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John Paul DeJoria’s American Dream Captured in Documentary

The cofounder of John Paul Mitchell Systems is the subject of a new film, "Good Fortune," that details his ups, downs and taste for philanthropy.

Is the American Dream dead?

That’s a hard no, if you’re asking John Paul DeJoria — the unwaveringly enthusiastic entrepreneur behind John Paul Mitchell Systems, Patrón tequila and cold-sore treatment Aubio. DeJoria is now the subject of a documentary that started as a short video for the students at the Paul Mitchell Academy and morphed into a full-fledged film.

Called “Good Fortune: The John Paul DeJoria Story,” it’s slated to roll out to 10 U.S. cities this month and to iTunes and Amazon in August. The video is narrated by Dan Aykroyd, DeJoria’s friend and former business partner, and features interviews with Arianna Huffington, Cheech Marin, Danny Trejo, Michelle Phillips and Angus Mitchell.

The story shows a side of DeJoria that few have seen — everything from pictures of him as a toddler, to the circumstances surrounding his two-time homelessness to the three instances he was fired — including once from Redken Fifth Avenue.

John Paul DeJoria
John Paul DeJoria George Chinsee

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“I couldn’t have started Paul Mitchell with $700 if I hadn’t been fired,” DeJoria contends. “Every time I was fired it got me down.”

“[Viewers] will see the actual [scenario of] how I ended up homeless,” he said. “My first marriage — being 22 years old and the wife leaves and takes everything with her and there’s a child sitting on the floor.”

DeJoria lived out his car, ate for less than $1 a day and sold encyclopedias — and a whole bunch of other things — door-to-door. All those doors slamming in his face forged his palpable sense of persistence. “You knock on 50 doors and they close in your face, and you have to be just as enthusiastic at [door 51],” DeJoria said.

Not giving up because of rejection is one of the biggest takeaways of the film, DeJoria said. The other — a passion of DeJoria’s — is philanthropy.

“It’s bringing people together,” he said of the film. “It’s going to make people more giving.”

Viewers have come up to him after festival previews and said “I should be more giving” — others said, “I should treat my people the way you treat your people,” DeJoria said. Employee morale has been critical to success, especially at JPMS, DeJoria noted.

In 37 years, JPMS has had less than 100 people — in 97 countries — leave the business, according to DeJoria, who noted that two of them retired.

“They’re treated the way we want to be treated,” DeJoria said. “Everyone that works for me gets free lunch.” That specifically was motivated by the rough patch when he found himself without the money for lunch, he noted.

The company also has an ongoing training program so that employees are refreshed on the latest techniques, philanthropic support so that workers can take time off for charity endeavors and a strict policy for any potential reprimands. “If you ever reprimand, [you do it] one-on-one,” DeJoria said, but praise should be delivered in front of at least one other person. For those who need some course correction, “tell them what’s wrong, tell them how we expect them to do it right, but before they leave the office, [we tell them] what they already do right anyways and how we appreciate them.”

It’s a film that has something for the whole family, DeJoria contends — but more than that, he expects it to be something that brings people together.

“It lets young people know you can go through adversity and still make it,” DeJoria said. “Keep bouncing back. The American dream really works.”