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Prematurely Grey-Haired

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Grey hair in humans is usually a sign of advanced age (or of artificial bleaching)—but in fiction, even characters too young to have normal grey hair can sport it as a shorthand for past trauma. Often, a character's hair turns grey overnight, as a result of a particular traumatic event that changes their life forever. The fact that already grown hair cannot turn grey without bleaching in Real Life usually gets ignored by the writers.

Disease Bleach is a specific subtrope where the life-changing event is a life-threatening illness, injury, or another kind of bodily harm. Locked into Strangeness can also be a subtrope if the strange lock is grey. Compare Young Face, Old Eyes and contrast Prematurely Bald.

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Examples:

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    Anime and Manga 
  • In Death Note, Soichiro Yagami's hair starts greying at an alarmingly fast rate from the moment he begins to work on the Kira case. Especially obvious in the first arc, where about a third of his hair turns grey in a couple of episodes, way too fast for it to be caused by simple aging. Until about episode 10, his hair is pitch black. Though he didn't start greying until after he had a stress-induced (rather than a Kira-induced) heart attack. It could also be that it had already started to gray, but he dyed it. The stress of the case kept him from maintaining it. Probably combined with the usual form of the trope.
  • 7 Seeds has the upper half of Ango's hair turn white after the shock and guilt he feels over Shigeru dying in the Final Test hits him.
  • Victorique from Gosick suffers this in the ending of the story. It was likely a combination of an already crappy childhood and the stress of being a criminal refugee and having to flee to the other end of the world alone in the middle of World War II.
  • In Rurouni Kenshin, a no older than 10 Yukishiro Enishi's hair went from black to white after he witnessed his sister Tomoe's untimely death. When Kenshin sees him for the first time after her death and sees him with white hair and a grim look it becomes very obvious that the experience knocked several screws loose.
  • Happens to Marie Antoinette towards the end of Rose of Versailles.
    Narrator: The terror of the journey turned Antoinette from a beautiful blonde into the white hair of an old woman!
  • Katanagatari: Togame's hair turned white instantly when her father was beheaded. That trait is commented upon in the first half of the series.
  • In Saint Seiya Omega, Orion Eden's hair turns white during the Sanctuary Arc. The exact reason is never given, but it's implied it was caused by the stress of watching Aria being killed by his own father.
  • In Tokyo Ghoul, Ken Kaneki's hair turns white after ten days of extensive physical and psychological torture. It serves to also mark his shift to a more ruthless mentality. Likewise, in the sequel Seidou Takizawa's hair has turned white. Arima's hair is also white in the sequel even though he's only in his early thirties. This is because he's suffering the internal Rapid Aging that all Ghoul-Human hybrids who aren't One-Eyed Ghouls suffer.
  • Re-Kan! has Hibiki's father Amami Asahi, who owes his white hair to Fear Bleach. Asahi is terrified of ghosts, and unfortunately for him, the woman he fell in love with and married, Yuuhi, was a medium completely surrounded by them. His hair went white within the week. At the end of Asahi's introductory episode, it looks like the same thing has happened to Narumi, who shares Asahi's fear of the supernatural, after a hectic chase involving some obliviously spooky ghosts. Subverted: it's flour, from when she plowed headlong into a food stand.
  • Dr. Frost: The main character, Frost, has completely white hair, despite only being in his thirties. It's all but stated he got it through some sort of trauma and/or accident. Unlike most examples, it’s considered unusual and pointed out on numerous occasions.

    Fanfic 
  • In The Refiner's Fire, Harry has some limited Metamorphomagus ability, allowing him to grow and ungrow his hair and beard at will. After his first real battle, where he has to kill a number of Death Eaters and then go through their pockets for ID's (making him realize a lot of them had families), his beard always grows out with two white stripes.
  • Every time Chara has a near-death experience in you can only use your own, more of their hair turns white. It's entirely white by the time they're 40, after Asriel talks them out of suicide for the second time.
  • Warriors Redux: ShadowClan seers are known to age very quickly because their life is so stressful. Many die prematurely as well.
  • In My Sister Leni, it's shown that Lincoln was born with brown hair. His hair began turning white at around 1-month. There's no health reason for it; his hair just changed colours.
  • According to Boruto in Jack O'Lantern, his dad Naruto already had greys from his stressful job as hokage. Sarada doesn't believe him.
  • In one Kill la Kill AU fanfic, Satsuki was mentioned to have been developing streaks of gray hair and so dyes them back to black, to which Nui makes fun of her for.

