Kenneth Battelle and Joan Rivers, in 1988
Sunday at his home in Wappingers Falls, N.Y., two years after his retirement, he died at age 86, his company announced to The New York Times.
Among his clients: society doyenne Brooke Astor, stars such as Marilyn Monroe, Lucille Ball, Joan Rivers, Judy Garland and Audrey Hepburn, as well as Jacqueline Kennedy, whose hair was done by Kenneth right before she accompanied her husband on the fateful trip to Dallas in November 1963.
Mrs. Kennedy, even when she later became Mrs. Onassis, also continued to visit his salon just off Fifth Avenue in New York, where she was always ushered into a private area and treated, another client of longstanding tells PEOPLE.
Born in Syracuse, N.Y., Battelle grew up with four younger sisters whom he helped his divorced mother support. Three of them now survive him.
He attended Syracuse University on the G.I. Bill once he got out of the Navy, according to The Times, then went to beauty school – to his mother’s embarrassment.
From Syracuse he went to do hair to Miami, then to Manhattan, where in 1954 he stepped in for the newly married Mrs. Kennedy’s regular hairdresser. And history was made.
Eleven years ago, he told New York magazine although he didn’t consider hairdressing “a calling,” he did think that salons should be glamorous places where “people ran around in mud packs and came in with their Russian wolfhounds.”
Remembering Monroe as “a wisp,” he said of her coif, which he urged her to straighten: “When you have a blob of curly platinum hair, that’s all you can see. You don’t see the beautiful face.”
And Mrs. Kennedy required a bouffant, because, he said, “Being a tall lady – she had shoulders – she needed the balance. We’re talking about a big head versus a little head.”