RIP Rocco Scali, “The Barber of Brooklyn Heights”

Reader Martin Schneider sends us this sad news, as originally reported by him in the Brooklyn Heights Press:

Rocco Scali, the legendary hair cutter who served Brooklyn Heights since 1958 and whose regular customers famously included Truman Capote, Arthur Miller and Norman Mailer along with many hundreds of long-time Heights residents, died Sunday, November 26 at Mount Sinai Hospital in Manhattan. He was 78 years old. The cause was a sudden attack of liver cancer.

He is survived by his wife Mary, two daughters, Ann Marie and Lisa, a sister Maria, a brother Frank, who lives in California, and six grandchildren Annalisa, Michael, Robert, Alessandra, Christopher, and Marissa. Mr. Scali commuted to work in the arcade at the St. George from his home on Staten Island.

Always known as Rocky to his loyal patrons, his warm-hearted nature and his amiable, chatty, and intelligent conversational style and quiet mastery of skillful haircutting made him the go-to guy for barbering in downtown Brooklyn. His well-thumbed annual calendar book where he listed his appointments was always nearly full and telephoning him hours or even days in advance for a date was the accepted routine.

Never at loss for a conversational gambit, his topics roamed easily from vegetable gardening to cooking, to his family’s many achievements, to the lives of his adored six grandchildren. It also included his recent trip with his brother to check out the standing of the family property on the once obscure island of Pantelleria in the Strait of Sicily. According to Rocky, it seems that Georgio Armani himself has discovered its virtues and now has a place there.

Nine years ago Natalie Brasington, whose photo of Rocky is above, wrote and illustrated a BHB post about Rocky and his barbering partner Thomas LaMarca, who continues his tonsorial magic at the Cutting Den, in the arcade at the Clark Street subway station.

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  • evo34

    Ouch. I just got my hair cut four weeks ago. He was visibly weak, but insisted on putting a full day in.

    What a fantastic man. So many people will miss him dearly.

  • Mary Kim

    Such sad news! We’ve lost a legend. My husband will miss sitting in his barber chair and hearing his stories. My son will miss the “how ’bout a lollypop for the baby!” that always greeted him whenever we stopped to see Rocky. Deepest condolences to his family. We’ll all miss him so.

  • Weegee

    My typical memory of a Saturday afternoon in my single-digit age years might well include sitting on the bench in the Cutting Den barber shop in the St. George Hotel arcade while Rocky cut my father’s hair. It wasn’t until my teens that I, too, became a patron, and was treated to Rocky’s genial conversation and stories about the neighborhood. He’d been there since ’57, after all. When I told him I was looking to incorporate a straight razor in my living history displays, he entrusted me with his for a weekend—”don’t a-use it,” he scolded, “jus-a’ to look.” Of course, he would always ask “how’s you fadduh?” Anyone within earshot would learn “I use-a’ cut his fadduh’s hair, you use-a’ be like this,” holding his horizontal hand out at thigh level. He made you feel like his best customer. He put to rest the cinephile debate over where the Luca Brasi execution scene was filmed—of course it was at the St. George, because Rocky cut his hair for the scene. After moving away from the Heights, every time I found myself in the St. George, I would always get a smile and a wave from him through the shop window.

  • George T

    Rocco was one of the really few unchanging positive parts of the BY scene since forever. He came from another age and was a witness to all that followed. He was a there for everything which happened in the St George. When he knew you he would tell you what he really thought. But always his sunny outlook would instantly return to make your visit warm and wonderful. Condolences o his family and his co workers. He’s in a better place and BH is worse for his loss.

  • Francesco Nuccitelli

    Goodbye Rocky, you will be deeply missed…the Angels of the Heavens will look even more beautiful now that you are there taking care of them.

  • Thomas Cowperthwaite

    I was really saddened to hear about Rocco’s demise. He was not only a terrific guy, but a great barber and a treasure trove of information about Brooklyn Heights. His clientele included many of the borough’s movers and shakers—those who didn’t mind hanging out with the hoi polloi for a sliver of time every few weeks. And Rocco was gracious with everyone, bringing fresh mint from his garden to his favorite local restaurants, joking with his coworkers, sharing parking tips and gossip with denizens and tourists alike. Yeah, a real loss.