    Film — Live-Action 
  • The child protagonist of Come and See grows completely grey-haired upon witnessing numerous Nazi atrocities over the course of the movie.
  • The Ten Commandments has it with Moses, who returns from speaking with God at the burning bush with gray and white hair.
  • Will Graham in Manhunter has gray tinges in his hair due to his experience with Hannibal Lecktor.
  • Cole in The Sixth Sense is shown to have patches of white/grey hair that are meant to be the result of living in a constant state of fear and stress.
  • In A Fool There Was, The Vamp claws a loving husband and father away from his family, bleeds him dry, and leaves him an alcoholic mess. His formerly dark hair goes white over a couple of months.
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    Literature 
  • A Prayer for Owen Meany: Happens to Johnny after having a beyond the grave encounter with Owen.
  • The notorious mercenary captain "Black Rayla" from The Witcher novels turns completely grey-haired overnight after being captured and tortured to near-death by elven guerrillas. She becomes known as "White Rayla" in later books as a result.
  • Downplayed in the Erast Fandorin novels, where the eponymous protagonist's temples turn grey as a result of witnessing his beloved first wife blown to pieces by a terrorist bomb just hours after their wedding.
  • Rene Arroy from the Arcia Chronicles went completely grey-haired after being shipwrecked beyond the Forbidden Line and spending weeks floating in the ocean.
  • In Alexandre Dumas' The Count of Monte Cristo, Danglars ends up a broken man with completely white hair following a prolonged period of psychological torture by the Count.
  • Felix Phoenix of Tanith Lee's Piratica used to have dark hair, until years in a workhouse as a child turned his hair white.
  • Les Misérables: Jean Valjean's hair turns completely white (that is, including his already-grown hair) the night after he makes the difficult decision to turn himself in so that an innocent man doesn't get sent to the galleys in his place; it stays white for the rest of the book.
  • This happens to the Judge himself in the Judge Dee novel The Chinese Nail Murders. At the end of the novel, which has been filled with tragic events and a crisis which threatens his career, he is congratulated by an Imperial official who refers to him as an old man. Dee is about to take offense, being only in his 40s, but then sees his reflection and realizes he has gone completely gray.
  • After the near-death experience that he has in Pastwatch: The Redemption of Christopher Columbus by Orson Scott Card, Christopher Columbus's hair starts rapidly turning white.
  • In the Sherlock Holmes story "The Speckled Band", Helen Stoner and her sister Julia both had prematurely graying hair due to the terror of their predicament.
  • A couple of these in the Deryni works:
    • The architect Rimmell in Deryni Checkmate had white hair since a childhood encounter with an old woman popularly supposed to be a Deryni witch. Some unknown magic of hers was blamed for the overnight change in hair colour.
    • Judhael in The Bishop's Heir and The King's Justice is in his late thirties, yet his hair is grey-white. Unlike Rimmell, his hair colour is not blamed on magic from a Deryni.
  • In Harry Potter, there's Remus Lupin, who is described as having greying hair in his early thirties due to the stress and strain of living with lycanthropy from an early age. Every time Harry encounters him after a significant period of time, he is described as noticeably greyer than before.
  • The Catcher in the Rye protagonist Holden Caulfield is not even in his 20's yet and already sports a number of grey hairs. As part of his need to fit in with adults (despite condemning adults as "phonies"), he tries to take advantage of his greying hair to do things he otherwise wouldn't be able to do because of his age, like ordering alcoholic drinks. It doesn't work.
  • In The Orphan's Tales, the orphan girl Snow goes from black-haired and dark-skinned to being pale and white-haired after the death of her parents and the stress of extreme poverty.
  • Warrior Cats:
    • Crowfeather notices that Spiderleg has gray hairs around his muzzle, despite his young age. To emphasise this, Spiderleg wasn't even 7 when he died.
    • Bluestar was greying at the time of her death and Word of God is that she had dementia. She was only 6 1/2 at the time of her death. She had a very stressful life, made worse by her Sanity Slippage near the end of her leadership.

    Live Action TV 
  • In the Doctor Who story "The Sensorites", the space captain's hair has gone white as a result of his being subjected to psychic Mind Rape for months.
  • In The Thick of It, Malcolm suffered a mental breakdown at the end of the third series. He returns for the fourth one back together, but with a head of steel grey hair. This happened naturally to the actor over time, but serendipitously evoked this trope.
  • In House of Cards (US), Frank Underwood's hair gradually greys throughout season 3 until it is practically white due to the stresses of the Oval Office.
  • "Dash X" from Eerie, Indiana has grey hair which only accentuates his weirdness.

    Music 
  • The Crash Test Dummies' song "Mmm mmm mmm mmm" has the first verse describe a kid who got into a car accident and ended up with white hair from the shock and injury.
  • In Voltaire's "The Beast of Pirate Bay" the Beast scared Blackbeard so badly his beard turned white. "And now we all agree, he looks like Santa Claus."

    Theater 
  • In the Broadway version of Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street, Toby's hair turns completely white after he is locked in the evil basement by Mrs. Lovett and suffers a horrific ordeal which consisted of learning what she and Sweeney got up to and then being stalked by Mrs. Lovett who intended to hand him over to Sweeney to be killed. The film version gives Todd himself a streak of white from the trauma of his incarceration.
  • In Hamilton, the company notes that Hamilton's hair has gone grey during "It's Quiet Uptown", as a result of his son Philip's death in a duel.

