If someone asks you to picture a movie star, chances are that you will think of someone like George Clooney. He has been a silver-screen icon for over two decades, with his devastatingly handsome looks and debonair ladies’ man aura winning him legions of fans. Recently, though, those same fans have struggled to get their heads around a startling revelation about the leading man’s appearance.
It’s difficult to imagine now, but there was once a time when it looked like Clooney wasn’t going to be a star. In the late ‘80s and early ‘90s, he had roles on The Facts of Life and Roseanne, but his big career break seemed elusive. He said to The New Yorker magazine in 2007, “I wished I was doing better projects, and I didn’t think I was going to get that chance.”
In 1994, though, Clooney scored the role of Dr. Doug Ross in ER, the ensemble medical drama that went on to become a TV institution. The character, an empathetic pediatrician who was a hit with the ladies, gave Clooney the chance to display his star quality. He stayed on the show for five years, and at the same time began to forge a career in movies.
The role of handsome thief Jack Foley in Steven Soderbergh’s 1998 crime flick Out Of Sight kicked off a run of defining performances that began to cement Clooney as a movie star. Next came 1999s Gulf War satire Three Kings, the Coen Brothers’ excellent O Brother, Where Art Thou? and seafaring disaster movie The Perfect Storm.
Clooney’s status as a bona fide leading man was confirmed forever with 2001 heist film Ocean’s Eleven. The movie, a remake of a ’60s film starring Frank Sinatra, was a huge hit and led to two sequels. It teamed Clooney with other stars such as Brad Pitt, Julia Roberts and Matt Damon and truly crystallized the image the public has of him to this day: suave, wry and very well dressed.
Over the next two decades, Clooney would continue to work with acclaimed directors on high-status projects. He won the Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor for his performance in 2005 thriller Syriana, and the Best Actor Golden Globe for 2011 drama The Descendants. He also received an Oscar nomination for that film, as well as Best Actor nods for 2007’s Michael Clayton and 2009’s Up In The Air.
The undoubtedly dashing Clooney would twice be dubbed People magazine’s “Sexiest Man Alive” during this period and was once called “The Last Movie Star” by Time magazine. He often seemed like the last bastion of a classic old-school Hollywood image associated with the likes of Cary Grant. It can’t be denied that the man wears a sharply tailored suit with elegant simplicity.
The silver fox mostly wears classics and basics, without overextending the range of colors that he picks from. He uses hues that he is sure will fit his look. That means that you’ll often see him in muted colors, sticking with black, charcoal and gray. Clooney often opts for a neatly pressed white shirt to go with his suit.
Although Clooney favors the semi-formal look, he doesn’t overdo it. He won’t often wear a tie but will keep his collar open. This gives a much more laidback impression than he’d otherwise achieve. And his look doesn’t change too much regardless whether he’s picking up an award or eating dinner.
When it comes to his hair, Clooney has always adopted a similarly simple approach. He most often has some sort of side-parting or a slicked-over cut and has been a silver fox for most of his career as a matinee idol. The gray hair has tended to work gangbusters for him, even when he has it closely cropped.
His successful career has led to Clooney being a rich man, with an estimated net worth of $500 million. But his attitude toward wealth has always been interesting. For example, a tale of his generosity was related by friend Rande Gerber to MSNBC in 2017. Clooney never affirmed its truth or said it wasn’t so, until 2020, when he was profiled by GQ magazine.
The year was 2013, before Clooney married Amal Alamuddin and started a family with her. The couple now have non-identical twins, born in 2017. He told the magazine, “Amal and I had just met, but we weren’t dating at all. I was a single guy. All of us were aging. I was 52 or something. And most of my friends are older than me.”
After the success of his movie Gravity, Clooney had some extra cash in his pocket. His contract had specified that he would receive a percentage of the film’s box-office takings, as opposed to a larger upfront payment. In the end, that worked out super well for him, as the movie made an enormous $723 million worldwide.
At that time, Clooney realized, he didn’t have any family to share his riches with. But he did have his friends, who had all helped him in one way or another in the previous 35 years of his career. He said, “I’ve slept on their couches when I was broke. They loaned me money when I was broke. They helped me when I need help over the years.”
