Harrison County

An iconic hairstylist was found dead in the water. Decades earlier, his mentor drowned

Back in the day, J. Ellis & Co. was THE hair salon for the well coiffed in Gulfport and environs.

Only the best worked for Jheri Ellis, a trendsetter who made sure his hairstylists honed their skills and pampered customers.

Many remember his death because it was sudden and came at the height of his career. Ellis, who was 46, fell asleep on a raft, floated away from shore and drowned in September 1990 off the coast of Santa Rosa Island, Florida.

The young hairdressers who trained under him went on to establish their own reputations and shops: Chuck Kelly and Kevin Anderson in Gulfport, Randy Barras in Biloxi and Todd Boswell in Ocean Springs, to name a few.

Now, almost 27 years after Ellis died, one of those hairdressers, Kevin Anderson, has also lost his life at sea. His body was recovered Wednesday morning from the Mississippi Sound near Camille Cut, the channel that runs between East and West Ship islands

The tragic coincidence was much on the minds of hairdressers who knew Ellis and Anderson, who was 51.

“I’m just in shock,” said hair stylist JoAn Cupp Nicely. “I can’t believe it.”

She worked with Anderson and the others at J. Ellis.

“It was the place,” she said. “It was upscale. You had to be the best to work there. He wasn’t going to hire you unless you were the best. I always said, if you worked at J. Ellis, you are going to make it. We all learned so much from Jheri.”

And make it Anderson did. Like Ellis, other hairstylists say, Anderson became an icon.

“To be an icon on the Coast, you have to step out and boldly make a statement of who you are,” said Alexander Deeks, owner of Salon Alexander’s. His salon is in the same large white Victorian House, just south of Cowan Road, where J. Ellis & Co. continued in business for more than 10 years after his death.

“You have to set an image and a standard of what you reflect as a hairdresser and a salon owner,” Deeks said.

“Kevin went down that road. He owned several salons and taught other hairdressers to be great.

“It’s such an unfortunate accident. You don’t think craziness like that will happen, but it did.”