Friends say Mike Kelley’s death was suicide, but no official word yet


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Authorities have yet to determine an official cause of Mike Kelley’s death, but several good friends of the artist say all signs point to a suicide. The discovery of his body at his South Pasadena house came in a bathroom, with propane tanks for a barbecue and pharmaceuticals nearby, according to the friends. They say he was depressed, had a recent break-up with a girlfriend, and briefly went into rehab for drinking.

Kelley was depressed about the art world as well, says Emi Fontana, the Milan-born founder of Pasadena-based nonprofit West of Rome, who started living in California after she began dating Kelley a decade ago.


PHOTOS: Mike Kelley | 1954-2012

‘‪He had a deep discomfort in seeing what the art world is now,’ Fontana said. ‘He didn’t like the fact that everything has become so corporate. He said to me: If I were to start now, I would never become a visual artist.‬

‪’He really wanted to be an important artist, and he worked all of his life for that. He found himself at the top of his game, and then found that the world he was at the top of was a world that he didn’t like. That’s intense existentially‬.’

Kelley and Fontana were together for eight years and remained close enough after their breakup that they worked together on projects, such as Kelley’s Baby Ikki collaboration with Michael Smith, and often attended events together, such as Richard Jackson’s Pacific Standard Time performance last week in the Rose Bowl area.

Click here for the full L.A. Times obituary.


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-- Jori Finkel