“And I thought, you know, without them I don’t have any of this,” explained Clooney. “And we’re all really close, and I just thought basically, if I get hit by a bus, they’re all in the will. So why… am I waiting to get hit by a bus?” He decided he wanted to give 14 of his closest friends one million dollars. In cash. All at once.
So Clooney looked around and discovered a place in Los Angeles that stored huge amounts of cash in pallets. He then got his hands on an old florist’s van, drove it to the location and loaded 14 million dollars-worth of cash into 14 Tumi bags. Brilliantly, he told GQ that 14 million bucks wasn’t as heavy as you might think it would be.
The next day he invited all his buddies to his house. He told GQ that when they all arrived, “I just held up a map, and I just pointed to all the places I got to go in the world, and all the things I’ve gotten to see because of them. And I said, ‘How do you repay people like that?’ And I said, ‘Oh well: how about a million bucks?’”
On top of his startling generosity, Clooney has a down-to-earth outlook on home life too. For instance, he spent much of 2020 in his house, like the rest of us, without any home help. He told GQ, “I cut my own hair, and I cut my kids’ hair, and I’m mopping it and vacuuming and doing the laundry and doing the dishes every day.”
On November 29, 2020, Clooney doubled down on this off-hand revelation during an interview with CBS Sunday Morning. When asked to confirm if he cut his own hair, in reference to what he had said in the GQ profile, he answered, “I’ve been cutting my own hair for 25 years.” The megastar then explained his method, which involves a retro gizmo most people these days haven’t even heard of.
“My hair’s really like straw, so it’s easy to cut,” reasoned Clooney. “You can’t really make too many mistakes. So, years ago, I bought a thing called a Flowbee. It comes with a vacuum cleaner and the clippers.” He laughed as he admitted, “Yeah, I still have it. My haircuts take literally two minutes. Listen, man, it works.”
Given the star’s penchant for pranks and ironic sense of humor, most viewers assumed Clooney was joking. But a few days later, he appeared on Jimmy Kimmel Live! and, when prompted by the incredulous host, actually gave the world a hilarious demonstration of the Flowbee in action. It was a sight to behold.
Kimmel began by broaching the subject gently, but with a mischievous glint in his eye. He said, “I assume you’re aware of this, but you’ve been in the news for an unusual reason, because you told a reporter that you Flowbee your hair.” A smiling Clooney replied, “I do. And I’ve been doing it for years.”
“I’ve had it for 22 years or so,” continued the star, who was ostensibly on the show to promote his new Netflix movie The Midnight Sky. “My assistant got it originally off television, then it broke down and you couldn’t get them for a while.” A laughing Kimmel responded with, “People who have assistants shouldn’t be Flowbeeing their hair.”
Clooney chuckled, “Well, I got her to Flowbee my hair for me. I don’t do it myself. God, that’s… cheap.” Amusingly, Kimmel then admitted that he had ordered a Flowbee recently because of changes in availability of professionals. He was worried that he wouldn’t be able to get a salon haircut for the rest of 2020.
Clooney and Kimmel then attempted a live demonstration of the gadget, to prove to the world that it was perfectly acceptable to cut your own hair with an ’80s vacuum device. First of all, Clooney clarified that the extension on the demonstration version was “too long,” so he and Kimmel couldn’t go far wrong. Basically, there’d be no accidental shaven heads.
The debonair superstar said, “You turn the buzzer on, and you go to town, like this…” while he moved the device over his hair. Kimmel asked, “Do you do it that fast?” to which Clooney raised his voice to reply, “What? I can’t hear you, I’m Flowbee-ing.” It was all in good fun, but certainly seemed to confirm that Clooney wasn’t joking about his reliance on the out-of-fashion gadget.
In the wake of Clooney’s DIY disclosure, demand for the unusual gizmo went through the roof. Flowbee vice president Troy Hunts revealed to entertainment website TMZ, “The actor’s public shout-out in support of the product last week resulted in sales going up tenfold, and its website was so overloaded a lot of customers weren’t able to complete their orders.” People wanted to cut their hair like Clooney!
