For four decades, Joseph Torrenueva has cut the hair of Hollywood celebrities, from Marlon Brando to Bob Barker, so when a friend told him...

Share story

For four decades, Joseph Torrenueva has cut the hair of Hollywood celebrities, from Marlon Brando to Bob Barker, so when a friend told him in 2003 that a presidential candidate needed grooming advice, he agreed to help.

The Beverly Hills hairstylist, a Democrat, said he hit it off with then-Sen. John Edwards of North Carolina at a meeting in Los Angeles that brought several fashion experts together to advise the candidate on his appearance. Since then, Torrenueva has cut Edwards’ hair at least 16 times.

At first, the haircuts were free. But because Torrenueva often had to fly somewhere on the campaign trail to meet his client, he began charging $300 to $500 for each cut, plus the cost of airfare and hotels when he had to travel outside California.

“He has nice hair,” the stylist said of Edwards. “I try to make the man handsome, strong, more mature and these are the things, as an expert, that’s what we do.”

It is some kind of commentary on the state of American politics that as Edwards has campaigned for president, vice president and now president again, his hair seems to have attracted as much attention as, say, his position on health care. But when his campaign reported in April that it had paid for two of his haircuts at $400 each, the political damage was immediate. With each punch line on late-night TV his image as a self-styled populist making poverty his signature issue was further eroded.

Edwards said that he was embarrassed by the cost and that he “didn’t know it would be that expensive,” suggesting the haircuts were some kind of aberration given by “that guy” his staff had arranged.

Torrenueva’s account of his long relationship with Edwards is the first he’s given.

Asked for a comment, the Edwards campaign said this week that Edwards had arranged for the stylist to give him numerous cuts over the past four years. But it said that a personal assistant handled paying for the haircuts and that Edwards didn’t realize how much they cost.

“Breaking news — John Edwards got some expensive haircuts and probably didn’t pay enough attention to the bills,” said spokeswoman Colleen Murray. “He didn’t lie about weapons of mass destruction or spring Scooter Libby; he just got some expensive haircuts.”

In the days after the $400 haircuts first caused a stir, Torrenueva did not give many details about his client to reporters who called or came by his Beverly Hills salon. But Torrenueva says he was hurt by Edwards’ response to all the flap.

“I’m disappointed, and I do feel bad. If I know someone, I’m not going to say I don’t know them,” he said. “When he called me ‘that guy,’ that hit my ears. It hurt.” He paused and then added, “I still like him. … I don’t want to hurt him.”

Torrenueva said he normally charges men $175 when they come to his salon for a haircut.

Edwards is certainly not the first politician to face ridicule when his or her grooming habits caught the public’s eye. It took a long time for President Bill Clinton to live down the haircut he received from the stylist Christophe of Beverly Hills while Air Force One was parked on an airport runway in Los Angeles.

While Democrats seem to get the most attention, Republicans have not been immune. Campaign aides to former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney, the best-coiffed Republican candidate in the presidential race and the wealthiest of all the hopefuls, fretted in an internal document that his well-tended locks may be considered a negative. He has assured Massachusetts reporters that he spends no more than $50 for a trim.

Edwards, however, has been unusually susceptible to mockery. Before the $400 haircut, his campaign had to deal with the YouTube video in which he was captured primping for the camera while the song “I Feel Pretty” from “West Side Story” played.

In Iowa, an early caucus state where Edwards is staking much of his fortune, the Quad-City Times newspaper quoted barbers calling the cost of Edwards’ haircuts “preposterous” and “impossible” and suggesting that they would be chased by guys in “white coats” if they charged Iowans that much.