Elvis Presley’s Hairstylist Spills the King’s Secrets

Photo: Corbis

By Lilit Marcus

It wasn’t just Elvis Presley’s music that signaled he was a true 20th century icon, his signature style set him apart as a different kind of pop star. And thanks to a series of photographs by Henry Leutwyler in his new book Elvis, by the Presleys, the tools and products behind Elvis’ legendary style—and that legendary pompadour—are finally on display.

Elvis’ singing might have been natural and soulful, but he put plenty of thought into his image and held strong opinions about how he wanted to appear. “Elvis’ real hair was a sandy blond, but he wanted that black, black color. You can see pictures from the army when he couldn’t dye it, he got highlights,” explains Kim Adelman, author of The Girls’ Guide to Elvis and a longtime fan of The King.

Photo: Henry Leutwyler

In addition to Elvis himself, one man played a major role in shaping The King’s iconic hair looks: Larry Geller. Geller opened up the first hair salon just for men in West Hollywood in 1964, quickly becoming a must-visit destination for stars like Marlon Brando, Rock Hudson, and Steve McQueen. But Geller gave up the business when he was offered the chance to become Elvis’ personal hairstylist, doing all of the star’s hairstyles for movies and concerts. They often spent whole weeks together as Geller did Elvis’ hair for film shoots and then spent all day on set adjusting the do and making it sure it looked consistent between scenes.

Geller, who will be launching his own line of organic hair products later this year, tested out some of his first custom mixes on Elvis. “I used to go to the health food store and get a benign base shampoo and get some vitamin capsules and pour 99 percent pure aloe vera and other herbs into it, and shake it up,” Geller tells Yahoo Beauty. “That’s what I used on Elvis’ hair. He said to me, right from the get-go, ‘You can do whatever you want with my hair, but one thing—make sure I keep it!’”

Then there was the daily routine. “I shampooed his hair regularly, usually every day. I would massage his scalp for a few minutes, then brush his hair at least 50 or 60 strokes. I was focused on long-term health of his hair, which was so important,” Geller explains. He also used products like vitamin E and jojoba oil to style Elvis’ hair and replace conditioner. Hairspray was used to set it, with Geller alternating multiple brands so that none of them would dry out Elvis’ coif too much. As for its color, Geller dyed Elvis’ hair every two to three weeks with a L’Oreal formula.

What did the two men discuss during all that grooming? Religion, philosophy, books, life, and anything else you can think of. “Elvis had everything,” says Geller. “He was an extraordinary human being. He had the greatest eyes, the greatest voice, fans galore. He also had great hair.”