Hunts added, “Flowbee had already seen a boost in 2020 compared to recent years due to the coronavirus, with barbershops and hair salons closed.” But that increase was small compared to what he dubbed, “the Clooney effect.” All in all, the company didn’t know one of the most famous actors in the world was a dedicated user of their device but were ecstatic he’d made it public.
But what exactly, you may ask, is a Flowbee? Well, it is a hair-cutting contraption that was invented in 1986 by a San Diego carpenter named Rick Hunts. He was reportedly hit by a blast of inspiration when he saw how sawdust could be sucked from his hair by an industrial vacuum. Thus, his creation cut hair while simultaneously vacuuming up the clippings.
Pretty ingenious, right? Hunts certainly thought so. He first began selling his Flowbee devices out of his own garage in 1988 but he wouldn’t really sell many until he gave live demonstrations at a local county fair. The crowd must have been wowed, because on that fateful day, Hunts sold out of his entire stock of almost 100 devices.
Hunts then began advertising the Flowbee on late-night TV, bragging that his gadget could provide a user with, “hundreds of precision layered haircuts.” The infomercial, which ran constantly, led to the device gaining popularity and, by the year 2000, a huge two million Flowbees had been sold. It was even spotlighted in Wayne’s World, Home Improvement and Party of Five.
These days, a Flowbee system with the patented super mini vacuum attachment will set you back $139.95. It has had remarkable staying power as, even though the product dwindled in popularity before Clooney’s ringing endorsement, it never completely went away like many other products of the late ’80s infomercial boom. Why did we stick with the Flowbee?
In 2000, variety website Salon contributor Damien Cave wrote an article entitled “A Hair-Raising Scheme,” in which he investigated the curious staying power of the Flowbee. He interviewed two barbers who worked at Louie’s, a famous barbershop in San Francisco, about the device. One of them, Bill Ventura, owned one and used it to cut his own hair, if not that of his clients.
The other, Gilbert Bustamente, was also thinking of buying a Flowbee. He told Cave, “It has a kitsch appeal. The whole idea of it sounds great to me. Anything that people think will save money is great, plus it keeps the mess down.” Amusingly, when Cave then insinuated to Ventura that the Flowbee was something to be made fun of, the barber became annoyed with him.
Cave next spoke to Robert Thompson, professor of communications at Syracuse University and the president of the Popular Culture Society of America. His opinion was that the Flowbee stuck in people’s heads precisely because it was such an absurd product. It’s not only a way to save money on haircuts, but also a genuine conversation starter.
In fact, Thompson believed nostalgia for a simpler time also played a part in the enduring semi-popularity of the Flowbee. He said, “In a nation that’s shattered the idea of history, where people move constantly from place to place, from job to job, a change is occurring. Consumer mandates are supplying the history that we’ve lost. Products are linking us to our past.”
Now, in case that all sounds a bit high-brow and boringly academic, Cave also did what every good journalist should do when researching a product: he tried it out. He wrote, “I had to overcome my fear of a head hickey, but once I did, I managed a cool Caesar cut.” He added, “All in all, my novice effort took only 20 minutes.”
To the uninitiated, the homemade haircut might have looked decent. But Cave wanted to put his hair in front of experienced professionals to see what they thought. Only one of the barbers and stylists he talked to reacted negatively: Tonia Lear of Elizabeth Arden’s Red Door Salon. She said, “I think it’s crazy. It can’t look nice. It’s a machine.” Everyone else said, “It looks good,” with wide-eyed shock.
Finally, Cave qualified his experience by noting some of the things the Flowbee didn’t do so well. He wrote, “Still, it makes its own noise. Plenty of it. Between the vacuum and the Flowbee’s buzzing head, my living room sounded like an airplane hangar.” Maybe Clooney wasn’t kidding after all when he said he couldn’t hear Kimmel.
Cave continued, “There were other glitches, too. For example, the Flowbee missed tufts around my ears.” But he did admit, “my floor stayed hair-free, and I had none of those annoying bits of hair that stick to your clothes and make your neck itchy.” All in all, it sounded like the device performed pretty well. Perhaps Clooney has had the right idea all along.