TROY, MICH. (AP) - Friends, family and supporters gathered Friday to pay tribute to the late Dr. Jack Kevorkian, remembering him for his courageous devotion to the cause of physician-assisted suicide, which cost him his freedom late in life.
More than 150 people attended the chapel service at White Chapel Memorial Cemetery in suburban Detroit before Kevorkian was laid to rest. He died last week at age 83 of a pulmonary blood clot.
Kevorkian’s stunning claim to have assisted in more than 130 deaths of ill people in the 1990s brought him worldwide notoriety, but those who stood behind his American flag-draped casket Friday spoke also of his softer, less public side.
A niece, Ava Janus, said Kevorkian had deep respect for anyone who was competent at their craft, even a “good chimney sweep.” She said he loved to talk about the origin of words, favored classical and Big Band-era music and was loyal to the Detroit Tigers no matter the baseball team’s fortunes.
A friend, Ruth Holmes, recalled Kevorkian arriving at her home with just a toothbrush and fresh underwear to escape media attention in 1998 after he assisted in the death of Thomas Youk, a man with Lou Gehrig’s disease. He stayed with her family for six months. It was video of Youk’s death aired by CBS’s “60 Minutes” that eventually led to Kevorkian being convicted of second-degree murder.
“Few men are willing to brave … the wrath of society,” she said. “That was our dear friend, Jack Kevorkian.”
The casket bore the American flag to signify his service in the Korean War. To the left was a large portrait of a smiling Kevorkian with his face resting in his right hand. Flowers were dedicated to “dearest brother” and “dearest uncle.” A lifelong bachelor, Kevorkian had no children.
“It gave him lots of freedom,” Janus said.
His friend and attorney, Mayer Morganroth, said celebrities and the less fortunate were fascinated by Kevorkian. He recalled actress Susan Sarandon not allowing him to leave her home before actress Demi Moore and actor Ashton Kutcher could drop by.
Morganroth read an email from actor Al Pacino asking where he could send flowers. He portrayed Kevorkian in the 2010 HBO movie, “You Don’t Know Jack.” Sarandon was a co-star.
Morganroth noted that inmates lined up to cheer Kevorkian when he was released from prison in 2007 after eight years. He said people from all over the world sent thousands of letters to Kevorkian over the years, including some with checks that were always returned.
“He couldn’t care less for any kind of wealth,” Morganroth said of a man who bought his clothes and furniture from The Salvation Army.
Kevorkian used throwaway parts to build a so-called suicide machine, which injected lethal drugs. He helped people die in their homes, motels and in the back of his rusty Volkswagen van and often took the bodies to hospital emergency rooms.
Spike Tyson traveled 100 miles from Lansing for the memorial service. He entered the chapel in a motorized scooter, due to injuries in the Vietnam War.
“I’m a strong supporter of what he did,” Tyson, 60, said in an interview. “He allowed people to die with dignity. They were vegetables and tired of life.”