Bitter Death – In Realistic Memoriam (of Sorts)

I recently found out about the death of an old ex-friend, someone whom I’d lost touch with on purpose. He was ‘cool’ – a tattoo artist in Wicker Park when I knew him, and an artist before that. We had a lot in common and David and I came to know each other in a place where the gay scene, the leather scene and the art scene all met up and many damaged but creative, intelligent and original people came to know other. I was a photographer working for several local papers. It was one of the hottest summers in Chicago when hundreds were dying. David gave me his old air conditioner from his shop when he had it replaced, and helped me out in a few other ways when I was struggling starting my business. That summer I photographed him a few times – at his tattoo parlor for a local paper, and in a performance with Ron Athey for another publication and we stayed in touch pretty regularly. We were both bi and artists and in the same group of friends with a lot of the same interests.

But later I found he could be a self-important ass too – I think it was probably drugs combined with ego when he started to get recognition as an important tattoo artist. He took me on one date, and I had a feeling I should not get involved with him. I answered his questions in ways that I knew would turn him off, because I started to get a sense of his egotism and wanted nothing to do with it but didn’t want to directly confront him. In fact, during that evening at a local bar he tried to start a fight with some of the kids hanging around the pool table because one of them looked at him funny. Suffice to say I didn’t want to go home with him, made up some excuse or another and left.

We stayed friends for some time, until he started to date a woman called Lola. At one point there was an art opening for a show that I and several other photographers and artists were in for a charity event. The opening promised to be a major event since it was being held in the very rich area of town at a major department store, with plenty of rich but liberal art buyers in attendance. I decided to bring my friend Charlie with me to the opening. Though he was not from the ‘cool’ scene, he worked at a photo lab (where I used to work) and had as a favor he had printed a very big poster sized lucious print of a portrait of Jiann Kim for me (a portrait I took just shortly after the double overdose on heroin that killed her boyfriend and my friend Max Grey) – something I would have had to pay dearly for if I’d paid for it – and without that gift, I would not have been able to have a piece in the show.

Charlie was a musician but had bad social skills in that he never seemed to realize what other people were thinking of him or how his oddly naive but slightly invasive style of questioning people came across to them. He sincerly complimented David on his tattoos, and strangely David became a real dick nearly instantly as if Charlie had no right to even give him a compliment or something. Charlie asked him where he’d gotten them done and apparently had made the social ‘sin’ of failing to recognize David as an up and coming tattoo artist glitterati or something. It was rather idiotic as far as reactions go. Lola just stood there with her stupid umbrella which she took everywhere (parasol I suppose) and stared, saying nothing.

Charlie, on his side didn’t realize he was being brushed off or dissed by someone who thought he was on a much higher ‘coolness’ scale and social level and just kept on sincerely asking David about his tattoos as he genuinely was impressed – not seeing the irrational irritation that was happening with David (who must have been on some fucking drug to be taking offense at this). David then escalated the whole thing and threatened to punch out Charlie if he didn’t leave him alone. I had to drag Charlie away and told David he was way out of line. That was the last time I ever spoke to David – I thought his treatment of my guest was so shitty that I never dealt with him again even if I ran into him at the same party. On his part, David got in pretty deep with Lola (rumors of heroin use ensued). He also shunned me when he saw me as he was always accompanied by Lola who was a jealous type.

Even though Charlie was not a social butterfly or overly cool, he certainly didn’t deserve that treatment and the way I’d seen David overreact with violence or threats of violence twice totally contradicted other parts of his personality – he seemed conflicted and way too fucked up for me to want to deal with.

But over the years, as you do with people who touch your life and then fuck up, you wonder what happened to them. I saw when I moved to Europe that David also had, and had moved to Amsterdam to start a tattoo business. I thought maybe that was for the best for him but wondered about the whole Amsterdam scene.

Then this year, not long after I posted some shots of David from a Ron Athey performance on Flickr I got an e-mail from a good friend who knew my whole history asking if I’d heard David had killed himself. I had not and was shocked about that. I tried to find out on the internet but only could see his official obituary and some vague references to waiting for a liver transplant and a friend he made while in hospital that he worked a bit on an art project with before he died, so I at first figured maybe he’d never gotten the transplant and started to get despondant and felt quite sorry for him.

