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September 14, 2014

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As if by magic, Teller takes a 10-spot from Penn for Locks of Love

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Erik Kabik/Retna/ErikKabik.com

Teller cuts off Penn Jillette’s ponytail to benefit the charity Locks of Love at the Rio Spa & Salon on Aug. 25, 2010.

Penn Jillette has 10 inches to spare.

Of hair.

The vocal half of Penn & Teller had two inches short of a foot clipped from his lengthy mane today during a charity event at Rio Salon. He was asked to donate his locks for Locks of Love, a non-profit organization that collects human hair and repurposes it for hairpieces to be donated to children in the U.S. and Canada suffering from hair loss as a result of a medical condition or treatment.

A little girl named Rylie Cruz, who is just 2 years old, is suffering from Stage IV neuroblastoma (a malignancy that attacks the nervous system and is found primarily in infants and young children). Rylie has undergone chemotherapy treatments to fight the condition. Word from organizers of today's event is that the little girl, who is the granddaughter of a Rio employee, is recovering and will be OK.

Nonetheless, Rio staffers with long hair were asked to donate to the Locks of Love hair-collection drive today at the Rio Salon, and Jillette does have the long hair. Or, did. It is a lot less long now.

"I wanted to look like Ginger Baker during a Cream concert in 1969 at Madison Square Garden," said Jillette, famous for both his attention to detail and left-field references. "You know that little ponytail he had? Nobody wants that, right? Well, I do."

It wasn't so simple for the comic-magician-juggler to have his hair cut back 10 inches. The decision was easy enough — having worn a long ponytail since about 1990, Jillette long has wanted to cut his hair short. But his likeness graces all marketing visages in, on and around the Rio property. It would require a major marketing makeover to update those photos if Jillette cut his hair so short that it would not hold a ponytail.

This is not like the old days, when Penn & Teller were street performers and nobody particularly cared if they wore their hair in dreads, dyed it blue or shaved it altogether.

"But now, I would have to call a committee meeting of 40 people to get it done," Jillette said. "It wasn't worth having to change the sign (of Penn & Teller) side of the hotel. We were very careful about measuring just how long it needed to be so we could still have it in a ponytail."

Rio Salon stylist Barbara Kilarsky, who trims and dyes (yes, it's colored) Jillette's mane each week, washed and flat-ironed Jillette's hair. But Kilarsky did surrender the scissors for the most telltale move: Teller himself was summoned to perform the snip job. Afterward, he brushed his partner's face with the cut-away lock and stuffed it into his shirt for added swarthiness.

Even while attached, Jillette's hair has been used as stage prop of sorts during the duo's nearly 10-year run at the Rio. Technicians run his microphone cable down the back of the ponytail to conceal the cord.

"It couldn't be as drastic as I'd like it to be," Jillette said of the 10-inch lop of locks. "If I were a civilian, I'd have a crew cut, trust me."

Follow John Katsilometes on Twitter at twitter.com/JohnnyKats.