Search

Dr. Kevorkian: A Walking Controversy

Updated: Mar 20

Every generation some great person comes along to challenge the social norms of the day. They make those around them think deeply about the issues in the world and how to enact change. It's not uncommon for such people to make waves and create controversy to gain attention for their cause. Though, most people do still remain within the letter of the law when protesting for the change they desire to see. Some, on the other hand, break the law repeatedly, living by their own beliefs instead. Though Dr. Kevorkian never murdered anyone, he did repeatedly involve himself in assisted suicides when it was clearly against the law to do so. He became known worldwide for his "dying is not a crime" view on assisted suicide.

Dr. Kevorkian was born Murad Kevorkian on May 26, 1928, in Pontiac, Michigan. He would later become known as Jack. He was born to Armenian immigrants, Levon and Satenig Kevorkian, and was the second of their three children. His parents had fled the Ottoman Empire, present-day Turkey, during the Armenian Genocide that took place in WWI. The systematic mass genocide of around one million Armenian people had been spearheaded by the ruling Committee of Union and Progress.

Levon fled in 1912, heading directly for Pontiac. He found work at an automobile foundry and made a nice life for himself. Satenig didn't flee the country until 1915. She stayed with relatives in Paris, France for a time before making her way the United States. She eventually ended up in Pontiac to reunite with her brother. She met Levon through the Armenian community and the rest was blissful history. They married and had their first child, Margaret. Jack was next to come along before his younger sister, Flora.


At some point in the 1930s, Levon, like many others during the Great Depression, lost his job at the foundry. The loss wasn't the end for him though, as it had been for so many. Instead he was able to open up his own excavation company. Despite the hard times faced during the Depression, he managed to make a good living for his family. Needless to say, this was not easily accomplished in that era. The family lived quite comfortably in a bucolic, multi-cultural suburb in Pontiac. They seemed exempt from the struggles of the economic depression that was destroying so many lives. Later in life, Jack would say of his parents, "My parents sacrificed a great deal so that we children would be spared undue privation and misery."

Levon and Satenig were very strict and religious, making sure that their children were obedient and faithful to God. They regularly attended church and expected their children in attendance as well. While Margaret and Flora posed no issues here, Jack was another story completely. He'd spent his childhood hearing stories of the Armenian Genocide from his mother. He had an extremely hard time reconciling the mass murder of around one million people with the idea of an all-knowing, all-powerful God. He wondered aloud how God could allow such a thing to happen without intervening. Every week in Sunday school, he openly argued with his teacher about the idea of miracles and and an all-knowing higher power. At the age of 12, he decided that he wasn't going to receive an answer satisfactory to him, so he stopped going altogether.

The Kevorkian children weren't only expected to be obedient. They were also expected to be excellent students. Being the only boy in the family, Jack had much higher expectations placed on him than his sisters. He was the focus of his parents attention and he didn't have to try hard to impress them, as he was brilliant. From a young age, Jack loved to read and did so voraciously. He was a very talented academic, artist, and musician. Young Jack Kevorkian was the definition of a prodigy.

He loved the arts, including drawing and painting. He also loved to play the piano and he mastered other instruments as well. Possessing a very critical and analytical mind, he was every bit as much of a pain in the ass to his school teachers as he had been in his Sunday school class. Regularly he engaged in arguments with them and would even humiliate them in front of the class when they couldn't keep up with his debate skills. This earned him a small amount of admiration from his peers, but that was it. His effortless ability to learn and excel alienated him from his classmates. In the sixth grade he was promoted to Eastern Junior High School. By the time he reached high school, he had taught himself to speak German and Japanese, and would later teach himself Russian and Greek as well.

He was slapped with the label of an eccentric bookworm and not surprisingly, he had a tough time making friends. He gave up the notion of romantic relationships completely, deeming them an unnecessary distraction from school work. Apparently he never gave up that notion because he never married or had any children. At the age of 17, in 1945, he graduated high school and his teachers collectively breathed a sigh of relief.


Jack was accepted to the University of Michigan College of Engineering with the goal of becoming a civil engineer. Halfway through his freshman year he was already bored with his studies and couldn't take any more of the monotony. He shifted his focus to biology and botany, but quickly became bored with that, too. He finally shifted his focus to medicine and felt that he had found his calling. He was determined to make it into medical school. So determined, in fact, that that he would take 20 credit hours in a single semester in order to obtain the 90 hours required to get in. In 1952, Jack graduated from the University of Michigan and soon after started his specialty in pathology.

