From homelessness to billionaire: John Paul DeJoria keeps it real

Updated June 30, 2017 - 5:00 am

The face is familiar from all the advertising and TV commercials but the name isn’t quite so well-known. Yet, behind the image of John Paul DeJoria, there is a remarkable and inspirational story of a former Hells Angels motorcycle gang member who made an incredible journey from homlessness — living in his car — to becoming a billionaire and one of the world’s greatest philanthropists.

John Paul DeJoria, a one-time Las Vegas resident, co-founded the iconic Paul Mitchell salon hair care company and then went on to launch the Patron Spirits company, which has become the largest tequila brand in the world. He still maintains a home here in Las Vegas and is a large donor to our Cleveland Clinic Lou Ruvo Center for Brain Health.

Here’s his lecture about the Power of One in a TEDx talks video on YouTube:

I first filmed J.P. for “Lifestyles of the Rich & Famous” in the mid-’80s and we’ve been good friends ever since. It was an astonishing rags-to-riches story then and it’s grown even more over the years as his fortune has doubled and tripled — by giving much of it away!

Now, his amazing story has become a movie, “Good Fortune,” which opened June 30 in Los Angeles and here next Friday (July 7) at the Brenden Theaters in the Palms: Here’s the Google YouTube trailer:

Q: It’s so hard to believe that you wound up homeless, living and sleeping in the back seat of a broken-down car and a meal was rice from a can. You were homeless, and suddenly your life changed?

A: Very close. There you go. It actually talks about being homeless twice. Once, with my son when I was 22 years old, and, of course, once just before I started Paul Mitchell. The film talks about all the different jobs I had, all the various things that I did until I found my niche. Able to start it with no money. Stuck to it no matter what went wrong. And the thing is called “Good Fortune” because it points out along the way all the good things that were done to change the world with the fortune … to call it “Good Fortune.” And how it motivated thousands of people, and did something for thousands of people to give them a better way of life.

Q: You are far more than just “give a man a pole and not the fish” but that’s the theory of your kindness to humanity, correct?

A: You are correct. And what it is too, Robin, is we made it as a documentary with hopes … to be on TV. Little did we know that at the Zurich Film Festival four months ago, we were showing it as a documentary, and we were approached to do it as a theatrical for release in Germany, Austria and Switzerland. When we came to the United States, we entered the Sedona Film Festival. We not only won the best documentary, we won best at the entire festival, so a part of me said this should be in movie theaters. So, we have a premiere in Los Angeles, at the Directors Guild, by the way, on June 29; and then that following week it’s going into major markets in the United States … Chicago, Miami, New York, Los Angeles, Houston and my old hometown of Las Vegas.

In August it’s going on pay-per-view and Netflix and all that. And, as soon as the studio (is) done running it for their own profit, then I’m going to take the film and send it free to every single school to teach people that today you could still make it. But, more important, all the things to do to give back as you go along. You’ll like it, Robin, you really will.

Q: Obviously, that’s the message, and the mission is if you give back, it goes on growing both for you and for everybody who receives the support of your largess, as it were. If you were to say it in your own words, what is the message?

A: The message is that the American dream is still alive. It’s still in America … You start with nothing and have a lot of something. And then if you give back along the way, your motto is: “Success unshared is failure.” It brings them along with you, makes you feel good about your fortune.

Q: JP, most people in America know you only as the man of the hair care products and Patron tequila. What else might they be surprised to know about you business wise, as a tycoon?

A: One of them would be that I’m a major shareholder of Rok Mobile. It’s now the fastest-growing mobile phone company and app in the United States. And, one of my partners is James Cameron, who did the “Titanic.” And with NASA — North American Space Agency — we are coming out with a telephone in two (to) three months that knocks out the radiation. If you put a phone next to your ear, it’s not good for your brain at all. These phones can knock out the radiation and has the Rok service on it. The Rok service was designed to change the way people do telephones. I’ll give you some very quick examples.

For $49 a month, no contract, you pick whatever carrier you want. You want Sprint, you want AT&T … pick whatever carrier you want. That’s your carrier. For that same $49 a month, you get all your phone calls, plus 500 international minutes, all your texting, all your data, all your music, more than 20 million songs; we have $100,000 worth of accidental life insurance, $20,000 worth of burial insurance, if indeed, by accident, you did die; telemedicine seven days a week, 24 hours a day. There’s a doctor on the phone with you looking at you, you’re looking at him. And, if he prescribes something to you, you get up to a 75 percent discount at the pharmacy. And then on top of that, roadside assistance. All that for $49 a month, no contract. So it kind of changes the way people look at mobile phones now. And it’s called Rok Mobile. that’s the big one. It is huge.

