Tribute For Alberto Rottura, Stylist to Boldface Names, Dies at 77

This obituary is part of a series about people who have died in the coronavirus pandemic. Read about others here.

For years, one of Alberto Rottura’s well-heeled customers habitually paid the same amount for his weekly haircut: $18, without tip (none was necessary, his wife had advised, since Mr. Rottura owned the salon). Finally, the customer volunteered some advice:

“Alberto,” he said, “why don’t you raise your rates?”

“I did,” Mr. Rottura replied.

He had, in fact, been too gentlemanly to tell his loyal customer, whom he considered a friend. Since then, and until 10 weeks ago when Mr. Rottura fell ill, the customer had paid $50 for his haircuts.

Mr. Rottura died on May 25 in Manhattan. He was 77. The cause was complications of Covid-19, his son Gianluca Rottura said.

Mr. Rottura and his Solingen scissors attracted a faithful clientele who valued his talent and his generosity, and his discretion even more.

He arrived alone from Italy in 1960 as a teenager. He opened his own salon, became an American citizen and traveled with Judy Garland as her personal hairdresser. He returned to the Upper East Side of Manhattan to capture a boldface roster of clients in salons on Sutton Place, Madison Avenue and, most recently, Lexington Avenue, at Liz Hair Stylist.

His clientele included the real estate developer Jerry Speyer and his wife, Kathryn Farley, the chairwoman of Lincoln Center; the authors Mary Higgins Clark and Tom Wolfe; and assorted Ferragamos, Fendis and Borgheses.

During the 2000s, he cut the hair of New York City’s top two elected officials, Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg, a customer since the 1970s, and the Public Advocate Betsy Gotbaum.

“I gave his children their first haircut,” Mr. Rottura said of Mr. Bloomberg in an interview with The New York Times in 2008.

Mr. Rottura steered clear of politics, focusing more on what was on a customer’s head than inside it.

“I’m always very careful with what I ask the mayor,” Mr. Rottura said. “But I don’t have a problem telling him a dirty joke.”

Alberto Rottura was born on Sept. 4, 1942, in Acquaro, a village of 2,000 people in Calabria. His father, Luigi, made wine and olive oil. His mother, Giovanna, was a homemaker. Alberto began working in a barbershop as a teenager, got through school to the 10th grade and sailed from Naples to New York on the S.S. Constitution when he was 17.

He studied hairdressing in London and Paris and returned to New York when he was 23 to open his first salon.

He started the restaurant Sistina on Second Avenue (it has since moved to East 81st Street, managed by his nephew Giuseppe Bruno). It was awarded two stars by Bryan Miller of The Times when it opened in 1984. Mr. Rottura cut hair six days a week and worked at the restaurant seven nights.

He left Sistina and two years later, in 1997, he established a wine boutique, In Vino Veritas, on First Avenue, which is run by his sons, Gianbruno and Gianluca, who survive him along with his wife, Liliana, two grandchildren, a brother and a sister.

Mr. Bloomberg, in a phone interview, hailed him as “the ultimate immigrant.”

“Alberto was honest, scrupulous, hardworking, the kind of person we want to come to this country,” Mr. Bloomberg said. “He worked for everything he ever got and gave it all to the next generation.”

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