Then the story I heard later from a friend who said a close friend of David’s told her what really happened was very much not what I expected, and led me to yet another thought that David had remained at heart a selfish prick. I hate to speak poorly of the dead and maybe someone will correct me, but the only memorials I have seen don’t even mention he killed himself. I suppose most families don’t out of embarrassment or something, but it always seems to do disservice to who the dead really were in life when they do that – like a big cover up.

What I was told was that David did in fact receive a liver transplant. He had at some point apparently contracted hepatitis C which destroyed his liver (that in itself was disappointing to hear from a man who lived through the days of ACT-UP and safe sex awareness, ads about not sharing needles and all the rest but I have no idea how he got it and that was beside the point of what made me really angry.) She said that after the liver transplant he decided he couldn’t live taking the immune suppressant drugs and following whatever diet/health regime he had to follow (ie alter his lifestyle) to keep the transplant. So he got depressed and killed himself.

If this is true, which I have every reason to believe it is – what a fucking waste of a liver transplant. I am sorry but it is so easy to research what it means to get a transplant these days. How could he not have known what it would do to his life and why the fuck did he bother to get a transplant and take the liver that could have gone to another person who would appreciate it when he was just going to waste it by killing himself not long later – that liver could have gone to someone who deserved it.

So David Kotker I do not know not sure why you could never get your selfish ego under control but my opinion about you from the mid-90s was definitely not redeemed in hearing the details of your demise. You were a very good artist and at one point in time you were a friend, but you definitely had inner daemons. Rest in peace. I can hope what I heard is wrong and a bad punk rock rumor – if anyone knows differently (or confirms this) please comment on this post.



  1. Dear Firechick,
    I have a comment for your memorium to David. I am the person who met him in hospital and started making an animation with him.

    It seems like he was a burning comet, and the last few months were very illuminated.
    A generous and patient side of his nature really blossomed after his successful liver transplant. He was giving every ounce of his energy, both physical and emotional, and was not keeping any reserves for himself. I think some people around him did not consider his delicate state and took too much.

    I know David had a lot of “control” issues, and it seems his own “control-freak” nature must have brought that capacity out in many of his relationships. Even during his “after-death-care” there were strict controls imposed by a few to suit their personal idea of what is best….so the natural bonding for some of us was stymied. This caused me to search on the net to make my own connections and give and take thoughts to help understand the trauma of his suicide.

    He really seemed to be changing, I saw a huge progress in him over the few months I knew him. The last week I saw him was a high point, and the emotional atmosphere of the festival we were part of was really a tempest of bad vibes, so David was like a friendly port in a storm. I wanted to blame that storm for his death, but my husband reminded me that this was his second attempt at suicide, and so it was not necessarily the “cause”, maybe just a coincidental symptom.

    David was torn about unresolved conflicts he had with his former spouses which prevented a closer relationship with his kids. Maybe he had the capacity to overcome this if he had not burned out so quickly. He was unbalanced, extreme, but he was learning to give as much as he took, and I was really impressed with his capacity to understand and listen in my last few days with him. He had a lot of wisdom and was ready to share it. I felt very sad to see him go.

    I wonder how much we can know about the relationship between the natural chemical balance in anybody, their attempts to re-calibrate it through self-medication, the emotional yo-yo of somebody who could be chemically imbalanced from the start, and so I don’t want to judge him. I was hurt, I was shocked, but I saw some good there, and I saw some positive evolution, so I wanted to share that. I was ready to excuse myself from the fan club, but circumstance of our collaboration got me passed the rough spots, and I was priveledged to see some very good things in him.

    I hope this provides some fuel to those who need that. I am sure some of this brilliance and wisdom is hereditary, so maybe that will be a form of consolation transferred at birth for those who need it the most.