His career was halted for a while when the Korean War broke out in 1953. Jack served for 15 months in Korea as an Army medical officer before finishing his service in Colorado. Once his service was finished, he was free to start his internship at the University of Michigan Medical Center in the 1950s. It was there that his morbid fascination with death, as well as the act of dying, was born. He would actually visit terminally ill patients regularly and photograph their eyes in an attempt to capture the very moment of death on film. I'm sure the weird kid with the camera wasn't at all unsettling to the sick and dying, just trying to pass in peace. He thought that the information would be useful in distinguishing death from fainting, coma, or shock, to determine when it was no longer useful to attempt resurrection.


Later in his life, in an interview with reporters he said, "But really, my number one reason was because it was interesting. And my second reason was because it was a taboo subject." Jack never seemed to shy away from odd behavior or creating a stir. He eventually proposed preforming experiments that received a whole lot of sideways glances, not only in the medical community, but the penal system as well. Inspired by experiments preformed on Egyptian criminals by the ancient Greeks, Jack wanted to preform similar experiments on consenting death-row inmates.

He actually expected inmates to volunteer for what he termed as "painless" medical experiments. They would be preformed on the day of the execution for each volunteer. The prisoners would be alive and conscious and the experiments would result in their deaths. His proposal stated: "I propose that a prisoner condemned to death by due process of law be allowed to submit, by his own free choice, to medical experimentation under complete anesthesia (at the time appointed for administering the penalty) as a form of execution in lieu of conventional methods prescribed by law." He argued that prisoners could provide a service to society before their terms were carried out.

It was this very unusual and disturbing proposal that earned him the nickname Dr. Death. He would carry this name for the rest of his life. The wild idea he'd proposed to the university received a great deal of media attention. Not because it was widely supported, but because no one could believe this guy was actually serious. The attention he gained for his controversial proposal led to his dismissal from the University of Michigan Medical Center. In no way, shape, or form did the hospital want to be associated with his strange views and ideas on death. They distanced themselves as quickly as possible from what they saw as a walking controversy. Surprisingly, he did actually gain a small amount of support, but not enough.

Jack returned to his idea of experimenting on death row inmates after the Supreme Court ruled to reinstate the death penalty in the case of Gregg v. Georgia in 1976. This time, he suggested that the organs of inmates be removed after execution for transplant into sick patients. Prison officials weren't on board the last time, and they weren't on board this time, either.

After being dismissed from the University of Michigan Medical Center, Jack finished his internship at Pontiac General Hospital. It was there he heard about an exciting new experiment preformed by a medical team in Russia. Once again, he was inspired when he heard about how this team had managed to transfuse blood from a corpse into living patients. He quickly enlisted the help of a medical technologist named Neal Nicol to simulate the experiments themselves. The results were actually quite successful, but considering that Jack contracted Hepatitis C, that's really up for debate. He didn't only test on himself, he tested on his co-workers at the hospital, too. He thought that this research would be beneficial on battlefields. If blood was unavailable from a bank, then a wounded soldier could be given the blood of a corpse to save their lives.

He pitched his idea to the Pentagon, thinking that it would be helpful in the Vietnam War. They denied him a federal grant to continue his work on the subject. In the end, his research only served to alienated him from his colleagues even further, as well as scare the hell out of them. I'm quite sure they were all just thrilled to be working right next to Dr. Death. Especially after he gave himself Hepatitis conducting dangerous experiments on himself and others.

In 1960, Jack finally qualified as a specialist in pathology. For years afterward, he bounced around the country from one hospital to another. He never made any friends or had a single romantic relationship that anyone could speak of. During that time he published more than 30 booklets and articles in journals. He even tried opening his own practice in Detroit, Michigan, but the business was a flop. He closed his short-lived practice and moved to sunny California. There, he commuted between two part-time positions as a pathologist in Long Beach. Both of these jobs ended up being as short-lived as his private practice had been.

