Remembrances from friends of John Kemper:
“Back in late 80’s, early 90’s, when I started working in the press pit at major bodybuilding contests, I was a total stranger from the Far East. But Mr. Kemper treated me as a one of his company. I was lucky enough to have so many kind people in press pit, like Mr. Kemper. Unfortunately, I have never seen when Mr. Kemper on stage as a competitor, but I found great classic physique on the web many people admired. I hope that time will soften his family’s sorrow.”
“John was a man’s man who made everyone feel like a friend from the first time you met him and he always greeted you with that firm handshake of his! Yes, my son J.M. said to me today that John still had that firm handshake and J.M. had the pleasure of knowing John for many years. I could go on and on about John as we shared many good times together over the last 30 years. My wife Debbie, my son J.M. and the whole NPC organization are deeply saddened today as we all had the pleasure of John’s company for many years. I will miss John tremendously and always remember him as a dear friend.”
—Jim Manion, NPC President
“The Bodybuilding world has lost a great ambassador to the sport with the passing of John Kemper! John lived and breathed the sport as a National Champion, Trainer, Gym Owner, NPC Vice President, NPC and IFBB Judge. We met John through the NPC and always looked forward to talking to him at the annual NPC Meetings over the past thirty years. John was always friendly, sincere, a gentleman and a genuine nice guy. He possessed qualities that are rare in the sport today or the world for that matter. We have fond memories of John and his wife Shirley each winning the Overall Titles at the 1987 Teens and Masters Nationals that we promoted. John and Shirley were great sports and agreed to do a television shoot prior to the show, to help promote the event. Even though they were tired from traveling from New Jersey to Seattle, they both agreed enthusiastically. John said, “However we can help you promote your show we are very happy to do it”. At the show, they helped other competitors and promoted camaraderie in the backstage area. John would always make a point to call or send a card to see how we were doing over the following years. What a class act! We will miss John and so will all who had the privilege of knowing the man!”
—Brad & Elaine Craig, NPC Officials and promoters
“I met John Kemper by accident, the kind you describe as serendipitous as the encounter unfolds. I was working in New Jersey in 1977 and I was looking for a place to work out. I found him by dialing 411. Remember dialing for information in pre-Google times, that was it, if you were searching for a place to work out in a strange city.
Bill Grant and Henry Jinks lived in North New Jersey, I knew them from their trips to LA in the 60’s and they had mentioned the name of a newly opened hardcore gym — Diamond Gym — which I learned was about 10 miles from where I was working. What I discovered was not only a double storefront gym that was the hardest of the hardcore but the friendship of John Kemper.
John was a successful bodybuilder from the early 60’s forward and opened this gym as a second job (an avocation really) to his profession as a school counselor. In a lot of ways the gym reminded me of the Division St. and early Duncan YMCA gyms created by Bob Gajda. Heavy iron, solid but basic equipment and a diverse group of men having great workouts all driven by a singular personality, this time it was the personality of John Kemper.
Like Bob Gajda’s effort, John’s gym membership ran from black to white and every shade in between, all united by the barbell and the openness and generosity of John. John was catholic in the sense that he was all embracing: his actions said, you are all welcome. A very special guy who walked the walk not only as a bodybuilder but as a human being. When I heard of his passing last week, I was swept back to that humble gym and the fun of being a part of something.
John’s club always meant something, stood for something because he did. These ensuing 35 years have done nothing to dim my first impression of John and in fact our meetings at various NPC/IFBB events that he was a judge at were always preceded by his solid handshake and engaging smile and gentle energy as he pulled you into his sphere. That is what I felt in 1977 on our first meeting and that is what I felt at our last in 2012 at the Arnold Classic. Many thousands have felt the power of his openness and will miss it. I know I do.”
—John Balik, Publisher, Iron Man Magazine
“I twice worked with John capturing him on movie film and in photos. The first time was on the day after he competed in the 1980 Mr. America in Santa Monica. Although Gary Leonard was the judges’ choice for the title, I felt the victory could just have easily gone to John. With his size, shape and condition that night, I believe this was the best he ever looked. The second time I worked with John was a year later in San Jose, on the day after he won his class in the 1981 IFBB World Games. He was an outstanding physique, a great model and a gentleman to work with.”
“When I first became interested in bodybuilding back in the mid 60’s I studied every magazine at the time and one particular physique that really caught my eye was that of a young man by the name of John Kemper. John sported a nice symmetrical pleasing development, which inspired me to train with the goal of building a physique like his. At the time I never dreamed that many years later I would meet John. Dressed in his blue blazer he was a fixture at the IFBB Judging table at the numerous Pro shows I would cover. Always polite and courteous, John was a true gentlemen. His passion for bodybuilding was evident as he was always had time and enjoyed chatting about the current scene. The bodybuilding world has lost another of its ikons and he will be missed greatly. Take care my friend!”
“It has saddened me to hear about the sudden passing of my long time friend John Kemper that I known for the past 30 years. He was a pioneer and contributor to his passion both as a competitor and promoter of bodybuilding events for many years. He gave so many years of himself to a sport he loved so much. He will be missed by many friends and competitors. May he rest in peace. My condolences go out to his wife and family.”
