Burt Shavitz, the man whose face is on your minty Burt’s Bees lip balm and body wash, died on Sunday in Bangor, Maine. He was 80.
NPR’s Elizabeth Blair reports that Shavitz’s death was as a result of respiratory complications.
“We remember him as a wild-bearded and free-spirited Maine man, a beekeeper, a wisecracker, a lover of golden retrievers, a reverent observer of nature, and the kind of face that smiles back at us from our Hand Salve,” the company says in a statement.
Burt’s Bees says that before Shavitz became a beekeeper in Maine, he was a photojournalist freelancing in New York City, documenting key figures in the civil rights movement, beat poets and artists in the 1960s.
When TV became popular, Shavitz realized that there wasn’t a big market for his photos anymore, The Daily Beast wrote in 2013.
It adds that:
“In 1970, Burt threw his mattress in his Volkswagen van and, along with a few buddies, drove upstate to the High Falls, New York, area. After a series of heavy rainstorms, Burt decided to drive around and survey the damage. He stumbled upon a swarm of bees on a fencepost.
” ‘The year before, a guy that I’d been buying honey from, who was a beekeeper, had given me everything I needed to be a beekeeper except the bees — a hive, a mask, gloves, a smoker, a hive tool, everything,’ Burt recalls. ‘So, there was this fencepost, and I said, “My lord, this is an act of God! I can’t turn this down.” ‘ ”
Burt’s Bees began in 1984 when Shavitz met an artist named Roxanne Quimby. According to the company’s web site, Quimby “was thumbing a ride home (back when you could still do that sort of thing). Eventually a bright yellow Datsun pickup truck pulled over, and Roxanne instantly recognized Burt Shavitz, a local fella whose beard was almost as well-known as his roadside honey stand. Burt and Roxanne hit it off, and before long, Roxanne was making candles with unused wax from Burt’s beehives. They made $200 at their first craft fair; within a year, they’d make $20,000.”
The company grew and moved its headquarters to Durham, N.C., in 1993. But Shavitz’s partnership with Quimby unraveled in the late 90s. The Daily Beast, citing Shavitz and a documentary titled Burt’s Buzz, says the two reached a settlement after Quimby found out Burt had an affair with a college-age girl who worked at one of the Burt’s Bees stores.
Quimby eventually bought out Shavitz. Burt’s Bees is now owned by the Clorox Company.
Here’s the trailer for Burt’s Buzz. It’s a small window onto the life of the unorthodox man who, as Elizabeth reports, “co-founded a skincare company that began with beeswax.”