Jack Kevorkian is a physician, social activist, artist, author, amateur composer, and musician. He gained worldwide recognition for his actions as the pioneer for physician-assisted suicide.
Dr. Kevorkian was born in Pontiac, Michigan, on May 26, 1928, to Armenian immigrants. His father, a self-educated excavating contractor, and his mother were survivors of the Armenian Genocide. Tales of genocidal horrors inflicted on family members became part of the Kevorkian heritage, and Dr. Kevorkian was influenced by this dark legacy. He was the second of three children: his older sister, Margaret, is deceased; his younger sister, Flora, lives in Germany.
Dr. Kevorkian was a bright, curious young man who showed an unusual ability for languages and music. As a high school student, he taught himself to speak German and Japanese in preparation for World War II service, but the war ended before he came of military age. After graduating from the University of Michigan Medical School in 1952 and completing a one-year internship, Dr. Kevorkian joined the Army, where he served as a medical officer in preventive medicine and used his language skills in medical intelligence in Korea. Dr. Kevorkian's polyglot ability is complemented by his passion for the origins and complexities of words as well as his mastery of limericks and short poems.
Upon leaving the Army, Dr. Kevorkian traveled through Europe (1957-1958), continuing his studies in history, philosophy, and medical ethics. His research projects and medical inquiries resulted in numerous articles and contributions to medical journals, to diagrams and artwork used in making videotapes on nutrition and dieting, and to books including The Story of Dissection (1959), Medical Research and the Death Penalty (1960), and Beyond Any Kind of God (1961).
In the mid 1970s and early 80s, Dr. Kevorkian spent six years in California working as a pathologist and further exploring his keen interest in music and art. During this time, he made a full-length film version of Handel’s Messiah. Unfortunately, all of his artwork, musical instruments and compositions, videos and master films, research papers, hundreds of books, and all his personal belongings were stolen from a storage facility. Discouraged but never defeated, Dr. Kevorkian began painting again in 1993 and has successfully recreated some of the 18 pieces of his stolen art. All of the recreated artworks, as well as photographs of the lost art, are currently on display at the Armenian Library and Museum of America (ALMA) outside Boston.
Dr. Kevorkian refers to his paintings as social, political, and medical commentaries that should provoke thought and discussion on aspects of life that may be disagreeable but are universal. "It is not art for art’s sake, so do not criticize me for the art," says Dr. Kevorkian. "The paintings are often political commentaries. I use bright colors to get people’s attention and to try to make them think." Several of his paintings represent the medical conditions of human suffering—fever, paralysis, and coma—that he has witnessed on a daily basis.
Throughout the 1980s, Dr. Kevorkian continued his work as a pathologist and explored unique ways for saving lives. His broad interests in controversial subjects sparked his medical research and writing on a wide variety of topics, including the importance of a system for organ donations and, most famously, his belief in the fundamental right of an individual to make end-of-life decisions. By the late 1980s, Dr. Kevorkian was searching for ways to relieve the pain and suffering of mentally competent, terminally ill patients. In 1991, he published his book Prescription Medicide: The Goodness Of Planned Death.
Although acquitted many times in the 1990s for helping end pain and suffering of patients, Dr. Kevorkian was convicted in 1999 for assisting a man with Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), often referred to as Lou Gehrig's Disease. While in prison, Dr. Kevorkian wrote the book Amendment IX: Our Cornucopia of Rights. He is currently a free man having served 8.3 years in prison and two years of parole on a 10-25 year prison sentence.
Since his release, Dr. Kevorkian has had his book GlimmerIQs published and distributed by World Audience of New York. He has lectured at several universities, including Harvard and Nova Southeastern in Florida.
He is currently writing books, lecturing, and has resumed painting. His story has inspired two films: You Don’t Know Jack with Al Pacino and a documentary detailing his life and his run for U.S. Congress as an independent. The latter will be released in movie theaters in June 2010.
An amateur musician and composer, Dr. Kevorkian plays the flute, organ, piano, and harpsichord. His personal idol has always been Johann Sebastian Bach, whose music Dr. Kevorkian considers the perfect expression of the divine possibilities within us. Dr. Kevorkian's own musical compositions are strongly influenced by Bach, and his 1999 paintings are celebrations of Bach’s music.
A brilliant, complex, multi-talented figure in Armenian-American history, Dr. Jack Kevorkian is, in his own way, "The Renaissance Man."