And, we also created this other invention, too, that could change people’s lives. Robin, two out of every three people on the planet — that’s 3.7 billion people — have what we call the “cold sore virus,” which is the herpes complex. People have cold sores on their lips, fever blisters on their nose, their lips, everywhere. We came out with a product called Aubio. It’s a whole separate company.

Aubio has a product that we introduced made out of all plants — 100 percent plants. And, if you have a cold sore, you put it on when you feel the tingle, chances are it won’t even come out. If it comes out, you put it on and within two days, the cold sore is completely gone. There’s nothing like it in the world. It’s non-prescription, it’s over the counter, we already have it in … Rite Aid, we have it in CVS, we have it in Target, already in there. And we do no promotional advertising — just all word of mouth. But it’s all out of plant. And it is something the Native American Indians came up with hundreds of years ago. We rediscovered it and worked with the University of Arizona and put it on the market. A tube of it, which is unheard of, only costs $29. That’s it. I did it so it’s affordable for everybody, and there’s nothing in the world like it.

Q: And that’s a Las Vegas-based company, isn’t it?

A: We have it headquartered in Vegas and we have it in Florida. It’s between the two.

Q: Although you live in Austin, Texas, you’re still tied to Las Vegas. You do all your John Paul Mitchell meetings in Las Vegas. How long did you live here?

A: I lived in Vegas for about three years. I still have a home in your town, by the way. I still have a home in Vegas. It’s so cool. I didn’t want to get rid of it. It was Suzanne Somers’ house. We bought it. Then we moved out of it but I liked it so much, we just kept it.

Q: Life started disastrously, but then you picked up your boots and you turned it all around and became this weaver of good fortune, but did you ever slip back at all once you’d started on the road to fortune?

A: We actually started and we were broke for the first two years of Paul Mitchell. Then it started taking off, never slipped back. Before that, I slipped back a lot, and the movie shows it. But after Paul Mitchell started, two years later … the first two years, we lived hand-to-mouth. We should have gone bankrupt every day for two years. After that, it started going up and just continued to grow. And, of course, Patron did the same thing.

There are a couple of things that people don’t know about me. Steve Wynn and I have been friends for almost 30 years. Steve Wynn is the one that turned me on to the Sea Shepherd (Conservation Society). I am one of the biggest supporters of the Sea Shepherd. In fact, I bought them two Coast Guard cutters so they can run down and chase the Japanese boats and all the poachers. And that’s something people don’t know. Steve Wynn doesn’t say anything, by the way. Steve and I are both huge supporters of Sea Shepherd.

And another thing that people may not know is, I am part of the Giving Pledge. That’s Warren Buffett, Bill Gates and quite a few others. There’s 153 of us in the world that are part of Giving Pledge. We have all pledged to give 50 percent of our wealth while we’re alive or shortly after we die, to making the world a better place to live.

Q: Unbelievable. Go back to when you were living in the back seat of a car. Did you ever think it was possible to climb out of that horrible position?

A: Yes, I knew I would. I knew I would. I was just a victim of circumstances is all that it was. I knew that I would. I’d just keep on going, going, going. And, I’ll tell you what got me out of the back of the car … After being there for several weeks, an actress named Joanna Pettet came by. I parked on Mulholland Drive not far from where she lived. She walked by one day. She heard I was living in my car and she saw me there; knocked on the window and said, “JP, I heard this. I couldn’t believe it. I have a room I can give you for a few months free in my house.” So, that’s how I got out of the car and into a room for a few months.

Q: You never looked back! Is it a good thing to be that broke?

A: (In general) no, I don’t think it is. In my case, I guess it was … because our backer pulled out of Paul Mitchell, instead of owning 30 percent of the company, my partner and I ended up owning 50-50 each. Now, today, I own the majority of John Paul Mitchell Systems. I own more than 50 percent. And, of course, with Patron, I own almost the entire company. So, having gone from minus $5 to $5 billion … there’s a big difference there. It’s a huge difference there.

Q: Is that the figure, $5 billion?

A: It’s actually a little more. Apparently Bloomberg has me, I think, at $5.1 billion. And Forbes (has) me at three and a half or something like that. Because I never answer these guys. They call me I never answer them. So (they) look at what they think Paul Mitchell’s worth, what they think Patron is worth, and on and on. I’ll put it this way, Bloomberg’s a little closer to it that the other guy. That’s all I’ll say.