—Andy Bostinto, NGA President & Founder
“John and I took our National Judges Written and Practical Tests on the same day when Jerome Weis was in charge of the judges for the old NPC of the AAU. We both managed to pass and became friends and colleagues from that point on some 30 years ago. John was a man of great integrity and a dedicated professional to the organizations he loved, the NPC and the IFBB. It was so fitting that he wore his IFBB tie at his wake. That really said it all about Kemp. I will miss him so much.”
“Attached to my first visits to Mr. Olympia and other professional American events in the 80’s is the clear image of our friend John Kemper, a true gentleman in his quiet demeanor and respectful friendliness. John was a loyal and dedicated IFBB official and judge. I will always have fond memories of him and would like to join his family in their prayers.”
—Dr. Rafael Santonja, IFBB President
(via Carmen Melian, Personal Assistant)
“John Kemper was one of the most respected officials, judge, and leader in the sport of bodybuilding. He was the friend of everyone in the sport. He well served and was committed to the promotion and best interests of the bodybuilding and fitness community. He will be missed and long remembered by all of us.”
“The stunning news came via a Bob Bonham phone message. “I wanted to call you, because I knew you were close with his family…John Kemper died today,” said Bonham, voice cracking. A follow up call to Dwayne McDaniel, who purchased the famous Diamond Gym from John in 2007, verified the passing. “John was in the gym, like normal, Wednesday morning, working out, training his clients, and joking around like he always did.” said McDaniel. “From what I’ve been told, he was at his computer at home when he died.”
It was but three days after I hosted Robert “Bob” Kennedy’s Celebration of Life, an event where so many of us talked about how tomorrow isn’t promised to anybody. “We always seem to go to funerals, not birthday party’s anymore,” said Lou Ferrigno.
John was a strong, but kind man. He reminded me, in a way, of a modern day John Grimek. Oh my, those were handshakes I won’t forget for a long time! John symbolized bodybuilding: competitor, gym owner, judge, promoter and State chairman.
I knew John for over 25 years. I was in the press section when John and wife Shirley won the Mixed Pairs at the USA Championships in San Jose, CA, in 1987. I emceed shows for him, hung out with him and his family on many occasions. I was touched a couple of years back when John called me with the tragic news of the death of his daughter, Tina. Tina, like her folks a former competitor, was only 40 years old. I felt John never fully recovered from his loss.
Like Robert Kennedy, Kemper was also an accomplished artist. And, like me, a huge Elvis fan. When I showed him an old picture a year ago of me doing my Elvis thing, complete with white jumpsuit and rhinestones (a shot from the early 1990s), he asked me to send him the picture. John said he wanted to do a drawing of it for me.
I would tease him every time I saw him at shows. “Where’s the drawing you promised me, John.” He sheepishly replied, “I’m going to get to it soon, I promise.”
Now you have plenty of time in your studio in the sky to finish the project, John.
Rest in peace, my man. Thank you for all the cherished memories.”
“The most striking characteristic of John Kemper that comes to my mind when reflecting on my relationship with him over the last 20 years was his warm, firm, endearing handshake. John had a huge, muscular, hand that, even in his later years, still reminded you that he was a strong, powerful, man. Whenever we would run into each other at shows or at special events, he’d always shake my hand with his confident, sincere, grip. And he’d hold your hand for just an extra split second, making eye contact and giving you a genuine greeting. He had a way of making you feel important; as if he was truly pleased to see you. I will miss his friendship.”
“I met John Kemper in 1970, who was introduced to me by our mutual friend, Bill Grant.Over the years, I came to respect his knowledge and competence as a judge for the IFBB pro division. John was often at odds with some of the other judges, because he always voted for the competitor that he thought was best, rather than for political or personal reasons. I had the highest respect and regard for John, and will miss him. The Iron game lost another good man.”
“John was always a great friend to me even before I was Mr. Olympia, his claim to fame to me was introducing me to one of the best girlfriends I’ve ever met, he was always trying to be helpful to me in all ways.”
“It is the Johnny Kemper’s of my 60 year bodybuilding journey who have made it so incredibly wonderful.”
“John had a great physique, one that imbued health and vitality and competed until he was 42. He was a dedicated bodybuilder his whole life. I’ve known John for about 20 years just to say hello to. But over the past three years we started to have conversations about champions from the past, and the way things used to be. He impressed me with his deep knowledge and love for the sport and his friendly affable nature. From that point on we would seek each other out at shows to swap more reminisces. I remember those conversations fondly and also that iron grip of a handshake he had. John was a real man and a real fan, who will be missed by all who got to know him. May he rest in peace.”
“The heartbeat within the bodybuilding industry is provided by those who devote their lives to making the sport better. John Kemper’s work, on stage and off, are the true definition of passion. I always enjoyed my conversations with John and my heart goes out to his family and everyone who’s lives he touched as a leader in the New Jersey bodybuilding community.”
—Dan Solomon, Veteran Bodybuilding Producer/Commentator
“As you know, John Kemper was one of the most popular teen physique models back in the 50s, and I hope this part of his legacy is not buried.
