Sources: LA Times – By Elaine Woo| Daily Mail | All Things Michael
Comer Cottrell, an entrepreneur and philanthropist who turned a small Los Angeles operation into a multimillion-dollar success story by catering to the hair care needs of African Americans, died Friday at his home in Plano, Texas. He was 82.
His death from natural causes was confirmed by his son-in-law, Eric Brown.
With $600 and a broken typewriter, Cottrell opened Pro-Line Corp. in downtown Los Angeles in 1970. It was not the first black hair care company but it became one of the largest with the Curly Kit, an at-home hair relaxer that made the loose, gleaming Jheri curl — a style popularized by celebrities such as Lionel Ritchie and Michael Jackson — available at a fraction of the salon price.
In 1980, the company began marketing Curly Kit, the first do-it-yourself product for producing the loose waves favored by many top black celebrities. At about $8 a box, it was a huge savings over the $200 to $300 charged by salons. Pro-Line also sold a similar product for children called Kiddie Kit.
“That’s when his company went from $1 million to $10 million in sales,” said Lori L. Tharps, co-author of “Hair Story: Untangling the Roots of Black Hair in America,” published in 2001. Through his company, Tharps said, Cottrell “democratized the Jheri curl.”
‘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,’ and its popularity helped drive company sales up from $1 million to $10 million, Tharps told the Los Angeles Times.
Actor Eriq La Salle
Actor Stoney Jackson. Appeared in many roles including Michael’s “Beat It” short film
With his brother, James, Cottrell turned Pro-Line into one of the most successful black-owned companies in the United States, worth $80 million when they sold it three decades later.
Cottrell headed the Los Angeles Black Businessman’s Assn., which represented about 40 black-owned businesses, and during the late 1970s helped them expand through federal contracts and other opportunities.
After moving to Dallas in 1980, he became the first African American admitted to the powerful Dallas Citizens Council and forged political connections that helped pave the way for the election of the city’s first black mayor, Ron Kirk, in 1995.
In 1989, he became the first African American to own a stake in a major league baseball team when he joined fellow Republican George W. Bush and other investors in purchasing the Texas Rangers.
He used his position to press for more minority involvement in professional sports management. He also plowed some of his wealth into expanding educational opportunities in black communities, including spending $3 million to preserve the Dallas campus of a bankrupt historically black college as the new home of Paul Quinn College, an institution affiliated with the African Methodist Episcopal Church.
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