A Dozen Bald Pioneers
I am not Chris Daughtry.
Sadly, I was mistaken for Mr. Daughtry often in the early 2000s, mostly because we were both bald and we were both singers. But I was bald way before American Idol was a terrible, ridiculously popular reality show – I started losing my hair at the end of high school, and it was a very traumatic experience. Being bald wasn’t cool when I was 18, and being bald at 18 is never cool.
It was a cause of major insecurity for me at a time when I was already shy and introverted, and it took me a few years to “grow” into being bald. After nearly two awkward and uncomfortable years sporting fake hair, I shaved my head and I’ve now been chrome domed for more than half of my existence. In 2005, I started a record label called Bald Freak Music and took on a musical alter-ego as Q*Ball. I embraced my genetic fate and tried to turn it into something positive.
People ask me why I decided to choose that name for my label – implying that it has negative connotations – but I never saw it that way. I’m bald, I make music. Being bald made me feel like a freak, but lots of things make me feel like a freak – my anti-establishment attitude notwithstanding. We’re all freaks. “Bald,” meanwhile, is a very specific physical trait. When people who barely know my name refer to me, they probably do so as “the bald guy.” And so it goes. But that’s fine – some would say that I have “owned” being bald, but I just see it as dealing with the cards the universe has dealt me.
The good news is that being bald is no longer lame – it’s socially acceptable, it’s even sexy. I’m proud to be a participant in that movement, and if it weren’t for the dozen people below, I probably would have been much more hesitant to sign up, perhaps destined for a life of hair weaves, baseball caps and powdered wigs. Am I a pioneer? Not necessarily – but one thing is for certain…. I was here before Chris Daughtry. As were these dozen bald trailblazers….
Before he was George Costanza, Newark, New Jersey’s own Jason Alexander was probably best known for his minor role as Richard Gere’s dickhead friend in Pretty Woman. That film came out around the same time as Seinfeld, which went on to become the biggest show on American network television, cementing Jerry and the gang as iconic characters. George, of course, was defined by his neuroses, his bad luck – and his baldness.
Incidentally, the character is based largely upon Seinfeld co-creator and Curb Your Enthusiasm guru Larry David, who is also a bald icon. Like David, George never goes “full bald,” rather letting the hair on the sides of his head grow out. I thought this looked ridiculous, especially when it came to my own 19 year-old head.
Seinfeld became a phenomenon right around the time I started losing my hair. At the time, bald was the punchline of many jokes on the show. It was not cool to be bald in the mid-’90s, but it was cool to be Costanza.
I’m a Star Wars guy. Always have been. My interest (if you could call it that) in Star Trek has always been barely casual – I’ve seen the first few Kirk/Spock movies and sampled a bit of the original series in syndication (it was always on super late and it was always underwhelming). But in the late 1980s, it was hard to ignore the new captain of the Starship Enterprise, Jean-Luc Picard, portrayed by then-unknown English stage actor Patrick Stewart.
Ironically, Stewart’s predecessor, William Shatner, is also bald, and famously wore a toupee when portraying Captain James Tiberius Kirk. Again, it was not cool to be bald, especially if you were a lead actor in a television series. Ted Danson also wore a ‘piece to cover his bald spot while starring on Cheers.
Stewart, however, owned his chrome domed look, and after his Trekkie breakthrough, he took on the iconic role of Professor Charles Xavier in the X-Men film series. Sophisticated and suave with a golden-throated delivery, Patrick Stewart made bald cool before it was cool. That said, I still don’t like Star Trek. ENGAGE!
The Smashing Pumpkins were already a well-known and respected alternative rock band before founding frontman Billy Corgan shaved his head, thanks to the reception of their sophomore album, Siamese Dream. The Pumpkins upped the ante with the ambitious and at-times beautiful double album, Mellon Collie and the Infinite Sadness, before Chicago native Corgan shed his remaining locks. Corgan famously debuted his new look while promoting and touring the Mellon Collie album, beginning with a performance of “1979” on Saturday Night Live.
I was always a Pumpkins fan, but Corgan’s brave choice to go full bald while his band was just hitting the stratosphere was inspirational to me, and I would follow suit soon after.
Other bald rock stars would also do the same, including Ed Kowalczyk of Live and John Bush of Anthrax.
What can you say about #23? MJ is still the consensus choice as NBA basketball’s greatest of all-time among both peers and fans (I’ve always been partial to Larry Bird, who I idolized growing up, and who had a lot more hair than Jordan), and he scored most of his points and won most of his championships with the Chicago Bulls while feeling the cool breeze above his ears.
Nowadays, shaved heads are as commonplace in the NBA as tattoos and slam dunks, but during the Jordan Era, a hairless skull looked as out of place as baggy gym shorts. Other stalwarts would follow Michael into Bald Nirvana – Charles Barkley and Shaq immediately come to mind – but Jordan’s whole persona was about selling himself. Be Like Mike. In other words, take 30 shots a game, wear Nike, get all the calls, eat Wheaties, gamble like a boss, and shave your head.
Iconic Greek-American actor Telly Savalas chose to shave his head. He did it for a film role, portraying Pontius Pilate in 1965’s The Greatest Story Ever Told (incidentally, I’m not a big Bible reader – is Pilate supposed to be bald?) and decided to stick with the hair-free look.
This decision coincided with Savalas’ rise to stardom in both feature films and, most famously, as TV badass Kojak, a detective with a fetish for lollipops and cigarillos. I dedicate a full verse to Telly in my tribute-to-baldies tune, “Fortune Favors The Bald,” the title track of my second Q*Ball album, and rightfully so – a bald lead actor on television in the 1960s and 1970s was unheard of – those roles were specifically reserved for villains, sidekicks and schmoes.
