Jean Harlow's Signature Blonde Hair May Have Helped Kill Her


While, these days, “platinum blonde” is commonly used to describe hair color, the term actually wasn’t coined until the thirties when Howard Hughes wanted to come up with a moniker to increase the popularity of actress Jean Harlow. Eventually, his publicity director came up with the “Platinum Blonde.” Back then, Harlow’s hair color was almost entirely unheard of — Hughes even offered up a reward of $10,000 to any stylist who could match it and no one ever lived up to the task.

While Harlow always claimed that her white blonde hair was her natural color, the truth was that she went through painful weekly color appointements with celebrity hairstylist Alfred Pagano who once explained the process thusly: “We used peroxide, ammonia, Clorox, and Lux flakes! Can you believe that?”

Ammonia and Clorox, when mixed together, creates hydrochloric acid, a noxious gas that when inhaled can lead to kidney damage. Harlow died of kidney failure at the age of 26, leading Taylor Orci at the Atlantic to posit that the toxic hair dying process might have played a key role in her tragic and brutal death.

Harlow was forced to stop dyeing her hair a couple of years before she died — primarily because it all started to fall out — and began wearing wigs instead. While her hair color — which she attributed to her success, once saying that, without it, “Hollywood wouldn’t know I’m alive” — can’t be entirely to blame for her kidney failure (she was also plagued with a lifetime’s worth of health problems including scarlet fever, polio, multiple bouts of influenza and — perhaps most damning — serious alcoholism) it certainly could have been a contributing factor.

Doctors were forced to shave Harlow’s head on her deathbed, which is only one more factor in a horrifically sad scene. From the Atlantic:

When she was bedridden, Clark Gable went to visit her and noticed when he bent over to greet her, “It was like kissing a dead person, a rotting person.” This was because she was no longer able to urinate and was now exerting waste through her breath. By then water weight had caused her body to literally double in size.

What a price to pay for fame.

The Original ‘Blonde Bombshell’ Used Actual Bleach on Her Head [The Atlantic]

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