdresser and in many ways a mentor to the industry," said Steve Casciola, publisher of Salon City Star Magazine, a West Hollywood-based beauty periodical. Shacove's skill and his starry lifestyle paved the way for current stylists such as Jose Eber and Frederick Fekkai, who became as famous as their Hollywood clientele.
Hefner, who hosted an after-funeral memorial at the mansion Friday, echoed many when he described his longtime friend as "the life of the party" and "good company."
"The mansion was kind of his second home," said Hefner, who was also a client. "He has done my hair here at the mansion for almost all of those three decades, and he has not charged me a penny for it. And he's one of the top hairstylists."
For the last 11 years, Shacove worked one or two days a week at the John Amato Hair Studio in Beverly Hills, where he attended to regular clients such as George Hamilton and Jill St. John.
"Gene was very artistic and always current with everything--his clothes, his look, to working out at the gym," said Amato. "For his age, he was very young."
A multitalented trendsetter, Shacove was as well known in private for his assured taste in interior design as he was in public for his hairstyling acumen. He was also a Harley-Davidson enthusiast who meticulously redesigned his bikes.
"He used to come to my house and bring all of his friends--on 50 Harleys," recalled Jeff Greene, owner of Hollywood Realty and a close friend for 20 years.
A sometimes-brutal honesty helped Shacove earn the trust and respect of his many clients.
"He wasn't so caught up in the celebrity and vanity of L.A.," Greene said. "He'd tell you if you'd gained weight. You could trust him to tell you the truth."
Hefner and many others met Shacove at the Candy Store, the 1960s and '70s-era nightclub that Shacove operated beneath his Rodeo Drive salon, a move that made him the center of social L.A. but that some believe diverted his talents.
"Instead of putting his energy into opening more salons or products, he put his energy into being a celebrity," said Allen Edwards, a fellow salon owner and colleague. "He had only the one salon, but he could have been what [Vidal] Sassoon was. His work was so ahead of everybody. He created great haircuts that I still do today."
Sassoon developed an international hair salon and products business, while another Shacove contemporary, Jon Peters, leveraged his Hollywood connections into a successful producing career.
Though stars from Lucille Ball to Marlene Dietrich to Joey Heatherton trusted their tresses to Shacove, his niece, Arlene Familian of Las Vegas, learned to keep his famously aggressive shears from her head.
"He was obsessed with scissors," she said of his love for short, shaped hair.
As his skills helped shift the industry's focus away from styling and toward cutting, Shacove signatures become new standards. His loose cuts for St. John and Heatherton were the beginning of the chicly tousled look, Edwards said.
The legendary stylist was as quick to redecorate his homes as he was to redefine himself, a trait evident in one of Towne's favorite Shacove anecdotes.
Moments after he finished showing the hairdresser "Shampoo," Towne said: "Warren and I emerged from the screening room, and there was Gene. We [asked], 'What do you think?' and Gene went, 'Oh man, you guys waited too long [to do the movie.] Now I identify with Jack Warden,' the tired businessman."
Services were Friday at Mt. Sinai Memorial Park in Los Angeles. He is survived by sister Bobbie Cohen of Las Vegas, three nieces and two nephews.
Times staff writers Louise Roug, Barbara Thomas and Shawn Hubler contributed to this story.