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What? No more redheads?

A while back I read that some unnamed genetic scientists were predicting that redheads would become extinct in just a few generations. The reason given for possible extinction was that the gene for red hair is a recessive gene, chromosome 16, which intends to diminish in numbers over time. Naturally, I was alarmed.

As it is, only one to two percent of human population has red hair, although in northern and western Europe, redheads comprise four percent. Scotland has the highest percentage and Ireland follows. In the U.S., it's about two percent, but nobody can be certain for two reasons: the census does not include a count of redheads and some of the redheads you see out on the street are really bottle red.

So if you have red hair, you are a member of a very limited and distinctive group. I have this friend, Red, who's real name nobody knows. He's been Red ever since boyhood and still is, although, his hair has been gray for some time. Once red, red forever. I also have cousins with red hair and I remember the redheaded stars of my generation: Red Skelton, Lucille Ball, Maureen O'Hara and Katherine Hepburn. Today the famous redheads are Julianne Moore, Bette Midler, Reba McIntyre, David Letterman (getting gray), Conan O'Brien and Nicole Kidman (rumored to be bottle red).

Is there something special about redheads? Reactions to their distinctive looks varies between admiration and ridicule. They generally have fair skin and light colored eyes. Many have freckles. It has been proven that they are less sensitive to pain than the rest of us. They are sometimes disliked as a group by the British because so many of them are Irish (the Brits call them "Gingers" and the prejudice against them is called "Gingerism"). That attitude sometimes results in redheads being teased and bullied and not just in England. But others assign different characteristics to them, for example, many believe that redheads are hot tempered and sharp tongued.

But mostly, redheaded women seem to be glamorous. Certainly, Maureen O'Hara and Katherine Hepburn were considered gorgeous in their day and Nicole Kidman (whether genuinely red or not) and Julianne Moore still are today.

Redheads themselves believe it too. Lucille Ball once said, "Once in his life, every man is entitled to fall madly in love with a gorgeous redhead." Bruce Springsteen agreed, he said, "You have not lived until you have had your eyes rotated by a redhead."

But in the last analysis, it's not all that important what celebrities think about themselves or one another. The opinion of the man on the street, the guy next door or Mr. Average, is what really counts. The proof of the pudding is this: In the U.S., a trucker will slow down for a blonde, stop for a brunette, and back up 500 yards for a redhead.

The good news about redheads is that the so-called genetic scientists who predicted the sad end of the trail for redheads were full of it. The whole theory was bogus. National Geographic has told us that while their numbers may decline over the years, there will always be redheads to brighten the landscape. So here's to redheads everywhere -- may the sun shine bright on your beautiful hair, may the wind be always at your back and may your bottle never go dry.