Comer Cottrell (pictured), who turned a dollar into a dream by creating one of the largest African-American hair care products companies in America, Pro-Line, has passed away at age 82 from natural causes, according to the Los Angeles Times.
The entrepreneurial Cottrell had $600 and a broken typewriter when he launched his Pro-Line Corp. in Los Angeles 44 years ago. The company soon exploded in 1980 because of its one touted draw, the Curly Kit, which helped to give kinky hair a curl. As Curly Kit took off, Cottrell pulled up the company’s stakes and relocated to Dallas to lower operating costs and be closer to Pro-Line’s largest market. Soon he was licensing Pro-Line products in African countries, the Caribbean, and even parts of Asia.
Often poked fun at over the years, those who wore the Jheri curl were required to apply an activator and moisturizers on a daily basis that oftentimes made the hair appear shiny, greasy, and drippy. The hair had to stay wet so that the curls would not dry out. The drippings would oftentimes stain clothing, run down faces, and was a messy process to keep up.
Many celebs popularized the Jheri curl, including Lionel Ritchie (pictured), Michael Jackson (pictured), Rick James, Nick Ashford, Easy-E, and Eriq LaSalle. “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,” said Lori L. Tharps, co-author of “Hair Story: Untangling the Roots of Black Hair in America.” “Everybody had a story — about a Curly Kit gone wrong or an addiction to Curly Kit. Comer and his company made this very elite style something the masses could have,”according to Tharps.
By the mid-’80s, however, the style had pretty much fallen by the wayside, but there were still those die-hards who refused to let the drippy style go.
As man who was known to have “democratized the Jheri curl,'” Cottrell’s company soon made its first million only three years after it opened its doors. In 1988, the company became the largest African-American-owned firm in the Southwest.
In 2000, Cromer sold the company to Illinois-based Alberto-Culver, a manufacturing and beauty products company, for a reported $75 million.
Besides being in the hair care business, the Mobile, Alabama-born Cottrell was also the first African American to own a stake in a major league baseball team, when he joined former President George W. Bush and other investors in purchasing the Texas Rangers.
Cottrell was known as a humanitarian as well who was always pushing for more minority involvement in professional sports management. He oftentimes gave monies toward creating educational opportunities in Black communities, such as donating $3 million to preserve the Dallas campus of a bankrupt historically black college as the new home of Paul Quinn College.
Having walked down the aisle four times, Cotrell is survived by his present wife, a daughter, four sons, nine grandchildren, and one great-grandchild.