The Man Behind the Hair

In his most candid interview to date, James Rado the cocreator and original star of Hair discusses the making of the musical and his intimate relationship with collaborator Gerome Ragni—a relationship that inspired the characters of Claude and Berger and consequently changed America forever.



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Rado and Ragni lied about their ages back when Hair was about to open at the Public in 1967. Rado and Ragni were actually in their 30s in an era when 30 was considered the expiration date of the younger generation. “Don’t trust anyone over 30" was an often-repeated phrase. They split the difference, and said they were in their twenties, subtracting eight years off their ages. Born in 1932, Rado is now 76 but still looks 10 to 15 years younger, so it’s easy to see how he got away with it.

They did six months on Broadway, then six in Los Angeles. One day they spontaneously sauntered down the aisle of the theater nude during intermission. “The lights came up after the nude scene [which was darkened] and we walked down the aisle naked,” remembers Rado. The producers got wind of their prank, and the next day they were met with a phalanx of armed guards when they showed up for work: they were banned from the theater. They flew back to New York only to find armed guards barring their way into Hair’s Broadway production as well. They were banned from the show they had created. In desperation, “we ripped a sheet off the bed in the hotel where we were staying, a big white sheet, and we wrote on it 'We want our baby back,' ” Rado chuckles. Eventually, there was a negotiation, and they were let back into the show.

Rado and Ragni were collaborators, coconspirators, and best friends, but this is the first time Rado, who ironically considers himself a very private person, has been willing to open up and reveal they were also lovers. "It was a deep, lifelong friendship and a love of my life," he says. Of course, their relationship was no secret to cast members and friends, but in interviews they didn’t talk about it.

The pair continued to collaborate on other projects after Hair: two musicals entitled Sun and American Soldier. Unfortunately, their collaboration ended when Jerry passed away from cancer in 1991. Rado has finished the projects himself and is currently seeking a producer.

Rado has had other loves, but in hippie fashion, does not identify with any one sexuality. “In answer to your probing inquiry,” he says, “I pretty much consider myself to be omnisexual.”

So the bisexuality in Hair was not a 1960s cover for being gay. It was the true expression of Ragni and Rado who, although able to respond to more than one gender (Ragni was married and had a son Eric before meeting Rado), were engaged in a love relationship with each other based on profound friendship and deepened by professional collaboration.

Tags: Theater