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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