PROVIDENCE, R.I. (AP) – Toupee or no toupee?
That’s the question as former Providence Mayor Vincent “Buddy” Cianci – famous for the array of toupees he wore before being sent to prison for corruption – is poised to be released from federal custody this weekend.
Speculation about his choice of headwear is running rampant, and when Cianci makes his public debut sometime after 12:01 a.m. Saturday, the money shot will be either Cianci’s bald pate or lush locks.
So far, Cianci has only appeared in public in a baseball cap after he was released in May from more than four years of federal prison to a halfway house in Boston – before being put on home confinement. He was convicted in 2002 of racketeering conspiracy for presiding over what prosecutors described as rampant corruption at City Hall.
The hat has led some to speculate he’s loathe to appear in public with a chrome dome and will go back to the hair piece as soon as he’s free.
“Of course he will. Why do you think he’s been wearing a baseball hat in all the pictures you’ve seen?” asked Andrew Blaikie, 43, of Providence. “He’s vain.”
Robert Lapchinski, 47, of Providence, said it might be an adjustment for people to see Buddy hairless – and for Buddy himself.
“Maybe he’ll feel less macho,” Lapchinski said. “It would take some adjustment, like everything else in life.”
But prison may have changed 66 year old Cianci, said Kevin Mimande, 38, of Johnston.
“I think he’s gonna go without it now,” he said. “I think he knows his age.”
Cianci was mayor for more than two decades. His first tenure ended in his resignation after he was convicted of brutally assaulting a man he believed was having an affair with his estranged wife. But he ran again a few years later and went on to serve several more terms.
The mayor’s hairline was receding when he was first sworn into office in 1975. Eventually, he chose to cover his balding dome with a hair piece, and it became his trademark. For a while, he went with a thick salt and pepper number that swept across his forehead. During his trial in 2002, he favored a mostly gray hairpiece that was a nod to his age at the time, 61.
He was stripped of his rug when he was sent off to prison. Since then, just his fellow inmates and an assortment of family, friends and lawyers have seen him without it. In 2005, he made an appearance in federal court here via videoconference, and reporters got their only look so far at Cianci’s naked head. But there were no lasting images, as cameras aren’t allowed in federal courtrooms.
Cianci was wildly popular even as his administration was dogged with allegations about corruption. He was credited by many with reviving Providence as a cultural center, and often made half a dozen personal appearances in a single evening. That personal touch paired with a magnetic charisma made him one of the most popular politicians in the state.
With all that success, why did he feel the need to wear a toupee?
For men above 40, it used to be a stigma to be bald, said Gregg Perry, a public relations consultant with Prism Public Affairs who has worked with politicians. Think the villainous Lex Luthor from Superman.
For those men, a toupee means likeability and confidence, said Perry, who also worked with Cianci when he was a newsman and the former mayor was a talk show host at WHJJ-AM. He said Cianci’s toupee at the time was a good one.
“You really wouldn’t know unless you looked hard,” he said.
And you can bet around Providence this weekend, people will be looking.
Cianci reputedly got his toupees from Squires Salon, the state’s premier source for hair pieces. The owner, David Shwaery, remains mum when asked whether he supplied Cianci’s hair pieces.
Regardless, he does a booming business. Hair piece “units” begin at $750, and have to be replaced at least once a year and “serviced” weekly or monthly, depending on the type.
Shwaery said he’s had clients before who decide to go natural after wearing a hair piece for a while. He said that usually happens as part of a lifestyle change.
“They may change jobs. They may move to a different state,” he said.
Or maybe get out of prison?
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