A dispute with the Chief of Pathology quickly ended his term at both jobs. He claimed that his career was doomed from the start by physicians that feared his radical ideas. I'm willing to bet they feared him just as much, but his ideas didn't help his case any. In the 80's, Dr. Kevorkian wrote a series of articles on his new fascination, the ethics of euthanasia. These articles were published in the German journal, Medicine and Law. By 1987, he had started posting ads in the Detroit newspapers as a physician consultant for what he was calling "death counseling."

In 1989, he built his first euthanasia device at his kitchen table using $30 worth of scrap parts, $66 worth today. He obtained these parts from garage sales and hardware stores. Once he was finished, the device consisted of a metal frame with three canisters mounted to it. Each canister had a syringe that connected to a single IV line. One canister contained saline, the second, a sleep-inducing barbiturate called sodium thiopental, and the third, a mixture of potassium chloride to immediately stop the heart, and pancuronium bromide, a paralytic to prevent spasms during death. He called his device the Thanatron, or the Death Machine. He derived the term from the Greek work for death, Thanatos.


Dr. Kevorkian only assisted in two deaths with the Thanatron before losing his medical license. But, he had already built a back-up device that wouldn't require him to need his medical license to obtain the drugs needed to use it. This device featured a gas mask with a tube that attached from the mask to a canister of carbon monoxide. There was a valve that needed to be released to start the gas' flow. A makeshift handle was also designed so that even the most disabled of Kevorkian's clients could turn it. A clip was placed on the tube while the valve sat in the open position so it could be removed easily when the person was ready. As the method of carbon monoxide poisoning can take up to 10 minutes, Dr. Kevorkian recommended taking sedatives or muscle relaxants to help calm them through the process. He called this new device the Mercitron, or the Mercy Machine.

In 1990, he publicly assisted in the first of what would be many suicides. Janet Adkins was 54-years-old and diagnosed with Alzheimer's disease in 1989. She met Dr. Kevorkian on June 4, 1990, at a campground at the Groveland Oaks Park near Holly, Michigan. This location was also near Jack's home. He turned his 1968 Volkswagon van into a traveling suicide mobile. Janet laid down in the back and Dr. Kevorkian set up her IV. When she was ready, she released the lethal injection into her bloodstream herself. Once she had passed, Kevorkian made his way to a pay phone and called her death in to 911.

He was arrested on the spot and briefly detained after authorities arrived. The state wanted to bring first-degree murder charges against him, but they were dismissed on December 12, 1990, by District Court Judge Gerald McNally. Just days after Janet's death, on June 8, a Circuit Court Judge enjoined him from assisting in any more suicides. Janet's family actually thanked him publicly for ending her suffering, and they would not be the last family to do so. He must have taken the dismissal of his charges as a signal to continue his work, because almost a year and a half later he was back at it again.


On October 23, 1991, he assisted in two deaths simultaneously, that of 58-year-old Marjorie Wantz from Sodus, Michigan, and 43-year-old Sherry Miller from Roseville, Michigan. Marjorie was suffering from pelvic pain and Sherry had been diagnosed with multiple sclerosis. The three met at a state park cabin near Lake Orion and Dr. Kevorkian set up his Thanatron for the last time and the Mercitron for the first. Marjorie was set up with an IV hooked up to the Thanatron, while Sherry was just the first of many to use to the Mercitron. Once again, when Jack reported the deaths he was arrested and charged with murder. His medical license was revoked by the state Board of Medicine in Michigan on November 20, 1991.

The loss of his license didn't stop him from assisting in suicides. It merely kept him from being able to obtain the drugs necessary to operate the Thanatron. Rather than just stop what he was doing, he turned to solely using the Mercitron instead. On May 15, 1992, Susan Williams died in her Clawson, Michigan home using the Mercitron. At only 52-years-old, she was suffering from multiple sclerosis.

Just a little more than two months later, on July 21, Oakland County Circuit Court Judge David Breck dismissed the charges against him regarding the deaths of Marjorie Wantz and Sherry Miller. By the fall of that same year Jack had met another client. Neal Nicol, the medical technologist that helped with his experiments, had become his assistant in assisted suicide. This time, Neal allowed for the suicide to be aided in his own home in Waterford, Township, Michigan. Lois Hawes of Warren, Michigan had come to Dr. Kevorkian after her battle with brain and lung cancer. On September 26, 1992, she died after using Kevorkian's Mercitron.

