By Laura Bollin and Jason Maholy
The family of an Evergreen Park man who starred on a popular MTV reality show is remembering him as a funny and talented guy who dreamed of being an actor, and who had in the past few years begun to turn his life around.
Joseph Kovar, 29, who became known to reality television fans across the country as Joey on “The Real World: Hollywood,” was found dead shortly before 9 a.m. last Friday in the bedroom of a friend’s condominium in the 9800 block of Sayre Avenue, according to police. Foul play is not suspected, said Chicago Ridge police Cmdr. Brian Galske; however, neither police nor Kovar’s family members know yet how he died. The Cook County medical examiner’s office will conduct an autopsy, and the results of a toxicology report could take up to six weeks, Galske said.
Kovar had a history of substance abuse that was chronicled on “The Real World” and during his time as a cast member of VH1’s “Celebrity Rehab with Dr. Drew,” but relatives said the former Evergreen Park High School student had in the past couple of years turned his life over to God, been baptized as a Christian and dedicated himself to overcoming addiction. He leaves behind his fiancée and two young children.
Joseph’s grandfather, Eugene Kovar, said his grandson grew up wanting to be a wrestler and an actor, and had an affinity for Hulk Hogan and Arnold Schwarzenegger.
“He loved wrestling, and would always wrestle in my backyard,” Eugene Kovar said. “He idolized Arnold Schwarzenegger and did bodybuilding. He wanted to be like him.”
Joseph was “always a joker,” performed excellent impersonations of celebrities and was a talented wrestling announcer, his grandfather said. He would often perform as the ring announcer for a Chicago-based wrestling outfit – and despite being promised money for the gigs was usually not paid, Eugene added.
“He would come home and I’d ask him how much he made, and he’d say, ‘What do mean? They didn’t pay me anything,’” he recalled.
Kovar struggled with addiction and had admitted to abusing alcohol, cocaine, methamphetamine, ecstasy and steroids. His trials were well-documented on “The Real World,” when after a night of partying that included using cocaine he became belligerent with and frightened his housemates. He later expressed his disappointment with himself, opened up about his struggles with addiction and left the show to check into a rehabilitation facility. He returned to the show later that season, and at the cast’s reunion episode that year claimed he had been sober for 10 months.
Overcoming addiction, however, can be a lifelong struggle, and Kovar resurfaced on television in January 2010 on Season 3 of “Celebrity Rehab with Dr. Drew,” which also featured Pro Basketball Hall of Famer Dennis Rodman, actor Tom Sizemore and late former Alice in Chains bassist Mike Starr. Kovar completed the program and was doing really well two years ago when “Celebrity Rehab” counselor Bob Foster visited the Kovars’ home in Evergreen Park, his grandfather said.
Kovar had been “doing great” and staying away from alcohol and drugs for at least the last two weeks, during which time he was working on the landscaping in his grandparents’ garden. Joseph worked from morning to night during the course of the project, and it was not lost on Euegene that Kovar’s dedication to the task was a means o stay occupied and keep his mind off the things that could make him stray from sobriety. Eugene Kovar last saw Joseph at 10:30 p.m. last Thursday when he said he was going to a friend’s house.
Eugene said Joseph did not have many true friends, but mostly acquaintances who were bad influences.
“They weren’t his friends, they were his enemies,” he said.
Kovar had in the past couple of years found God, and about two years ago was baptized as a Christian, Euegene said.
“He also wanted to be a songwriter, and he was very religious,” Kovar said. “Every day he would light a couple of candles and say his prayers at the kitchen table. He loved Jesus Christ. The last song he wrote was called, ‘In My Suffering,’ about [Jesus]. He was always singing and playing guitar.”
Mr. Kovar is survived by his fiancé, Elaine Thompson; his children, Joey and Mara; his mother, Debbie; his grandfather, Eugene; his grandmother, Jennie; his brothers, Tommy and David; and his sister, Alyssa. A funeral service was held yesterday at Kosary Funeral Home in Evergreen Park. A funeral Mass will be held today at 10 a.m. at the First Church of God, 4600 W. 111th Street in Oak Lawn. Interment will be private.