A dear friend passed away this week, and I, along with all in the physique world who knew Kenny Kassel—promoter, talent manager, NPC/IFBB official, announcer, among his many hats—am absolutely reeling. Wasn’t it just three months ago that we were standing at a bar at the Orleans Hotel in Las Vegas mourning the loss of Kenny’s dear friend of 30 years Steve Stone? Kenny was the one reeling the most that night. I mean, we all loved Steve, but they went way back, both being charter members of what I like to call the New York-New Jersey-and-sometimes-Connecticut contingent, and Kenny had appeared with Steve and bodybuilding champ Tom Terwilliger on the pioneer bodybuilding cable show, “MuscleSportUSA, back in the late 1980s and early ’90s.
Kenny and partner Bob Bonham, of Strong & Shapely Gym fame, pioneered strength and physique competitions for women with their Women’s Strength Extravaganza, which they promoted in New Jersey in the ’90s and early 2000s just for the sheer love of it. (There was also a Pro Extravaganza for a couple of years, and in ’99 it was double-billed with the Ms. Olympia, which Kenny helped “save” after the original promoter had to drop out.)
Over the years I spent more late-night postcontest hours with Kenny Kassel than I can count—in Columbus, New York, Vegas and various other cities where bodybuilders have been known to pose onstage—schmoozing into the a.m. about the contests, the people and any other details that were worth discussing. The restaurant at the Doubletree in Columbus will never be the same.
I remember a night in Manhattan a couple of years ago. He’d recently attended his high school reunion and was bubbling about the memorable time he’d had. Kenny had been a football player, I learned, which changed my preconceived notions of what a football player should be like. Another night, at the Orleans Casino, I was down in the dumps, and he gave me a lesson in gaming. Ca-ching. Kenny knew a lot about the odds.
He was a familiar face to many as part of the NPC/IFBB backstage team. Is there a figure or fitness competitor alive who didn’t feel a bit more relaxed thanks to those few seconds of chat with Kenny before she was called onstage at a big national show? In recent years he’d become part of the IRON MAN Pro family as well, journeying to Los Angeles lend John Balik, Helen Yu and the gang a hand for our big weekend. He’ll be missed there too.
In a few days we’ll find out the cause of death—he reportedly collapsed at his home—but those are details I’m not that concerned about. Bottom line: The sport and the world have lost a sweetheart, and I like so many others have lost a friend.
Photo: Kenny and fitness icon Debbie Kruck joined some members of the IM team at the ’08 Meet the Olympians reception (from left): Roland Balik, John Balik, Debbie, me and Kenny. Debbie was a Women’s Extravaganza winner in fitness in ’92.