The next death that Jack attended would be the first of ten within the span of only three months. Catherine Andreyev, of Moon Township, Pennsylvania, met with Dr. Kevorkian and his assistant, Neal, on November 23, 1992. She traveled all the way to Michigan to meet the two at Neal's home. It was there that she used the Mercitron to end her struggle with cancer. Shortly after, on December 3, Michigan Legislature passed a ban on the practice of assisted suicide. The ban was to go into effect on March 30, 1993. In the almost four months time between the ban passing and going into effect, Jack was quite active in his practice.

Through all of the deaths that Dr. Kevorkian attended during that time, one was not exactly on the up-an-up. Hugh Gale was 70-years-old when he came to Jack suffering from emphysema and congestive heart disease. He died with the aid of the Mercitron in his Roseville, Michigan home on February 15, 1993. Later, Right-to-Live advocates found papers showing that Jack had changed his account of Hugh's death. A reference to a request made by Hugh to halt the procedure had been deleted by Dr. Kevorkian. Just ten days after Hugh's death, Michigan Governor John Engler signed a legislation banning assisted suicide. The new legislation made the practice a four-year felony, but allowed the law to expire after a blue-ribbon commission studied permanent legislation. By the spring of 1993, a judge in California suspended Jack's medical license after receiving a request from the state's medical board.


On August 4, 1993, 30-year-old Thomas Hyde met with the man that saw himself as an angel of mercy. Thomas had been diagnosed with ALS and ended his life in the back of Kevorkian's van on Belle Isle, a park in Detroit. Jack was ordered to stand trial for Thomas' death by a judge. Just hours later, he attended the death of 73-year-old cancer patient, Donald O'Keefe, in Redford Township, Michigan. Most people would probably back off and lay low for a while after being charged with murder, but not Jack.

Between November 5 and the 8, he fasted in protest of his $20,000 bond in Thomas Hyde's case. At the end of November he was fasting again as he sat in the Oakland County Jail. This time he was protesting his $50,000 bond after being charged with the death of 72-year-old Merian Fredrick. He had aided in her suicide just a month prior. An Oakland County Circuit Court Judge reduced his bond to $100. This was in exchange for his vow to not aid in any more deaths until the state courts had resolved the legality of its practice. Jack ended his fast and returned home.

Charges in the deaths of two people were dismissed by a Circuit Court Judge on January 27, 1994. This judge became the fifth lower court judge in Michigan to rule assisted suicide a constitutional right. After that, he was acquitted by a jury in Detroit on charges of violating the state's ban on the practice when he assisted in the death of Thomas Hyde. Just eight days after his acquittal, the Michigan Court of Appeals struck the ban on assisted suicide. They did so on the grounds that it had been enacted unlawfully. Then, Oregon became the first state to legalize the practice when voters passed the very tightly restricted Death with Dignity Act. The act was passed on November 8, but legal appeals kept it from ever actually taking effect.

Just two days after Thanksgiving in 1994, Margaret Garrish met with Dr. Kevorkian at her home in Royal Oak. She'd been through a very painful struggle with arthritis and osteoporosis before seeking him out. The 72-year-old woman's death came just hours after the state's ban on assisted suicides had expired. When police arrived at Margaret's house, Kevorkian had already disappeared like a ghoul into the night.

The Michigan Supreme Court decided to uphold the constitutionality of the state's ban from 1993-1994. It was also ruled to be illegal in the state. Their ruling ended up reinstating cases against Jack in four deaths. Despite this bump in his road, he still managed to open what he called a "suicide clinic" in an office space in Springfield Township, Michigan on June 26, 1995.

His first client to the clinic would be his last. Erika Garcellano traveled all the way from Kansas City, Missouri to visit the clinic, suffering from ALS. Just a few days after he assisted in her death, the building's owner kicked Jack out of the office for obvious reasons. His "suicide clinic" ended up being even more short-lived than all of his jobs had been.

He arrived at the Oakland County Courthouse in his hometown of Pontiac to stand trial for the deaths of Marjorie Wantz and Sherry Miller on September 14, 1995. He dressed dramatically for the occasion, wearing homemade stocks with a ball and chain. Even at trial he just couldn't contain his eccentric behavior.


