This March 8, 2007, file photo shows Comer Cottrell, former owner of Pro-Line posing at the Comer Cottrell Student Center on the campus of Paul Quinn College, in Dallas. (AP Photo/The Dallas Morning News, Lawrence Jenkins, File)
Comer Cottrell, the hugely successful businessman known as “Jheri Curl Guru” who parlayed his African-American hair products into a multi-million dollar business, died Oct. 3 at his Plano, Texas home. He was 82.
A native of Mobile, Ala., Cottrell moved to Los Angeles after serving in the Korean War and founded Pro-Line Corp. in 1970, according to The Washington Post. The business began with just $600 and a borrowed typewriter, The New York Times reported, and saw moderate success through the 1970s.
The company’s fortunes skyrocketed in 1980 when it produced the Curly Kit, a hair relaxer that allowed fans to emulate the popular Jheri Curl styles of Michael Jackson and Lionel Ritchie at home for a fraction of the price charged by professional stylists.
This file photo of Nov. 14, 1986, shows Comer Cottrell, president of Dallas-based Pro-Line Corp., a maker of ethnic cosmetics. Cottrell, an entrepreneur who made millions on black hair products, especially a cheap kit that brought the celebrity Jheri curl style into the homes of average African Americans. (AP Photo/The Dallas Morning News, David Woo, File)
“That’s when his company went from $1 million to $10 million in sales,” Lori L. Tharps, co-author of the 2001 book “Hair Story: Untangling the Roots of Black Hair in America,” told the Post. Cottrell eventually sold his company in 2000 to the firm Alberto-Culver in a deal reported to be worth as much as $80 million.
After moving his company to Dallas in 1980, Cottrell became active in that city’s public and political life. According to NPR, he was the first African-American to join the Dallas Citizens’ Council, a group of CEOs heading the city’s 80 largest companies. He was also a member of the investment group led by George W. Bush which purchased the Texas Rangers in 1989, according to the Post, becoming the first African-American to own a stake in a Major League Baseball team. From an initial $500,000 investment he received $3 million when the team was sold again in 1998, the Times reported.
Though Cottrell himself was a Republican, he played a key political role in the election of Democrat Ron Kirk as Dallas’ first Black mayor in 1995.
Cottrell’s family did not disclose the cause of his death; a memorial service was held at the Rev. T.D. Jakes’ megachurch in Dallas on Oct. 13.