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Pele’s barber of 60 years laments a double loss

SANTOS, BRAZIL (AFP) -The barber who cut Pele’s hair for more than 60 years is lamenting the loss of both a customer and a close friend.

Joao Araujo, 84, whose nickname is Didi, has his shop not far from the stadium where the football legend once played for the Santos team.

Araujo said, “We have lost a very big symbol. Brazil has lost, and the world has lost and Didi lost a big customer, a great friend”.

The walls are decorated with photos of Pele playing in big games, as well as a few shots that bear witness to a very long friendship.

In one black and white photo, Araujo and Pele are seen as young men; another, in colour, shows them as elderly.

The barber’s shop feels much like a museum, paying homage to the football player. The black-and-white sign outside, bearing the two shields that are the symbol of the Santos team, gives people an idea of what awaits them inside, billing Araujo as “Pele’s barber and yours, too”.

The friendship goes back 66 year when Pele was just 16, the future Number 10 on the football pitch sought out someone in this port city who could tame his thick mass of hair.

Joao Araujo works in his hairdressing salon in Santos, Brazil. PHOTO: AFP

And he found Araujo, a diehard fan of Santos who was from Pele’s home state of Minas Gerais.

“I remember when he got here. He was a little boy. Nobody thought much of him. We just thought he was a good player, not a king. But the guy became a king and died as a king,” the barber said.

“He liked it a lot, and I cut his hair until the day he died,” said Araujo, who reckons he cut Pele’s hair more than 1,000 times, almost as many as the man’s 1,283 goals.

Even after Pele stopped playing, he frequented Araujo’s barber shop, causing passers-by to stop in their tracks and gawk at the football legend.

When Pele’s health started to fail him, Araujo would go to his house in the nearby town of Guaruja.

Araujo cut Pele’s hair for a final time last year before he began suffering serious health problems from colon cancer detected in September 2021.

These days photographers and camera operators film Araujo as he does his work, with just a few days until Brazilians say their last goodbyes.

Araujo said he is saddened by the loss of his friend and customer, whom he charged the same as anyone else BRL40 or about USD7.