The day before Halloween of that year, a group of doctors and other medical experts in Michigan that were in support of Jack's views announced their intention to draw up a set of guiding principles for the "merciful, dignified. medically-assisted termination of life." A massive study of physician's attitudes towards doctor-assisted suicide in Michigan and Oregon was published in the New England Journal of Medicine on February 1, 1996. The study showed support under certain conditions by a large number of participants. Following this publication, the 9th US Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco ruled that mentally competent, terminally ill patients have the constitutional right to assistance in dying by a doctor, health care worker, or family member. This was the first time that assisted suicide had actually been endorsed in a federal appeals court.

Just two days after San Francisco's ruling, Jack was acquitted of two deaths in Michigan. By the end of March, Michigan Representative Dave Camp had introduced a bill to the US House that would prohibit tax-payer funding of assisted suicide. The state was taking a hard stance on the practice and wouldn't be swayed.

Dr. Kevorkian was back in court on April 1, 1996, to stand trial for another of his aided deaths. This time he donned a much more elaborate costume than before. He walked into the courtroom wearing tights, a white powdered wig, and big buckle shoes as he faced up to five years in prison and a $10,000 fine. His colonial look was in protest of the centuries-old common law that he was being tried under. Despite his appearance on the first day of the trial, he was once again acquitted on all charges on May 14, 1996.


Now that Jack was free and clear of three of his four trials, his attorney announced another death that he had attended that had not been reported. The 54-year-old woman that he had aided in this instance brought the total of deaths attended by Kevorkian to 46. Surprisingly, this brought no new charges and his fourth trial ended in a mistrial on June 12, 1997. The case was dropped entirely and Jack just went back to business as usual for him.

About two weeks after his mistrial was declared, the US Supreme Court ruled that state governments had the right to outlaw assisted suicide if they saw fit. This ruling came after being asked if the state laws banning the practice in New York and Washington were unconstitutional. Oregon residents voted to uphold their state's law allowing physicians to administer lethal doses of drugs to terminally ill patients in early November.

On March 14, 1998, Dr. Kevorkian attended his 100th suicide. As this date happens to be my birthday, this was particularly disturbing to me. The very moment he was aiding in his 100th death, I was looking forward to a chocolate cake and a new Mario game for my Gameboy as I celebrated turning 8-years-old.

Michigan's second law banning the practice went into effect on September 1 of that year. Just two months later, a proposal for legalized physician-assisted suicide for the terminally ill was rejected by Michigan voters. None of this seemed to deter Jack from his mission for the terminally ill. As a matter of fact, he made his boldest move so far not long after.

On the evening of November 22, 1998, viewers all over the country gathered around their television sets, drinks in hand and snacks at the ready. They were preparing to watch what would end up being a very shocking and controversial episode of the widely popular show, 60 Minutes. That night viewers were treated to a very morbid show that they likely weren't prepared to see. The show aired a videotape of Dr. Kevorkian assisting in the suicide of 52-year-old Thomas Youk, who was suffering from Lou Gehrig's disease. The broadcast immediately sparked a nationwide debate within medical, legal, and media circles. People were divided, some in support of Jack and his cause, while others wanted to see him charged with murder. I actually remember my mother being one of those that wanted to see him charged.


It was only three days after the airing of his videotape that Jack was charged with first-degree murder, violating the assisted suicide law, and delivering a controlled substance without a license in the death of Thomas Youk. While the assisted suicide charge was later dropped, the courts did follow through with the other two charges. Jack decided that this time he wanted to represent himself, which was the biggest mistake he would ever make. He had absolutely no legal training or experience at all. His ill-advised decision was accepted, but a criminal defense attorney was ordered to be available on standby to provide legal advise and information. On top of his decision to represent himself, he also threatened to starve himself again if sent to jail. It honestly sounds to me like this guy just didn't want to eat prison food and was twisting it to his advantage.

Jack Kevorkian proved to be every bit the lawyer the Michigan courts expected. He was terrible. He was completely incapable of presenting arguments or evidence in his own case. He wasn't permitted to call any witness to the stand, as the judge had deemed any testimony from his witnesses irrelevant. The trial only lasted two days. That was all it took for the jury to find him guilty of second-degree murder and delivery of a controlled substance. He was convicted on April 13, 1999, and sentenced to 10-25 years to be served at a prison in Coldwater, Michigan.