    If you would like to have a more detailed correspondance you can write to me from the buttons on my site, they are everywhere. Otherwise, keep up the good work.
    – sin-aps –


  2. Hello,

    it’s been over two years now, so maybe i’m a bit late with replying on your comments.
    i have to say it hurt me a lot, the hard oppinion you had about david’s death.
    i was a close friend to with him for several years, and i can see why someone would think of him as selfish or arrogant, as much as i loved him ,sometimes i couldn’t stand him.
    the reason i ‘m writing to you, maybe a bit late and maybe you never read this, is that i wanted to let you know that he was more than just selfish, for me he was like the father i never had, he gave me respect and inspiriation.
    and the thing that makes me upset, is that you are not considering the fact that maybe one of his children will read all the things you have said about him, and you weren’t even close to him the last few years.
    you weren’t there when he had to spend months in hospital, how it must have felt being sick for such a long time and knowing you’re going to die.
    and to have a new life after the transplant, i know it made him feel scared.
    until today i still don’t know why he did it, i’m still angry and it hurts a lot, i miss him.
    so i hope this will help you maybe to see him in a more positive way, i just wanted to let you know that there are people where david was an important part of their lives and who loved him and i am sure he returned their love the best he could at the time.


  3. Hi, I am sorry for your loss and I do/did realize that some people might see this memory and opinion and not like it or would disagree with it, and of course your memories of him will be completely different from mine and I don’t mean to invalidate those at all. I am glad to hear that for some people he was important as someone else stated, and that he could make a positive difference in someone’s life.

    Maybe it would help you understand my point of view to know that my current life partner went through a similar thing – he had a kidney transplant – and I did spend 2 years with him before the transplant when he first had a rare disease that ruined his kidneys, and then while he was on dialysis, fearing death, going through depression etc. – so I know what it is all about.

    I also know from this experience how difficult it is for people who wait for organs to be donated because often it is a race against time. I heard about David’s death literally days after my partner got his own transplant, and was recovering in the hospital – and to me when I heard this news and found the story, it seemed the height of selfishness for someone to accept a transplant from someone (who after all as a dying gesture has donated their organs), and then commit suicide. That transplant could have gone to another family of someone who would truly want to live. Someone else possibly died waiting for a liver while he got one. I know that life is complicated, but that is looking at it from the outside, rather than only from the perspective of David’s own personal issues.


  4. Hi, thank you for your reply and I do understand your point, it’s also something I’m angry about, but that’s just one of the thousand feelings i have about the whole situation
    But I think in the end David didn’t think about anyone else , maybe he couldn’t anymore.

    I wish you and you loved ones a healthy and happy life.


  5. would you have this photo image?

    “. . .. big poster sized lucious print of a portrait of Jiann Kim for me (a portrait I took just shortly after the double overdose on heroin that killed her boyfriend and my friend Max Grey)”


  6. I have the negatives and may have one or two prints still in storage. It was sold for charity actually during that art show.


  7. I knew David in the early eighties and illustrated a book of his poems. He was a bit
    uptight and pushy sometimes, but on the other hand he gave of himself generously
    and I honestly can’t imagine him as an egomaniac of any description. He was the
    third friend I have lost to suicide and while I miss him and wish the outcome might
    have been different for him I respect any persons right to end their existence if that
    is their choice.


  8. I just found this today because I need some work touched up that he did. I knew that he killed himself but you are the first person to call him as he was. Everyone wants to glorify him in his death but the truth is that he was manipulative, egotistical, and a user. He had some good points but most of them were hidden by how many bad points he displayed.

    He fucked up the work on my back because he was on drugs and then got upset with me when I asked him to fix it (me flying out to Amsterdam) for free.

    Whatever. You reap what you sew. At least someone can stand up and tell the truth about it.


  9. This is a sad story. I met Kotker a couple of times and googled his name today because I always wondered what happened to him. I was tattooed at his studio in 2003 and, although I was never truly happy with my tattoo, there’s no doubt that it was a wonderful studio.

    I recognise the descriptions of Kotker’s character. It was obvious that he was a difficult man. But any death is a tragedy and his is no exception. My condolences to his family and friends.