Q: If you were to come across a homeless person living in a car or maybe living under a car, even worse, what would be your message to him?

A: I would tell him, No. 1, be prepared for a lot of rejection. There’s hope. If they were in Texas, I would immediately take them over or send them over to Mobile Loaves and Fishes. Mobile Loaves and Fishes is a community we support in Austin, where we built 250 homes strictly for the homeless. We take them off the street, no drugs, no fighting, no alcohol. We give them a decent little house to live in. That’s what you need, little houses. They can stay there as long as they want, but we make them pay at least $90 a month rent.

They have no money. They still have to be part of the community. They’ve got to pay $90. But we will give them work in the garden or the metal shop or the machine shop or in the animal husbandry. We will give them work to do at our giant facility so they can make the money to be able to pay their rent, and they feel a part of the community. Big change.

Now, if you’re in California, I would send you to Chrysalis. We take people, homeless off the street at Chrysalis, and we’re in Santa Monica and we’re in downtown L.A. Of course, that’s where I was homeless, so I support them in a big way. At Chrysalis, we take the homeless, we get them a place to live. We show them where to eat. We have all these clothes and volunteers, and people (who) want to contribute to us — give us clothes to wear. And when we work with them — everything — show them how to prepare a resume, how to interview with somebody, what to say, how to react, how to use a computer. And we teach them how to look for jobs on a computer or newspapers, whatever. Then we give them tokens to go out and take a bus to interview at the job.

Now, to tell you how successful this is, in 2010, our unemployment in the United States was 10 percent, and these were people that were very capable of working. With Chrysalis, we had about 3,000 homeless people come there to us. That one year, 1,600 got jobs. It really works.

Q: That’s captured for your “Good Fortune” movie? You are a modern day Robin Hood without the stealing. You work on over 100 philanthropic ventures creating back-to-work programs for the homeless, fighting whale poachers. Your motto is “Success unshared is failure.” Do we see it all in the film?

A: Not all of it; quite a bit, though. We have Chrysalis in there. They couldn’t put everything in because it’s only an hour and 25 minutes long, but Chrysalis is in there. They show me talking to people at Chrysalis, and training them, telling them how I was homeless so they could have hope the same way I did. That part is definitely in the movie.

There’s footage of Paul Walker of Sea Shepherd going out to sea with me. Other people in the film include – Danny Trejo, Bobby Kennedy, Adriana Huffington — I could go on and on. Even Las Vegas comedian Ron White. Steve Wynn is in the movie — on a telephone talking to me about Paul Walker getting another ship for the Sea Shepherd. Organization. Also, Roger Daltrey, Robert Plant. There’s quite a few entertainers in that movie (who) wanted to be part of it, so we made them part of it. And they all talk about giving back.

Q: Do you give back more than 10 percent? Is it true the more you give away, the more you get back?

A: It varies; it varies. But, it’s obviously in the millions. It is true — It just happens that way. I didn’t do it for that reason, but it just happens that way. The universe works that way; it really does. Who do I give the credit to? A lot of hard work and persistence. … When I was selling encyclopedias door to door in my early 20s, (I) would have to knock on 100 doors just to get through one door to try and sell them a set of books because it’s all cold calling. So, I would say I attribute a lot of it to my selling books for 3½ years, door to door. And at the same time, persistence, never giving up.

Never give up. You’ve got to be prepared for a lot of rejection like I did when I was selling books. And as long as you prepare for a lot of rejection and you have the highest quality product … like, Paul Mitchell’s known as the highest-quality hair care; Patron the highest-quality tequila; Aubio, only the greatest thing in the world for cold sores. When you have the highest-quality product that benefits people, you’re no longer in the selling business. You’re now in the repeat order business. That’s the message.

Q: It’s a remarkable story. do you still pinch yourself about the life you now live versus being homeless in the back of a car?

A: Yes, I do. And many times I’ll walk in my house in Malibu after all these years and say, “Oh my God. What a cool house. This is an awesome home. My God, we live here in Austin on the lake, and we have a boat out there. And oh my God …” Yeah, I do. I appreciate it. That gratitude is all over me, my friend; all over me. I believe in people, the planet and profit — conscious capitalism. The core value is sustainability, social responsibility and animal friendliness. My family is committed to contributing to a sustainable planet through investing in people and conserving the environment.

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