The man whose rugged face and untamed beard appeared on the cosmetic products Burt's Bees, Burt Shavitz, died Sunday in Maine. He was 80 years old and reportedly died of respiratory complications. The AP described Shavitz as a hippie and a reclusive beekeeper whose beeswax was turned into one of the most successful natural cosmetic companies in the world when he met a hitchhiker named Roxanne Quimby in the 1980s. But the man on the famous lip balm is more than a burly beard — not that we don't love that beard.
Shavitz grew up around New York, according to the AP, and served in the Army in Germany. Later, when he returned to the city, he shot photos for Time-Life. He eventually left the city and moved to Maine, where he became a well-known character despite his attempts to remain more reclusive. In the last few years, the AP said Shavitz lived in a cluttered house that didn't have running water, and on the property sat a converted turkey coop that he actually used to live in. He enjoyed watching wildlife on his 37-acre property to pass the time. Burt's Bees released a statement remembering Shavitz on the company's homepage, according to Jezebel:
Burt Shavitz, our co-founder and namesake, has left for greener fields and wilder woods. We remember him as a bearded, free-spirited Maine man, a beekeeper, a wisecracker, a lover of golden retrievers and his land. Above all, he taught us to never lose sight of our relationship with nature.
Quimby, Shavitz's business partner, described him as "an enigma; my mentor and my muse," according to the AP. She and Shavitz started Burt's Bees in the '80s, when she started using his beeswax to make simple products. The company made $20,000 in its first year and expanded to making lip balm and other cosmetic products. In 1999, Quimby bought Shavitz's share of the company for about $130,000, according to Jezebel. Then, in 2007, Clorox bought the company for $925 million.
In Burt's Buzz, a documentary about Shavitz's life after the cosmetic company went big, Shavitz said he wasn't upset about Quimby's fortune. (Quimby reportedly gave him $4 million and his 37 acres in Maine later on.) When Shavitz visited New York for the premiere of the documentary, Tad Friend of The New Yorker profiled him. They stood outside of Shavitz's old apartment building, where he said his rent had apparently only been $30, and Shavitz "held a photograph he'd snapped of an elderly neighbor staring dourly out her window, framed by dingy curtains," according to The New Yorker. As he looked at it, he explained why he left New York to live in the woods in Maine:
As soon as I took this shot, I knew that that would be me, 90 years old and unable to go outside, if I didn’t get the hell out. I borrowed a van from a former girlfriend, packed up everything I needed — my bed, what clothes I had, an orange crate of books — and disappeared into the declining sun.
For awhile after the company was bought by Clorox, Shavitz said he still made appearances because the new owners were "nice people." When Friend asked Shavitz if he used any of the Burt's products, he said, "No." Then he reconsidered for just a moment, being the face of the company and all, and then said, "Well, as needed."
Shavitz told The New Yorker that he was content with the way his life turned out:
I’ve got everything I need: a nice piece of land with hawks and owls and incredible sunsets, and the good will of my neighbors.
That contentedness to live in nature and learn from it is the legacy that Burt's Bees hopes to carry on, according to the company's statement:
Burt was a complex man who sought a simple life in pace with the seasons of nature on his land. If there is one thing we will remember from Burt's life, in our fast-paced, high-tech culture, it's to never lose sight of our relationship with nature.
Images: Getty Images (3)