'Kenneth,' Hairdresser to Jackie Kennedy, Marilyn Monroe, Dies at 86

05/14/2013 at 10:30 AM EDT

Hairdresser Kenneth Battelle Dies at 88
Kenneth Battelle and Joan Rivers, in 1988
Ron Galella/WireImage
His full name may have been Kenneth Battelle, but to a half-century's worth of fashion editors, First Ladies and society women, he was simply "Kenneth."

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, Lauren Bacall 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 her own private area, 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 in 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."

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