Nathaniel Mathis might not ring bells outside the Washington, D.C. area, but he is a renowned hair stylist who has worked on the hair of local and international celebrities. With the nickname of the “Bush Doctor,” Mathis has been in business for nearly 50 years and portions of his legacy are enshrined in one of the Smithsonian museums in the Nation’s Capitol.
Born in 1946, Mathis, a native Washingtonian, opened his first shop back in 1969. At one point, he went under the name the “Hair Doctor” but changed it after the rising popularity of the Afro or “bush” style came into play. Beyond working on local heads, Mathis has cut the hair of D.C. notables such as the late Marion Barry, the late “Godfather of Go-Go” Chuck Brown, and international superstars such as Muhammad Ali and James Brown.
Mathis took a unique approach to hair styling as a man during the early stages of his career, learning how to do the hair of women and other nationalities. This versatility led to Mathis working on the set of Hollywood films and landed him a stylist job at the Kennedy Center of Performing Arts.
The list of stars Mathis has styled is quite a hodgepodge: Muhammad Ali, Whoopi Goldberg, Damon Wayans, Chris Rock, and even the late comedian Robin Williams. He has also performed work as a hair stylist consultant on several Hollywood movie sets.
The Bush Doctor still operates a barbershop right near his home in Capitol Heights, Md. A collection of his historic artifacts can be found at the Smithsonian Museum of American History.
(Photo: Nathaniel Mathis Facebook)