  10. I worked with his father very recently for 2 years, that’s where he got all his traits from. His father is the EXACT same way so that’s where he learned it from. His Mother & Father don’t even acknowledge their 3 grandchildren that their son fathered….they don’t visit, send them birthday cards or accept them in anyway whatsoever.Deadbeat Dad…no child support. I know them now in 2008…they cannot face the facts. It’s just too painful & real for them to be honest. His father is an ASSHOLE…he goes out of his way to wreck your life or make you “pay” for anything he doesn’t agree with that offends him, he is the first person down at the courthouse researching how he can get revenge on you…It’s really pretty sick..I’ve had the un-opportunity to watch him firsthand to do this to people…he’s a retired Boeing engineer & has nothing else to do. So yeah David learned it from his father..asshole to asshole but I really don’t blame Dave Jr. I really blame his dad who I personally know and I hope is living in mental torture every single day he wakes up. His life is tortured & hell and I’m pretty sure that is the reason why he makes it his life’s mission to go go SO out of his way to make other people’s life hell. He is a miserable f****king man…bullies his wife…is a wife abuser mentally & emotionally…ah a family abuser is the better term.
    I know firsthand. Dave Kotker Senior (who now lives in Bellevue, WA) is an A-1 FIRST CLASS Number ONE Mother FUcking JERK! I’d probably kill myself too after a new wasted kidney if I was raised by him. NOTHING you can ever do whether you are his child or a co-worker or whatever is NEVER right according to his Dad…I don’t care HOW hard you try.You will get lectured & told what an idiot you are for NOT being able to follow orders. This man has a serious problem & his goal is just simply revenge..for whatever….it’s just SO wrong. Sorry Dave Jr. great artist & life you could have had that your father made sure to ruin it all for you.


  11. This message is in reply to the slanderous and inaccurate blog left by Kitty Harper.
    I am have been a personal family friend to the Kotker’s for over twelve years. The first
    inaccuracy I want to point out is that Dave has three grandchildren. Dave has TWO grandchildren and they DO receive birthday cards, presents and visit their grandparents on a regular basis. Dave and his wife have a wonderful relationship with their grandkids and love them very much. The second inaccuracy is that Dave mentally abuses and bullies his wife. This could not be further from the truth. Dave has a wonderful relationship with his wife and treats her with the upmost repect. I am sorry that you had to stoop so low as to write such untruths. I think YOU are the tortured and miserable soul here. It must suck to be you.


  12. I urge Kitty Harper to contact the activists who are lobbying to heighten awareness of the adequacy challenged. They need help with their legislative initiative, an amendment to the Americans with Disabilities Act which will designate DIP (difficult and impossible personality) as a syndrome with elegibility for SSI benefits.


  13. Poor disgruntled Kitty. Even her slanders are sloppy.

    If this characterization of the father

    “he goes out of his way to wreck your life or make you “pay” for anything he doesn’t agree with that offends him, he is the first person down at the courthouse researching how he can get revenge on you…”

    were accurate, she would not have posted her defamatory (libelous?) comment.


  14. Like other people on this page I googled David’s name because I wondered what had become of him. He was a friend of mine in the early 1980s and introduced me to many places and people who would become important to me, briefly or enduringly. I recognize the self-centeredness and bitchiness mentioned in the original post, but also the generosity and enthusiasm described by others in response.

    After we lost track of each other we would occasionally stumble into each others’ company. At one of my band’s gigs in Berlin, he turned up backstage, over-indulged and eventually got himself ejected from the venue. At another gig in Chicago, he appeared sitting at the bar next to a co-worker of mine, and I sought to introduce them, not knowing that they were already well-acquainted, with some apparent history.

    I don’t really know why I’m responding here, other than to say David had something to do with the person I am today, I’m grateful for that, and I’m saddened to find out he’s dead. It’s beyond me to pass judgment on the way he treated other people, but with anyone as tightly-wound as David, anybody who gets close enough to feel the effect of his personality ought to know what he’s capable of.


    • I am writing because I heard something about this page, and wanted to shed a little light. I am the mother of David’s oldest child, whom David loved and supported to the very best of his abilities. David’s parents have always been doting and supportive grandparents.
      David suffered from Asperger Syndrome. If you don’t know much about it, please take the time to educate yourself. I am sure it will help you to understand, and possibly make some peace with the memory of this very beautiful, special and conflicted man who touched all our lives.