The presiding judge, Jessica Cooper, said this in her final statement to Kevorkian: "This is a court of law and you said you invited yourself here to take a stand. But this trial was not an opportunity for a referendum. The law prohibiting euthanasia was specifically reviewed and clarified by the Michigan Supreme Court several years ago in a decision involving your very own cases, sir. So the charge here should come as no surprise to you. You invited yourself to the wrong forum. Well, we are a nation of laws, and we are a nation that tolerates differences of opinion because we have a civilized and nonviolent way of resolving our conflicts that weighs the law and adheres to the law. We have the means and the methods to protect the laws with which we disagree. You can criticize the law, you can speak to the media, or petition the voters."


Jack filed several appeals, but they were all denied. Now that he had finally been convicted and imprisoned, the state of Michigan hardly wanted to let him go. He would go before the parole board many times within eight years, and was denied every single time. He gave an interview with MSNBC on September 29, 2005, where he stated that if released he would not resume with directly assisting in any more suicides. He swore to stick solely to campaigning for the legalization of the practice.

Jack was denied parole once again on December 22, 2005, on a 7-2 vote by the board. It would be the last time that he would be turned back from a parole board hearing. By this point, Jack himself was terminally ill with Hepatitis C. In May of 2006, he was given just a year to live. He applied for a pardon, parole, or commutation by the parole board and the governor, Jennifer Granholm. On June 1, 2007, he was finally granted parole under the condition that he not aid in any more deaths or provide care for anyone over the age of 62 or disabled. He was also prohibited from even commenting on the procedure of assisted suicide. Jack promised to halt his practice and only campaign to have the law changed from then on out.

After his release from prison, Jack gave numerous lectures at such universities as the University of Florida, Nova Southeastern University, and UCLA. He did speak on other topics besides euthanasia, but it usually was the focus of his lectures. Jack would speak some on tyranny, the criminal justice system, politics, the 9th Amendment, and Armenian culture. Aside from his lectures, he also made some television appearances as well.

Fox News Channel's Your World with Neil Cavuto hosted Dr. Kevorkian as a guest on September 2, 2009. In this appearance, Jack spoke about health care reform in the United States. He would also make an appearance on Anderson Cooper 360 on April 15 and 16, 2010. During this interview, Cooper asked Jack, "You are saying doctors play God all the time?" To which Jack replied, "Of course. Anytime you interfere with a natural process, you are playing God." Just days after this interview, Jack made a second appearance on Your World with Neil Cavuto.

The media attention surrounding Dr. Kevorkian didn't stop there. HBO released a movie based on his life called, You Don't Know Jack, starring Al Pacino as Dr. Death himself. Al Pacino would go on to win an Emmy and a Golden Globe for his portrayal as Jack Kevorkian. The film premiered at Ziegfield Theater in NYC on April 14, 2010. Jack got to walk the red carpet at the premier, posing for pictures with Al Pacino. He said of the movie after seeing it, "brings tears to my eyes, and I lived through it." After the movie's release on April 24, Jack did and interview with director, Barry Levinson and actors, Susan Sarandon and John Goodman, who starred alongside Al Pacino.

Just a couple of years before Jack was immortalized on screen he actually made a run at Congress. He announced his plan to run on March 12, 2008. He would be representing Michigan's 9th congressional district as an independent running against eight-term congressman Joe Knollenburg, former Michigan Lottery commissioner. He would also be running against state senator Gary Peters, Adam Goodman, and Douglas Campbell. To the surprise of no one at all, Jack lost the election, garnering only 2.6% of the vote. In total, he only received 8,987 votes. Gary Peters won the election that year and would go on to serve three terms in Congress before moving on to the US Senate.

Jack managed to gain support for his cause from all over. Even the families of those he aided in death came to his defense when he was charged. Letters poured in as loved ones of Kevorkian's clients offered to lend a helping hand and pay for his criminal defense. These families also helped by very publicly advocating for the legalization of physician-assisted suicide.

Jack became a member of all their families, even referring to them all as his cousins. These people saw him as a living angel on Earth for helping their suffering loved ones end their pain. They also admired and appreciated the fact that Dr. Kevorkian never charged for his services. He was invited to family reunions, picnics, and other get-togethers, and taken in as one of their own. There are many pictures that can be found online of Jack mingling with relatives at birthday parties and smiling for the camera at barbecues. Until his death, these people stayed by his side. Though he never married or had children, it can be said that Jack Kevorkian had the largest family in the world.

