By the early 1990s, the commercial was airing up to 400 times a day; sales for 1993 totaled $100 million. For a time, there were about 85 salons around the country, including franchises — a testament to the power of television, and the business potential of becoming a meme, even in the pre-internet era.
“If not for TV, I’d still be a small-business man,” he told a club at the University of Pennsylvania in 1991. “I’m not an actor, I’m a real guy who’s not overly articulate with a nasal tone from the Bronx.”
Mr. Sperling’s success presaged a boom in male health businesses. The hair treatment Rogaine became available to men in 1988, doctors started prescribing the erectile dysfunction drug Viagra a decade later, and today there is a wide and varied market for “hair wellness” treatments. Mr. Sperling’s company eventually dropped “For Men” from its name, as it grew to serve more women.
“He was the president and he was the client is a clever tag line, but he was a lot bigger than that,” said Spencer Kobren, the founder of the American Hair Loss Association. Mr. Kobren said that, by stepping forward, Mr. Sperling was able to greatly destigmatize hair loss in the ’80s and ’90s, bringing an extremely common problem into wider conversation.
“Sy was the first to come out and say it was OK, that it was a problem, and here’s a solution,” Mr. Kobren said.
Mr. Sperling married Susan Weisman, on Sept. 28, 1997. It was his third marriage.
In 2000, Mr. Sperling sold his company to a private-equity firm for $45 million, and it was eventually acquired by the Japanese company Aderans, which offers hair-loss treatments. In a statement about Mr. Sperling’s death, the Hair Club called him “a visionary with an immense passion for business, innovation and helping others.”