In 2008, Kevorkian ran for Congress as an independent, receiving just 2.7 percent of the vote in his suburban Detroit district. He said his experience showed the party system was “corrupt” and “has to be completely overhauled.”
Born in 1928, in the Detroit suburb of Pontiac, Kevorkian graduated from the University of Michigan’s medical school in 1952 and went into pathology.
He said he first became interested in euthanasia during his internship year when he watched a middle-aged woman die of cancer. She was so emaciated, her sagging, discolored skin “covered her bones like a cheap, wrinkled frock,” Kevorkian wrote.
On June 4, 1990, he drove his van to a secluded park north of Detroit. After the Alzheimer’s patient, 54-year-old Janet Adkins of Portland, Ore., met him there, he inserted a needle into her arm. When she was ready, she flipped the switch that began a flow of lethal drugs.
He later switched from his device to canisters of carbon monoxide, again insisting patients take the final step by removing a clamp that released the deadly gas to a face mask.
Kevorkian’s life story became the subject of the 2010 HBO movie “You Don’t Know Jack,” which earned actor Al Pacino Emmy and Golden Globe Awards for his portrayal of Kevorkian. Pacino paid tribute to Kevorkian during his Emmy acceptance speech and recognized the former doctor, who sat smiling in the audience.
Pacino said during the speech that it was a pleasure to “try to portray someone as brilliant and interesting and unique” as Kevorkian and a “pleasure to know him.”
Kevorkian himself said he liked the movie and enjoyed the attention it generated. But he doubted it would inspire much action by a new generation of assisted-suicide advocates.
“You’ll hear people say, `Well, it’s in the news again, it’s time for discussing this further.’ No, it isn’t. It’s been discussed to death,” he told The Associated Press. “There’s nothing new to say about it. It’s a legitimate, ethical medical practice as it was in ancient Rome and Greece.”
Kevorkian’s fame also made him fodder for late-night comedians’ monologues and sitcoms. His name became cultural shorthand for jokes about hastening the end of life.
Even admirers couldn’t resist. Adam Mazer, the Emmy-winning writer for “You Don’t Know Jack,” got off one of the best lines of the 2010 Emmy telecast.
“I’m grateful you’re my friend,” Mazer said, looking out at Kevorkian. “I’m even more grateful you’re not my physician.”
Associated Press writers Jeff Karoub, John Flesher and Randi Berris contributed to this report.