Jheri Curl Entrepreneur Comer Cottrell Dies at 82

Jheri Curl Entrepreneur Comer Cottrell Dies at 82

Cormer Cottrell created the iconic Curly Kit and later the Kiddie Kit for children, bringing the pricey but popular hairstyle to the masses.

Published October 10, 2014

Comer Cottrell, founder of Pro-Line products and the iconic Curly Kit, died at age 82 on Oct. 3 of natural causes, his family said on Thursday.

The Black hair-care entrepreneur passed away in his home in Plano, Texas.

In 1970, a lack of haircare products for Black servicemen prompted Cottrell, a former Air Force base manager, and his brother, James, to launch the downtown Los Angeles-based Pro-Line Corp. About 10 years later, sales skyrocketed with the introduction of Cottrell’s latest creation, the Curl Kit.

The at-home product made the pricey Jheri curl hairstyle popularized by Michael Jackson, Rick James, Lionel Richie and other Black celebrities accessible to the masses. A Jheri curl might run salon-goers up to $300, while the Curly Kit sold for around $8 at drugstores, beauty parlors and barbershops.

"We looked at the curl process," Cottrell told the Dallas Observer in 1996, "and saw it really was a simple process and people could do it themselves. It was no secret.”

The Curly Kit’s popularity helped drive company sales up from $1 million to $10 million, Lori L. Tharps, co-author of Hair Story: Untangling the Roots of Black Hair in America, told the Los Angeles Times.

Cottrell "democratized the Jheri curl,” Tharps said. "You couldn't find a Black person in America in their 30s or 40s who didn't have a Curly Kit or Kiddie Kit at some time in their childhood or adulthood.”

Having moved to Dallas and becoming one of the most successful Black-owned companies in America, Pro-Line Corp. was eventually sold to Alberto Culver for $80 million in 2000, AP reports.

In addition to disrupting the hair-care industry, Cottrell also racked up a number of firsts in other influential fields, including first African-American member of the Dallas Citizens Council and first African-American to own a stake in a Major League Baseball team. From 1989 to 1998, he co-owned the Texas Rangers with George W. Bush.

According to USA Today, the businessman was also a philanthropist. He contributed more than $3 million to revitalizing the financially-troubled historically Black school Paul Quinn College in Texas.

"If it weren't for him, there probably wouldn't be a college," college President Michael J. Sorrell told AP.

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 (Photo: Hulton Archive/Getty Images)

Written by Patrice Peck

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