The Mullets in History Museum opened in Gap-in-Knob, Ky., on Saturday to much fanfare and few sideburns with its "Business in the Front, Party in the Back" gala celebration to honor the life and career of one of the most influential mullet-wearers of all time: Patrick Swayze. The 57-year-old actor died from cancer Sept. 14.
The museum already planned to open this weekend, but Swayze's death was "too important to our cause to ignore," curator Madison Jackson said.
"Patrick Swayze is certainly one of the greatest actors since Shakespeare was alive, but even more significant than that are his contributions to the mullet movement of the 1980s," he said. "This museum would not be standing without Patrick Swayze."
Known for his roles in "Dirty Dancing" and "Ghost," Swayze spent the better part of the 1980s with a mullet. Jackson said he wants to give credit where credit is due, but also hopes people who are quick to judge the hairstyle realize its place in history.
"Long before cryogenics were imaginable -- even if they still aren't -- some folks in these parts believed you would live on after death by offering the back of your hair to be used by the less follicle-fortunate," he said. "Well, the story goes that one day a barber performing a transplant instead cut the hair from the front of a man's head and left the back intact. At first the deceased's family was outraged, but then they realized that while still alive it could be a very stylish look. Thus, the mullet was born."
That claim has been disputed by hobbyists and amateur researchers the world over. They say the mullet dates back to ancient Egyptian times and existed in various forms through history until the 1980s gave birth to the "modern mullet" -- crew cut in front, no sideburns and a flowing mane off the back and shoulders -- which is more recognizable to Western civilization because of its brief popularity in mainstream culture.
"Even Marcel Proust wrote of the mullet in 'Swann's Way,' " said Howard Garfield, who owns a Web site devoted the "the worst hairstyle in history." He said the museum is simply ignoring the facts -- Garfield offered his services, only to be respectfully denied, when the museum was being conceived -- and giving too much credit to rednecks, "the last few humans who do not realize how embarrassing [the mullet is]."
"We're not exactly talking about the intellectually elite here," Garfield said. "In fact, the town [Gap-in-Knob] gets no cell phone service and few have Internet access, if they even know what the Internet is. I mean, I love Patrick Swayze, too, but people should know the truth."
The mullet appears to have first come on the mainstream scene in Britain in the 1960s when Tom Jones and glam rocker David Bowie perfected the look -- through certain ridicule. (Its unisex appeal is said to have fueled rumors of Bowie being a transgender.)
But it wasn't until the 1980s that mullets became popular in America, taking on a life of their own when bands like U2, Wham!, Cutting Crew and Tears For Fears performed for millions of adoring fans all the while shamelessly promoting the hairstyle. Florence Henderson of the "Brady Bunch" is perhaps the most famous woman to throw caution to the wind and sport a mullet during much of the show's run. And, Hollywood glitterati like Mel Gibson, Kiefer Sutherland and, of course, Mr. Swayze indeed had an enormous effect on salon/barber choices during that time.
Athletes -- mostly baseball and football players, but notably tennis player Andre Agassi -- soon caught on, and many still wear mullets on and off the playing field.
Perhaps conceding a bit to the naysayers, but nevertheless enjoying a can marked BEER with thousands of like-minded revelers, Garfield had one final statement:
"Look, we all like the fact that its a low-maintenance style -- you wake up and you're ready to go -- and honestly it covers our very red necks, so why not celebrate it as the icon of our culture? I say, 'Yes!' Plus, it also celebrates Patrick Swayze, who was named the sexiest man of 1991 and he had a mullet!"
The Mullets in History Museum is open year-round, including weekends, holidays and during the Kentucky Derby, but it will be closed for the Indy 500.