Roommate to MI lawmaker found dead: ‘You were such a rockstar’

State Representative John Kivela (D-Marquette) during a House Tax Policy Committee meeting on Wednesday, Nov. 4, 2015. (Courtesy: Michigan House Democrats)

LANSING, Mich. (WOOD) — A Michigan senator’s letter to an Upper Peninsula lawmaker found dead Tuesday is making its way across social media.

Democratic Sen. David Knezek of Dearborn Heights said he lived with Rep. John Kivela in the Lansing home where Kievela’s body was found early Tuesday afternoon. There were no obvious indications of foul play, authorities said.

Hours later, Knezek posted an open letter to Kivela on Facebook.

“I still remember our first conversation on the phone after you won your race. No one expected you to win but you did.

‘It’s because I put the word SISU on my lawn signs,’ you said.

‘What’s SISU mean?’

‘Finnish concept. You know we got all those Finns in da UP. It means strength in the face of adversity. I’m going to fight for my folks.’

“I told you I loved that concept and within of week of us meeting in person, I had my own SISU bumper sticker to put on my car. That’s the type of person you were,” Knezek wrote.

Knezek said Kivela, a Democrat from Marquette, was respected on both sides of the aisle and loved by everyone – something Knezek aspired to be.

“I wish you would have known just how many of us loved you and knew just how devastated everyone is in Lansing today. I can’t even begin to imagine how people are feeling in Marquette. I’ve gotten text messages from Democrats and Republicans alike who are just beside themselves,” he wrote.

Knezek also gave an insider’s view of Kivela’s personality.

“I always laughed at the can of ‘Bull**** Spray’ you used to keep on the shelf. Whenever I was weaving a tall tale together you used to grab the can and give me a look that said, “Cut the cr**, kid,” he recounted.

Clinton County Sheriff Lawrence Jerue said Kivela was arrested Monday on southbound U.S. 127 near Maple Rapids.

Knezek said he heard the arrest was for drunken driving — Kivela’s second offense. Kivela previously pleaded guilty to drunken driving after his November 2015 arrest in Clinton County.

On Facebook, Knezek didn’t hold back on discussing Kivela’s struggles with alcohol.

“Whenever we had a beer you never had more than two. Whenever we had a glass of wine, you never had more than one. So when you were arrested for drunk driving in 2015, I had no idea you were an alcoholic. You made a huge mistake, John, but I was glad you did the right thing when you told the public:

‘I have a problem. I am seeking treatment.’

“Most people would hide from their problems. You advertised it to the world. I respected that. I asked you if you really were an alcoholic because I had never seen you drunk before:

‘I’m a functioning alcoholic, David. And one thing alcoholics are good at is keeping secrets. I’m always drinking. You just never know it,’” Kivela reportedly told Knezek.

Knezek said he and another lawmaker then emptied the house of every ounce of alcohol they could find.

“You entered treatment. I thought things were starting to get better,” he wrote.

Knezek was one of the last people to talk to Kivela before his death.

“I tried to put my anger aside when I heard you calling my name from your bedroom this (Tuesday) morning. You told me how you have a serious problem and that the only people you’re thinking about are your wife and your kids. You told me that you had let down the people who love you. I told you that the people who love you are going to love you no matter what and that you needed serious help.

‘I’m going to resign. I’m going to seek inpatient treatment. I don’t know what it is but when I start I just can’t stop.’

‘You have a disease, John. You need help, but you need to want to be helped. It can’t be forced on you. Everyone will support you every step of the way.’

I gave you a hug, I said that I loved you, you said that you loved me. Those were our last words to each other,” he recounted.

Knezek said when he got the call there were authorities in front of their house Tuesday, he made his way there, fearing the worst.

“Those fears were confirmed when I walked inside and learned that you had taken your own life. I saw your black dress shoes on the floor and I had the biggest urge to grab them and place them by the doorway so that they’d be ready for when you came downstairs in your suit to talk to me outside the bathroom door tomorrow. It still doesn’t feel like you are gone,” he wrote.

Hours after Kivela’s death, Knezek said he didn’t think he could stay in their house anymore and he planned to move out.

“You were such a rockstar, John. You meant so much too so many of us. You brought smiles to the faces of so many people when they were down – you had a real way of picking up on people’s moods like that. You were so passionate about the Upper Peninsula and always had a way of going above and beyond to ensure you could score a win for your district. Remember that time you had the Governor visit your district and you staged people running and biking along a trail and staged people paddling by in kayaks in the water to convince the Governor that you needed more funding to promote the already bustling parks and recreation opportunities in Marquette? He fell for it. We rolled with laughter,” he wrote.

Knezek said his memory of Kivela will center around those types of moments.

“You made mistakes along the way but we all do. You had your demons and they got the best of you. I hope that others will learn from your story and get the help they need when they need it. Mistakes were made but that’s not the John I’m going to remember.

Warm smile, salt and pepper hair, Upper Peninsula charm, a bear in the Legislature.

That’s my John Kivela,” he added.

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National Suicide Prevention Lifeline: 1.800.273.8255