Burt Shavitz, the free-spirited face and co-founder of Burt's Bees, died July 5. He was 80.
The former beekeeper's bearded image is the core of the natural-cosmetic company's logo, even though the reclusive Shavitz left the business long ago.
“Burt Shavitz, our co-founder and namesake, has left for greener fields and wilder woods,” the company said on its website. “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. Thanks for everything, Burt. You will live in our hearts forever.”
As we ponder his passing, here are six interesting things you might be surprised to learn about the life of this fascinating man:
His first bees were an act of God.
Shavitz stumbled upon his first bees by accident, when he found them swarming around a fencepost. He credited God.
“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,” Shavitz told The Daily Beast . “So, there was this fence post, and I said, ‘My lord, this is an act of God! I can’t turn this down.’”
Shavitz lost out on a fortune.
While driving around in the van he used to sell honey, he picked up a hitchhiker. Artist Roxanne Quimby fell in love with the honey production and the honey maker. They formed a business and started a relationship.
Quimby later bought out Shavitz's part of the business over allegations that he'd had an affair with an employee. According to The New York Times, Quimby bought out his share of the business by buying him a house in Maine that cost $130,000. The company was eventually sold to Clorox for $913 million. If Shavitz had held on to his part of the company, it would've been worth about $59 million, according to the Times. Shavitz reportedly got $4 million later from Quimby.
In the documentary "Burt's Buzz," Shavitz said he was happy with how things worked out.
"In the long run, I got the land, and land is everything. Land is positively everything. And money is nothing really worth squabbling about. This is what puts people six feet under. You know, I don't need it," he says in the trailer.
He lived very simply.
Despite being a millionaire, Shavitz lived in a simple house in the backwoods of Maine. He used to live in a converted turkey coop on the same land. He had no television and used a wood stove to heat water.
He used to be a photographer.
Shavitz was a photographer long before he was a beekeeper. He worked for the Army in Germany and for Time and Life magazines in the '60s in New York City.
Shavitz probably had dry skin.
When asked by the New Yorker if he used any Burt's products, the unkempt Shavitz said, "No." Then added, "Well, as needed." (The author suggested he was perhaps recalling corporate obligations, but also noted that Shavitz would have benefited from some moisturizer.)
Shavitz was a dichotomy.
In "Burt's Buzz," director Jody Shapiro showed the contrasting aspects of Shavitz's life. He was a vegetarian who liked to shoot guns. He extolled the virtues of a simple life but he loved to travel. The documentary showed his ideal days — where he is left alone — and a trip overseas where fans wear bee costumes and greet him as if he is a celebrity.
Shapiro described Shavitz as “an authentic character,” but even after spending so much time with him, said he wasn't sure what made him tick.
“After hanging out with him for a year, I stopped searching,” he told the Associated Press. “Is he more complicated, or am I trying to make him more complicated?”
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