    Video Games 
  • According to the official BlazBlue Setting Material Collection, the attack that got Ragna's sister kidnapped, burned down the orphanage his family lived in, and cost Ragna one of his arms as well as Rachel taking it upon herself to bite him and essentially afflicting him with vampirism that turned his blond hair white.
  • In Warcraft 3, Arthas' hair goes white after his experiences in Northrend, though it's not entirely clear whether it was the result of the magical influence of Frostmourne or simply stress, obsession and trauma combined with frigid weather.
  • In the Street Fighter EX series, Kairi's hair color turns from black in EX to white in EX 2 due to the amount of stress brought about from the many fights he has gotten into since becoming an amnesiac.
  • Jess, from Shardlight, claims that her hair turned white overnight after seeing the Reaper and living to tell the tale. She doesn't wear a hat like the other cultists to prove that her story is true.
  • Archer, the future version of Shirou Emiya, went gray somewhere around his, speculatively, mid-to-late twenties due to constant use of reinforcement and projection magecraft. His skin also took on a permanent dark tan tone, and his eyes went from amber brown to grayish.

    Webcomics 

    Web Original 
  • According to official art, Percy de Rolo of Critical Role was born with dark brown hair. The stark white hair seen in his character portrait is due to the trauma he suffered when the Briarwoods murdered his entire family, as well as the torture he experienced at the hands of Dr. Ripley. He shares this trope with his younger sister, Cassandra, though she's got streaks of gray, rather than her brother's pure white.

    Western Animation 
  • The Amazing World of Gumball: "The Limit" features an absolutely furious Nicole who strikes such a threatening Death Glare to a security guard that he rapidly ages on the spot, turning into a psychologically scarred white-haired old man within several seconds.
  • The Simpsons: A flashback from "A Tree Grows in Springfield" shows that Kent Brockman's hair got white from witnessing an amusement park employee take off his mouse costume when he was a kid. In the same episode, Barney's hair turns white when told that the castle at the park was really made of plywood.
  • Family Guy: In "Hefty Shades of Gray", Peter believes there's a ghost in the basement and has his friends go ghost-hunting with him; they eventually get so sick of his idiocy that they leave and lock him down there with his "ghost". By the time Lois gets him out the next morning, his hair has turned white from fright, which makes him look more respectable.
  • Futurama: In "Mobius Dick", Prof. Farnsworth recounts the tragic disappearance of the first Planet Express crew and he mentions that Zoidberg grew hair just so it could turn white from the trauma.

    Real Life 
  • Senator John McCain's hair turned white at the age of 31 when he was a POW in Vietnam.
  • Most U.S. Presidents appear to age about two years for every year they're in office — with associated accelerated greying.
    • This has been especially noticeable with Bill Clinton, George W. Bush, and Barack Obama — all relatively young Commanders-in-Chief who served two full terms and were subjected to intense media scrutiny.
    • Hillary Rodham Clinton was already graying by the time she was appointed Secretary of State, but while in the Cabinet it got the point where even the dyeing expected of women her age couldn't hope to keep up.
    • Abraham Lincoln looked increasingly haggard as the Civil War dragged on.
    • All the latest Mexican presidents look youthful on their election days, and much older when they reach the end of their 6-year term (they only serve one term, period). Very notable with Ernesto Zedillo, who looks like he aged at least two decades.
    • Tony Blair went grey pretty quick after the Iraq war began, as his public image changed from youthful breath of fresh air to leering warmonger.
  • Barbara Bush, wife of the George H. W. Bush and mother of George W. Bush, infamously had white hair by the time she was 30. This is mostly credited to the death of her daughter at the age of 4 from leukemia.
  • Al Capone claimed his wife was getting gray hair in her 30s because she was so worried about the press and police "harassing" her husband.
  • Marie Antoinette may be the poster girl, since her hair turned from blond to white after the Flight to Varennes episode.
  • Marshal Massena's hair reportedly started graying prematurely during the harrowing Siege of Genoa. His fighting against Wellington ten years later in Portugal did not help matters.
  • Steve Martin has had gray hair at least since he first became famous in The '70s.
  • George Clooney started graying as early as his mid-30s, and had a full head of gray hair before he even turned 50.
  • Eric Bischoff started graying in his 20s and had a full head of gray hair by his early 40s (though audiences wouldn't see it for the first time until 1999, as he'd been dying his hair black up to that point. He re-dyed it for his WWE debut in 2002 at the behest of Vince McMahon).
  • Richard Gere has had gray hair since at least the late 1980s.
  • Richard Dreyfuss has been sporting it since the mid 1980s.
  • Dmitri Hvorostovsky already had greying hair in 1989 when he became famous (he was about 27 at the time), and soon it turned fully white. It was such an iconic thing that very few productions dared to put a wig on him for any role.
  • Welsh rally co-driver Nicky Grist has had his hair turn grey by his thirties, more or less by the time he partnered with Colin McRae in 1997.
  • Matt Le Blanc's hair began turning grey in his mid-20's and was completely gray by his mid-30's, to the point that he had to completely dye it black during the final seasons of Friends.

Alternative Title(s): Prematurely Gray Haired

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