Telly truly broke the mold on the telly. Who loves ya baby?
In an age of combovers, Rogaine, and The Hair Club For Men, R.E.M.’s Michael Stipe forsook his collection of colorful hats for an electric razor and went full bald. I was admittedly not a big fan of R.E.M. at that time, mainly due to Stipe’s nasally vocal delivery and his ‘I’m wearing nine t-shirts’ grandstanding at the MTV Video Music Awards the year the band were awarded a bunch of Moon Men for “Losing My Religion.”
But my friends, whose musical tastes I respected and mostly shared, adored Stipe and R.E.M. and spent subsequent years convincing me that the band was pretty okay (which I now admit to be true). Stipe seemed to mellow after losing his locks – maybe he was too distracted by the media and fans speculating that he was dying of AIDS or intruding into his personal life, or maybe he felt a little lighter, thanks to losing that extra bit up top. Either way, “Everybody Hurts” is a beauty of a tune.
Other bald guys in pretty okay bands include Phil Selway of Radiohead, Peter Garrett of Midnight Oil, and Moby.
Yul Brynner is not just the King of Siam, he’s the King of Bald Guys. The first legit bald movie star – and the only one for a long while – Brynner and his skull have shone in some iconic flicks, including The Magnificent Seven (bald gunfighter), The Ten Commandments (bald pharaoh), Westworld (bald evil robot), and in the aforementioned The King and I, the role he shaved his head – and won both an Academy Award and a Tony Award – for.
Yul’s look was so unique during the 1950s and 1960s, that others like him weren’t just called ‘bald,’ they were also referred to as having the ‘Yul Brynner Look.’ Yul Brynner is the Babe Ruth of Bald.
Bruce Willis was clearly balding – and a sex symbol in spite of it – when he showed up on TV’s Moonlighting, famously romancing Cybil Shepherd on-screen and terrorizing her on-set. My Mom watched Moonlighting, probably because she thought Bruce Willis was sexy, and so I sometimes watched it too. My Dad was also balding around this time, but paid no particular attention to Moonlighting.
When Die Hard became a huge hit – and one of my favorite movies – a year or so later, Willis’ hairline was still receding, but he was a bonafide box office star. This was followed by a short, insane period in which Willis flirted with a career as a blues harmonica player, starred in some infamous box office bombs, lost more hair, and sired three children with pixie-cut, molding-clay-with-Patrick-Swayze Demi Moore.
When Bruce showed up as Butch in the awe-inspiring Pulp Fiction in the mid-’90s, he had gone full bald, and kept that look through a period of critical and commercial resurgence, including memorable leading roles in 12 Monkeys, The Sixth Sense, and Unbreakable. Coincidence? I think not. Sure, he split with Demi, but Bruce and his bald head always bounce back. He’s an American treasure.
I already knew Woody Harrelson’s name before he shaved his head, mostly because of his role as rube bartender Woody Boyd on Cheers. It wasn’t until that long-running sitcom ended and Harrelson’s film career took off that Woody became a bald legend, famously shaving his head as serial killer Mickey Knox in Oliver Stone’s ultraviolent satire Natural Born Killers.
Harrelson is more famous nowadays for his veganism, his pro-marijuana stance, and wig-donning roles in the Hunger Games movies, but he’s still one of the most accomplished actors with a receding hairline, and still working a quarter century after going bald. He was just announced to have a role in the upcoming Star Wars Han Solo prequel.
Other inspirational bald thespians include Ed Harris, Terry O’Quinn, and modern-day badass Jason Statham.
I don’t recall a time when I saw the legendary Phil Collins with a full head of hair, his Widow’s Peak meets Wannabe-Mullet look dominating the 1980s nearly as much as his chart-topping hits. Phil would go for more of a bald guy buzz-cut look in the ’90s, similar to that of doppelganger Bob Hoskins.
Collins was a poster boy for Male Pattern Baldness at a time where long golden locks became synonymous with sex appeal and charisma in male pop and rock stars. As time marched on, bad boys like David Lee Roth and Axl Rose infamously struggled with their own hair loss while milquetoast Collins persevered. Although opinions over Collins’ career have been divisive, we can all agree on one thing – he was bald.
My first serious girlfriend’s stepfather called me ‘Agassi’ often – my look reminding him of the dude who shaved his lion-like Chia Pet mullet in favor of a more traditional ‘bald guy’ ‘do. The cool thing about Agassi (besides being married to Steffi Graf) is that his career – and his play – took a turn for the better in the years after he shaved off his douchey “Image Is Everything” mane. He came back from injuries, a failed marriage to Brooke Shields, and a crystal meth dependency to become the top-ranked tennis player in the world and an international superstar, and he did it all with dignity and without hair.
It was as if accepting his follicle challenged fate inspired Agassi to focus on playing great tennis – which he did, often, and often in dramatic fashion. A decade removed from his retirement, Agassi remains one of the most recognizable figures in a sport that features very few bald guys (can you name another one?….me neither).
With all due respect to Natalie Portman, Cate Blanchett and the aforementioned Demi Moore, who all memorably shaved their heads for a film role, nobody did it better than Sigourney Weaver, reprising her role as tough-as-nails Ellen Ripley in David Fincher’s disappointing Alien 3. Practically everyone in the film sports a buzz cut, making most of the minor characters indistinguishable, but Weaver’s Ripley is once again the standout, and the smartest and strongest of the bunch, as she battles major league misogyny and a new batch of those pesky acid-spewing creatures, who – spoiler alert – finally take her down at the film’s conclusion.
But don’t worry – she’s back, with a full pompadour this time – in the even-worse Alien: Resurrection.