DETROIT — Dr. Jack Kevorkian — embraced as a compassionate crusader and reviled as a murderous crank — died early Friday morning.
Known as Dr. Death even before launching his fierce advocacy and practice of assisted suicides, Kevorkian, 83, died at Beaumont Hospital in Royal Oak, Mich., where he had been hospitalized with kidney and heart problems.
His attorney, Mayer Morganroth, said it appears Kevorkian suffered a pulmonary thrombosis when a blood clot from his leg broke free and lodged in his heart. With Kevorkian was his niece Ava Janus and Morganroth.
“It was peaceful, he didn’t feel a thing,” Morganroth said.
Morganroth said there were no artificial attempts to keep Kevorkian alive and no plans for a memorial.
Kevorkian was convicted in 1999 of second-degree murder and served eight years of prison time.
Kevorkian was hospitalized twice in May because of kidney problems and a fall. Additionally he suffered from an array of ailments including liver and heart disorders. He underwent hernia surgery in February 2005.
He admitted being present at about 130 suicides and his hectoring defiance of established laws and protocols forced re-examination of personal freedoms in medical treatments and end-of-life decisions.
Since his first acknowledged assisted suicide in 1990, authorities had tried to rein in Kevorkian as the toll of his clients soared. He was charged four times with murder only to have three juries acquit him and one case collapse in mistrial.
That streak of courtroom triumphs ended with the 1998 death of Thomas Youk, 52, of Waterford, Mich., who had Lou Gehrig’s disease.
In a self-inflicted triple injury, Kevorkian videotaped himself injecting Youk, had it broadcast on “60 Minutes,” and then acted as his own lawyer in the ensuing murder trial.
Kevorkian was convicted of second-degree murder and drew a 10-25-year prison term at his 1999 sentencing. He was released in 2005 and discharged from parole in 2009.
His post-prison career included a 2008 congressional bid and a cable television bio-pic starring Al Pacino.
In his failed political career Kevorkian, as usual, cast himself as the truth-teller in a world of hypocrisy: “We need some honesty and sincerity instead of corrupt government in Washington.”
“You Don’t Know Jack,” the HBO film earned Pacino an Emmy and Golden Globe. Kevorkian cut a vivid image at premieres and awards, sometimes wearing his iconic blue thrift-store sweater with a tuxedo. He almost glowed at receptions as women circled him and powerful men elbowed their way through the adoring crush to shake his hand.
Kevorkian was a trained pathologist serving in Michigan and California hospitals before launching his rogue career. Once a stiff-necked practitioner who mocked and challenged authorities, an imprisoned Kevorkian promised in affidavits and requests for release that he would not assist suicides if he were released.
Death came naturally to the man who’d vowed he’d starve himself rather than endure submit to the state’s authority behind bars.
“It’s not a matter of starving yourself in jail, it’s a matter of I don’t want to live as a slave and imprisonment is the ultimate slavery,” he said in 1998.
Gaunt, theatrical and hyperbolic, Kevorkian appeared to demand martyrdom, staging increasingly outlandish provocations from appearing in court as Thomas Jefferson in tri-cornered hat, knee britches and powdered wig to offering for transplant a client’s crudely harvested kidneys.
Those who opposed him were denounced as superstitious know-nothings, Dark Ages hypocrites and philosophical cowards.