Joey Kovar passed away late last week. While most media outlets and gossip sites have extensively discussed his appearances on “reality” shows like The Real World and Celebrity Rehab, a lot of folks may be a surprised to learn that Joey was an aspiring professional wrestler who had, at one point in his life, pursued a career in the business. After Kovar's stints on reality shows, his reputation for partying hard and crashing even harder was known to many. Despite that, there were a a few folks in the wrestling world who were willing to take a chance on him.
I remember seeing Kovar backstage when he showed up for a guest appearance at last year’s POWW’s WrestleRage IX show in Elk Grove, Illinois. I didn’t know a lot about Joey’s work in reality television, but I remember how he was warmly greeted by everyone in the POWW lockerroom and the Chicago-area crowd that night. Early in the evening, I stood just a few feet away from Joey as he talked with one of the other guys backstage about his struggles with addiction and how he really felt like he had gotten his priorities straight in life, both for his own sake and for that of his growing family. Joey seemed to really appreciate the benefits of sobriety as well as the support of family and friends, including the men and women of POWW.
I learned of Joey’s passing late last Friday after I saw a status update posted by POWW owner Jim Blaze. Jim fondly recalled Joey’s charisma and potential as an in-ring performer and indicated that he had firmly believed that Kovar might have had a shot at the big leagues had he stuck with pro wrestling. I talked with Blaze by phone over the weekend and he shared some personal insight on Joey’s aspirations and the challenges he faced in recent years.
Blaze explained that he came to know Kovar through a mutual acquaintance, Dave Williams of Windy City Wrestling. At Williams' suggestion, Blaze invited Kovar to train at POWW’s wrestling school in Lakemoor, Illinois. “I knew about his problems with drugs and all that from seeing him on television, but I gave him a shot. We bonded instantly,” Blaze recalled. “We both were picked on in school because we loved wrestling, and Joey’s dream -- like mine -- was to be a pro wrestler.” For several months, Kovar trained at the POWW facility and showed some promise. “His goal was to be in TNA, and I honestly thought I could make it there.”
About four months into the POWW program, Kovar expressed a desire to move a little closer to home. He picked up some more training at a facility near Joliet, Illinois, but, according to Blaze, Joey fell back into old habits and ended up back in rehab shortly thereafter. “He called me when he got out,” Blaze said. “Everybody knew what had happened. He said he wanted to give it another shot and he came to a few shows. After a while, I asked if he wanted to do some commentary at a show and he was really excited.” Their discussion led to Kovar’s appearance at WrestleRage IX in which he walked to the ring, picked up a microphone, and told the audience about the hard times he’d endured and his desire to finally make an positive impact in the wrestling business. The same night, Kovar had a brief dust-up with TNA’s Robbie E in which he foiled Robbie’s vicious in-ring attack on Blaze. The crowd loved it and it seemed like Joey finally had a home in the squared circle. "I knew he was clean at WrestleRage," Blaze said with a smile. "He had the right people around him and I guess I felt like it was time to give him his dream."
However, Blaze lost touch with Kovar again after last year’s show. “He’d send me texts once in a while, checking in and sharing inspirational messages," Blaze said. "He was very spiritual and shared a lot of motivational ideas with people. That’s what he did best and that’s what a lot of us will remember him for.”
Blaze addressed Kovar’s passing in a talk with the POWW lockerroom shortly before their show on Saturday night. “A lot of jaws dropped when I told them the news because quite a few of them didn’t know Joey had died," he said. "I reminded them that we all have our demons and that it’s a matter of everybody sticking together, helping each other through things, and overcoming those demons.”
In my life outside of wrestling-themed pursuits, I’ve spent the better part of two decades working closely with scores upon scores of people in various stages of the addiction cycle. It’s a difficult and often tragic situation. It’s often exhausting and discouraging because while there are plenty of touching tales of success and redemption, there are many, many more stories that end in tragedy, with a promising life cut short as friends and family are left to grieve and wonder what could have been. By all accounts, Joey Kovar was the victim of his own excesses and his death was extremely unfortunate. During his lifetime, though, he enjoyed the support of fans and admirers and he was fortunate enough to get a shot at living his dream when he trained with wrestlers of POWW Entertainment. Jim Blaze deserves recognition for being one of the people who still believes in giving individuals a second chance despite their emotional baggage and personal struggles. Sometimes, given the right circumstances and a little luck, that kind of gesture makes all of the difference in the life of a troubled person.