Jack suffered from kidney problems for years and was eventually diagnosed with liver cancer that was thought to have been caused by Hepatitis C. In his final years he had a lot going against him, ironic considering his crusade for the terminally ill. On May 8, 2011, he was hospitalized with kidney problems and pneumonia. His condition quickly worsened and he died from a thrombosis on June 3, at the William Beaumont Hospital in Royal Oak, Michigan. A thrombosis is a clot inside of a blood vessel that obstructs blood flow through the circulatory system. His passing came just eight days after his 83rd birthday. Jack's lawyer later stated that there were no artificial attempts to keep him alive and that he died painlessly. He was interred at White Chapel Memorial Park Cemetery in Troy, Michigan.


As for Kevorkian's death mobile, it managed to stay in the press long after its owner's passing. It seemed to disappear off the face of the planet just before Jack's conviction in 1999. It had, in fact, been bought by a man named Jack Finn in 1997. Kevorkian had scrapped the van and thought it to be destroyed. It actually ended up stored in a warehouse for more than a decade by Jack Finn. It resurfaced when Finn placed it on eBay for auction. It received 28 bids from curious and fascinated people that you probably wouldn't want to meet in a dark ally to make the exchange. The highest bid placed was for $3,400 before eBay pulled it from the site.


Finn wasn't discouraged. He knew he had something on his hands. He listed the van on an auction site that handles classic cars called Kruse. He also timed the auction to coincide with the release of HBO's You Don't Know Jack. After being listed online the van wound up in the hands of an auto-parts dealer in the Detroit suburb of Ferndale. It stayed in this man's possession for years before ending up in the warehouse of American Jewelry and Loan, the pawn shop of the popular show, Hardcore Pawn. It had been pawned for $20,000 and Les Gold, the shop's owner, hoped to flip it for $40,000.


The van was eventually sold to an unnamed businessman that told Les he liked to collect "strange and unique items." The death mobile was put on layaway and regular payments were made without interruption until it was paid off. It was revealed that the van's new owner was none other than TV's Zak Bagans, star of Travel Channel's Ghost Adventures. He'd bought it for $32,500 in August of 2015. It now sits on morbid display at his Haunted Museum in Clark County, Nevada.

Though Jack died known as the man that had assisted in 130 suicides, he also had an art career that few knew about. He was a jazz musician, composer, and a painter. In 1997, he released the limited-release of his album, The Kevorkian Suite: A Very Still Life, with the label Lucid Subjazz. Only 5000 copies were made, and of those only 1,400 sold. The album featured Jack playing the flute and the organ with the Morpheus Quintet. Entertainment Weekly's online review called it "weird" but "good natured." Jazzreview.com said that it was "very much grooviness" and said that there was "stuff in between that's worthy of multiple spins."

The first live, public performance of Jack's complete classical organ works was performed by Craig Rifel. The Geneva-based self-determination society, EXIT, commissioned American writer and conductor, David Woodward to orchestrate wind settings for Jack's organ works. His music was hardly his only passion or talent, though.

He also loved to paint, oil paintings being his preference. It comes as no shock at all that his art tended to to lean towards the surreal and grotesque. He would create symbolic paintings too, like one of a child eating the flesh of a decomposing corpse. Only six of his works were ever made available for print release in the '90s. The Ariana Gallery in Royal Oak, Michigan became the exclusive distributor of his paintings. His original paintings are not available for release. Sludge metal band, Acid Bath, used his work entitled, "For He is Raised" as the cover art for their album, Paegan Terrorism Tactics. His work would eventually end up becoming the center of a legal battle between Jack's sole heir and a museum in Massachusetts.

As to whether or not what he did was right, I'll leave that for you to decide. What can be said of Jack Kevorkian is that he led one hell of a life. He managed to bring up an uncomfortable topic that had been on the minds of many, but they were all too afraid to bring up themselves for fear of alienation. He came to the people that called upon him to help and never once charged them a single cent. He also made a jury's day when he showed up to court wearing tights and a powdered wig. While Dr. Kevorkian was an eccentric, controversial man to say the least, his story is far too interesting to net tell.

5 views0 comments