Born in the East End of London, Vidal Sassoon had no intention of becoming a hairdresser, preferring to fight Osmond Mosley’s fascists, who were once again stirring up racial hatred on the post-war streets of London.
He grew up in a small London flat, until his father left home. The five year old Vidal and his little brother survived six years in a Jewish orphanage, before their mother remarried and could afford to care for them again. When he was 14, she dreamed one night of Vidal in a barber shop, and she immediately took the boy to Cohen's Beauty & Barber Shop, and apprenticed him to Cohen.
If he must be a hairdresser, Vidal decided he would have to be the best, so he went religiously to the theatre to tune his ear and voice to "posh" English, and found work in the West End. Still of school age, Vidal would toil over the finest heads of hair by day and roam about the streets in an anti-Mosley gang at night. The youngest among the fighters, he was known as a plucky and reliable kid.
When America and Britain partitioned Palestine and established the state of Israel in 1948, Vidal went to fight for the Jewish homeland. A few years after his return he set up his first salon – a tiny room on the third floor above Bond Street. In 1956, Sassoon married his first wife Elaine Wood but this relationship ended in 1958, when she left him for British water-skiing champion David Nations.
For nine years he experimented with new cuts and techniques, searching for simple, elegant styles. By 1963, he had pioneered the Bob and Five-Point Cut, which made him famous and gave him the title "the founder of modern hairdressing". He went on to give his name to a chain of hair salons in the UK and the United States, and his range of haircare products continue to enjoy massive sales worldwide.
In 1967, Sassoon married actress Beverly Adams, with whom he had four children including daughters Catya (born 1968) and Eden (1973), and sons Elan (1970) and David. They divorced in 1980.
He moved to the US in the 1980s where he sold his name to a number of hair care product manufacturers including Proctor & Gamble. Former salon colleagues also bought his salons and the right to use his name, expanding his empire in the UK and US. In 1982, Sassoon established the Vidal Sassoon International Centre for the Study of Anti-Semitism to conduct research and gather information on the issue.
Sassoon married his third wife, dressage champion and former fashion model Jeanette Hartford-Davis in 1983 but they divorced shortly afterwards.
He wed Rhonda C Sassoon in 1992.
He ended his partnership with Proctor & Gamble in 2003 after suing them for focusing on their own products rather than his. He sold his branch of hair salons in 2002 and revealed he was no longer associated with the hair care products using his name in 2004. In 2009, he was honoured with a CBE from the Queen and in 2010, a film documentary was devoted to the hair stylist. 'Vidal Sassoon: The Movie' was shown at the Tribeca Film Festival to much critical acclaim.
Sassoon was diagnosed with leukaemia in 2009, although this was not revealed until 2011. He died at his home in Los Angeles on 9 May 2012.