When customers showed up Thursday for their hair appointments at Ninth Avenue Salon, they suspected that the newspaper obituary for owner Michael Adamson was just another of his far-fetched pranks.
Unfortunately, it wasn't. Adamson, who had operated the 30-year-old salon -- a favorite of the shampoo-and-set generation -- died Tuesday at age 55.
Friends and family say Adamson was a relentless prankster. From turning back the clocks to make clients think they were late to hiding plastic spiders in the shampoo suds, he loved a good joke. His favorite toy was the "farting" machine he would hide in various spots around the salon and fire off with a remote control, embarrassing unsuspecting customers.
But this week, friends remembered his compassionate side. Through the years, the businessman donated haircuts to those who were unable to pay. He was always willing to take his comb and scissors to hospitals and care facilities to do a cut and style for a customer who was sick or dying.
"Hair makes a huge difference for people in the hospital or who are home-bound in some way," explained Peggy Battin, a longtime customer of Adamson's. Battin's husband, Brooke Hopkins, was paralyzed from the neck down in an accident in November. Adamson made several trips to University Hospital and to a nursing facility to cut Hopkins' hair.
"Brooke's head is the only part of his body that works at the moment," Battin said, "and having his hair cut and look nice -- even in these difficult circumstances -- makes a huge difference. Michael understood that."
Battin considered Adamson to be courageous as well. In the late 1980s, Adamson was among the first Utahns to publicly announce he had contracted the HIV virus. While he lost a significant number of clients at the time, Adamson felt it important to talk about the disease.
Adamson's illness was controlled by medication and never developed into full-blown case of AIDS. His family believes there is no connection between HIV and his recent death; however, an autopsy is pending.
Since the late 1980s, Adamson had been donating his services to the Salt Lake Acting Company, cutting and dyeing actors' hair, as well as creating wigs for characters. A massive "beehive" wig used in the early years of "Saturday's Voyeur" was Adamson's creation, as was the 1950s Barbie wig used this year, said Keven Myhre, SLAC's producing director. Actors would seek him out before auditions asking him to style their hair to make them feel more in character.
Myhre said he was a regular customer, drawn to the unpretentious, welcoming atmosphere that Adamson created at the salon
"You could go in and there could be a 4-year-old in the chair or a 90-year-old," Myhre said. "What he provided and who he attracted was cross-generational."
Some compared the neighborhood feel of the Ninth Avenue Salon to the beauty shop in the movie "Steel Magnolias." "But really it was better than that," said actor Brenda Sue Cowley, whose first job out of cosmetology school was at Adamson's shop.
Her days at the salon inspired Cowley to write an original musical "Shear Luck!" which premiered at Salt Lake City's Grand Theatre in March 2006. "I wrote the musical because I loved Michael and I loved the shop and he believed in me as a writer," Cowley said. "Outside the beauty shop Michael was shy, but inside he was the master of ceremony. It was his whole life."
Adamson, who was born in 1953 in Wichita Falls, Texas, is survived by his mother, three sisters, a brother and numerous nieces and nephews. His funeral is scheduled for Saturday at noon at Cache County's Richmond Cemetery. A viewing will be tonight at Evans and Early Mortuary, 574 E. 100 South, Salt Lake City.