I remember talking to John about his work with the great Lon of New York, and appearing as a cover model for Joe Weider’s Tomorrow’s Man, which he prided himself in.”
“John Kemper was a real mensch – a no b.s. type of guy. He loved bodybuilding and went against the grain when he continued to keep his Diamond Gym the way it’s been since the beginning – a no holds barred dungeon gym. A dinosaur to others but true to his heart for John. He will be sorely missed.”
“As John was the NPC chairman of NJ and I am the NPC chairman in NY, and we worked together often, judging shows in both districts, as well as judging many Pro and National shows . John became a good and trusted friend, and we had many entertaining conversations over meals together. Losing John, is like losing my favorite uncle. I will miss him very much, Steve Weinberger
I first remember John, as one of the judges at the Ms Olympia contests, back when I competed in the late 80’s. John had been a very good bodybuilder also, a winner of the NPC USA contest, and many other titles. As the years past, I often found myself, sitting next to John, on the judging panel, or greeting him as he came to NY, to judge the shows that Steve and I promoted there. John was always friendly, and always a gentleman. He was a pleasure to know and to work with and I will miss him dearly”
“John was one of the nicest ‘good guys’ in the sport and someone i always looked forward to seeing at the judges table every Olympia and Arnold competition weekend. We met when i was a teenager and he, Denie and i went to George Synder’s ‘Best in the World’ competition in Penn, and this was the first time i had ever attended a body building event (Kemp was competing). it was a weekend life changing experience i will never forget and began a lifelong friend with John. the sport has lost one of it finest Ambassadors.”
—Dr. Bob Goldman
Chairman-IFBB & NPC International Medical Commissions
Founder & Chairman-International Sports Hall of Fame
President Emeritus-National Academy of Sports Medicine (NASM)
“John Kemper was a person who really enjoyed and defined the sport of bodybuilding on the East Coast. He was a successful competitor which started with success as a teenager and went into his senior years as an NPC Master’s National Champion. He was a successful gym owner, Diamond Gym in Maplewood, NJ which produced many IFBB pro’s. He was a successful trainer who worked with many successful athletes. John was a top NPC/IFBB National/Professional judge along with being the NPC State Chairman for NJ.
As busy and successful as John was, he ALWAYS made the time to speak with and help the competitors. My girlfriend, Linda Reho competed and won the Overall in the 2007 NPC Mid Atlantic Classic in New Jersey where John provided very valuable feedback following the event. He always remembered us and took the time to chat at NPC / IFBB events.
John was clearly successful in business and in life. He loved life and it showed. The impact he’s had in the bodybuilding industry will live on…and with it, so will John. His presence will certainly be missed however his spirit will live on.”
“I sat alongside John Kemper during many Professional Contests and never found a judge to be more discerning, more objective, and more fair than John. His sensitivity to all the hard work the bodybuilders went through to get on stage was evident every time he judged. Aside from his judging he was a great bodybuilder and a true gentleman! The entire bodybuilding community will miss John Kemper.”
At 17 years old and 140 lbs soaking wet, I walked into the gym. The membership was $75/year.
You took no payments because you knew I couldn’t afford even that.
I’m 18 now; “John, how can I get my legs to grow?” You said, “Squats”.
“Dwayne, you have high lat inserts! You have to do reverse grip bent over
rows for your lower lat!”.
……Thank you John.
Way back in the day, you told me, “That’s not a good idea Dwayne because it’s
……Thank you John.
I’m 19 now; “John, how can I get my legs to grow?” You said again “Squats”.
Any given day I would hear, “F THAT! I’m not doing leg with John and that
damn Parrillo Squat Machine!”
As you walked back to the leg room with your client, I can hear them say,
“Damn John! We’re doing that F’ing Vertical Leg Press again!!!”.
……Thank you John.
I’m 21 years old now; “John, how do I get my legs to…….never mind.”
……Thank you John.
“Hey, Dwayne! Personal training 101, put your weights back!”.
……Thank you John.
“Hey Dwayne! You’re a full service trainer huh?!”…. Lol
……Thank you John.
“Dwayne! Where’s the chalk?! There’s noth’n but white powder in the bowl!”
……Thank you John.
“Dwayne, you’re late!” Me: “It’s my day off John.” You: “You don’t get
daaays off!? What’s that?!”
……Thank you John.
“Dwayne! Someone is on my bike!” Me: “Please get off Johns bike.”
“Dwayne, put my hat in the back…And not on the floor!” Me: “Ok John.”
Me: “Yo man, I don’t think John likes me. He’s always needling me.”
Member: “Na dude. That’s just his way.”
“Dwayne! Where’s the pins for the machines?!”
“Dwayne! Where’s the clips?!”
“Dwayne! You cant do that!”
John, because of you, I put my weights back, my legs did grow, I became a trainer, we’ll ALWAYS have chalk, I make it on time (well, sometimes), we’ll
always have pins, and we’ll always have clips.
Most importantly, because of you, I CAN do that!
I never knew how much you drove me, until now…….Thank you John.