  15. Hi tenspeed,

    I read the description of the syndrome and really don’t see how it applied to David as an adult in his 20s when I knew him. He never seemed anti social or unable to have empathy to me. He certainly could. But often he did act out. He took drugs and was egotistical and insecure at the same time. He could be judgemental, or he could be brilliant and friendly, and he was an artist who impressed many people. Like many artists, he was an emotional mess, and full of contradictions (see Mr Polanski for reference – child rapist and yet brilliant director). I don’t think that excuses any of his behavior towards others, even if he was diagnosed with this syndrome at some point in his life.

    We are always responsible for what we choose to do. I still maintain, after all these years, that accepting a liver transplant and then killing yourself shortly afterwards is the ultimate act of selfishness, denying someone else of the ability to live by taking that liver for yourself, which otherwise would have gone to another patient and which was the last dying gift of someone else. This is my opinion. I am not trying to simplify David. He had many facets. This is certainly one facet that the world could have done without, however. I am at peace with his memory, I simply am commenting from the perspective of the partner of someone who is living with a transplant now as to my feelings on the matter. I believe I have the right to my own opinion, which are quite likely to differ from other people’s opinions since they are based on my own personal perspective. You are welcome to set up a tribute page, and focus on the positive aspects such as his art pieces and perhaps you are in a better position than I am to do so. In fact, I suggest that for his children this might be a very good thing to do.


  16. I was a friend of David at college and several years after. we would drift in and out of touch. I liked him. Simply said. I Am sad to hear of his passing, though as i looked him up i was thinking that i wouldn’t be surprised to learn that he had died. He could be self centered and egotistical, but i usually enjoyed his company anyway. I had assumed he would always be in the collection of people i called my friends. I Am sorry to see him go.


    • I knew David in Chicago. He dated a good friend of mine and we went out clubbing a lot. He was a kind man, behind his facade. He was a smart man, gifted, scared and troubled. He was desperate. He was gentle. He could be seen as cold and mean and harsh and dark but I saw his tender side. He did the best he could. I will miss him. He suffered. Don’t be a hater. He was doing his best with what he was. RIP David I love you. Kimmy


  17. David was a brilliant man with a broken heart. He was too sensitive for this world. He will be misinterpreted in death as he often was in life. This matters not. Our words fall empty now. David was many things–talented, wise, troubled, tired, important. Rest in Peace David, I had fun knowing you. Kimmy


  18. Incredible amazed I have been reading this stories about David Kotker. Written by people who felt he was unimportant to them but apparently important enough to kick him after his death, disrespectful with their stupidity.
    How sad is your life, if you need to put, a passed away person who can not defend him selves, in such a bad light?

    David R.I.P.


    • No one said he was unimportant to those who he pissed off with his thoughtless or abusive behavior, au contraire … he was a mixed bag, and this is a realistic memoriam not a cock stroke.


  19. His name popped into my head today and now here I am, sad; but, at the same time, filled with vivid memories. I knew David and his girlfriend Cindy House way back when we were all young and just venturing forth into the”Scene.” David was still doing bronze sculpture and hadn’t even begun to think about inking himself up. He introduced me to the wonderful artist community of Pilsen, on the southwest side of Chicago, and I rented a loft down the street from his apartment. He used to throw dinner parties in his studio with black voodoo candles burning in the middle of the plywood table (where does one even buy voodoo candles?). I attended his openings and seem to recall his pieces starting to command relatively high prices among some Chicago collectors. I also recall his bronzing some chicken feet he bought at a local Mexican grocery store. His artwork was original, as was he. Personally, he was a passionate sensualist. I was with him the first night he shyly ventured forth in drag. As a textbook Midwestern conformist myself, although I couldn’t understand what in the hell he was doing, I admired his bravery; David was fearless back then. I miss him, and Cindy, as well as those halcion days of our youth. I’m glad our paths crossed, I believe I am a better person for having known him. I will be putting him, his children, his parents, and even Cindy House, where ever she is, in my prayers tonight.


  20. I just looked up the no hope web site as i was going to go back for another tattoo.Which led me here, such a shame to hear the loss of a great artist. I did not know David as a friend but i have three tattoos from his amsterdam no hope no fear, and I have people commenting on them all the time. All three tattoos were designed as one off never to be repeated and i have not seen anything like them.So rip David im proud to carry some of your art.


