Unlike Robert Kennedy, who suffered for months before passing away in April from cancer, John Kemper’s death on Wednesday, June 13, came without warning. Kemper died at home, while at his computer, shortly after returning from Diamond Gym, the world-renowned facility he sold to Dwayne McDaniel in 2007. Kemper would have turned 68 on July 31. Funeral arrangements are pending.
“John was in the gym, like normal, Wednesday morning, working out, training his clients and joking around like he always did,” said McDaniel. No official cause of death had been determined by Thursday afternoon.
I knew John for over 25 years. I was in San Jose, CA in 1987 when he and wife Shirley won the Mixed Pairs division; I emceed shows for him, hung out with him and his family on many occasions. In fact, I was one of the first people John phoned a couple of years back with the tragic news that his daughter, Tina, had died. Tina, like her parents a former competitor, was only 40 years old. I felt John never fully recovered from his loss.
I took the accompanying photo of John backstage at the 2010 NPC New Jersey State Championships. Dwayne, who bought the show from John that year, hired me to emcee; John was head judge.
Kemper, who won his first contest at 16—the Teenage New Jersey—was a NPC National Vice-President and New Jersey State Chairman as well as promoter and NPC/IFBB judge.
An accomplished artist, John was also, like me, a huge Elvis fan. When I showed him an old picture a year or so ago of me doing my Elvis thing, complete with white jumpsuit and rhinestones from the early 1990s, he asked me to send him the picture. John said he wanted to do a drawing for me.
I would tease him every time I saw him at shows. “Where’s my drawing, John?” “Oh shoot, I’ll get to it soon, I promise.” he sheepishly would retort.
It’s okay, big guy. Now you have plenty of time in your studio in the sky to get it done.
Rest in peace, my man. Condolences to the Kemper family and friends.