  21. I was thinking of Davis today and came across this thread Here is one fo the last emails David sent to me regarding my wedding.. it was brilliant and I miss him.

    Dear Myka,
    ..yet another transformation. The boy seems greet. Good luck, but he is a uki and I’d thought that catholics were your forbidden fruit.

    All My Best,

    it is a bit of a coincidence that one of the three ( now there is that number pessky number: there are two of you and 2×3 is 6, there are three testimonals (from the word testament?) and therefore three 6’s, or 666 ) witnesses for Dimitri ( to give a testament is to testify ) is a certain author named T. Sellars.
    I mean coincidence, or a demonic convergence of Biblical proportions? Just out of deep personal concern for you and terror could you possible give me some details of this so-called marriage ritual that is to take place in Jamaica, which is conventiently the third point of a triange, with the other two being the Bermuda triangle and Haiti.
    I’m sure it is all just coincidence, but….


  22. I just googled David because he is a person who marked my life in a good and less good ways, i will never forget him.

    I see lot of bitter reactions to the way he was a long time ago, when he still used…well drugs (and alcohol) tend to do this to people. We can be angry about it, but we should try to understand where it is coming from first.
    We all do stupid things in life that we regret at one point.
    Wel he regretted it too i’m sure.
    David never ment to ‘really’ hurt anyone.
    He had a good heart, was very gentle and tried to be the best father he could.
    Actually i can tell you first hand it was a ‘daily’ torture for him not to see his kids. He adored them and even cried sometimes out of pure frustration…
    All he wanted was a real peaceful family life.
    Sure he was manipulative and sometimes harsh but you can not forget that people with this syndrome do not react the same ways to situations as we do.
    I follow Steve Albini if i say that David inspired/introduced many people to their new and briljant future. He also made me the successful woman i am now, created great (tattoo)artists. Was very generous to people when he saw passion.
    Rest in peace David and forgive me for not being able to give you the love you so longed for…


  23. dear bittergirl,
    i’m not here to defend david or applaud him. i never met him. i just want say this about suicide, which is very hard for non-suicidal folks to understand: once you get to certain point in Despair, even the grace of great gifts like livers start to fade away. when i first read of his death, like you i was horrified that someone could do such a thing (i have a very dear friend who was on the liver list for years.. finally he got one), until i remembered the despair. I have severe clinical depression and struggle almost every day with suicidal ideation. it is a serious illness like any other… liver failure or cancer or what have you. he may have accepted that liver with the full hope that he would treat it right.. and then may have fallen into despair. who knows. (some people also become psychotic from the drugs they give you after transplants. i don’t know if that is part of david’s story)
    like i said, i never knew david, but i can’t imagine he killed himself out of folly.


  24. Like many of you I Googled David’s name during a day of reflection, having met him and known him briefly as a visiting artist in residence in the 1990’s. Although I knew him only a short time, he obviously left a strong and lasting impression on me. I too witnessed many of the negative qualities that are mentioned here. But he was also a passionate force to be reckoned with, brave, insightful, engaging, when he entered a room you knew it. When he picked me out of a large group of people to talk with in detail re: art and his many ideas for future projects, I felt honored. He had that combination of intrigue and intelligence that is so compelling. It saddens me so that he ended up in such an abysmal place. That he was so hopeless and miserable that he saw suicide as his best option. No one, regardless of faults and mistakes, deserves this tragic end. I hope that he is at peace, and that his work will live on as a testament to his talents. RIP David- thank you for some wonderful times.


  25. Yes people are still remebering dave in 2018! I met him in 83 or 84. Intr oduced him to pilsen and told him to quit fooling around and make his statues out of bronze! He was a close friend. We were neighbors in pilsen until he moved to europe. I went to his memorial in chicago after he died. Dave was the wildest cat i ever new and thats saying something. I understand completely everything bittergirl wrote about him but i loved the guy and miss him. I appreciate bittergirls detailed account of her encounters with dave. However negative you brought him back to life for me and i appreciate it. Thanks!

    Liked by 1 person

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