By Peter J. Smith


HOLLYWOOD, May 29, 2009 ( – “Say hello to my little friend … Jack Kevorkian.” At least that seems to be the message from Al Pacino, as the Hollywood star, who made famous the above phrase in the gangster film “Scarface,” is getting set to play the man known as “Dr. Death.”


Variety magazine reports that director Barry Levinson has chosen Pacino to play Kevorkian, 81, who killed more than 130 persons through lethal injection administered by what he called his “Mercy Machine,” between 1990 and 1999, when the Michigan justice system put his macabre death-dealing career to an end.


The planned HBO biopic is based on literary paean, “Between the Dying and the Dead: Dr. Jack Kevorkian, the Assisted Suicide Machine and the Battle to Legalize Euthanasia” written by Kevorkian friends, Harry Wylie and Neal Nicol. According to The Hollywood Reporter, the series has the tentative title, “You Don’t Know Jack,” but given the unapologetically laudatory nature of its source, critics are questioning whether viewers will really know Jack by the end of it.


Bioethicist Wesley J. Smith notes in his blog that besides a legacy of assisted suicide, Kevorkian “ripped out the kidneys of one of his victims after death” and had a penchant for “obitiatry, that is, experimenting on living human beings before they were euthanized.” 


Ever on a quest to find live patients for his studies on the physiology of death, Kevorkian had also experimented on dying cancer patients, forcing their eyes open and taking photographs as they expired, before turning to assisted suicide. He also sought out death row inmates who would permit him to study them as they were executed, which prompted his dismissal from his hospital residency in 1958.


Kevorkian also proposed, in the Journal of Forensic Psychiatry, establishing a series of euthanasia clinics, which he called “obitoria,” where physicians could terminate people who requested death, beginning with the terminally ill and then culminating with anyone who felt afflicted.


“You could not get a more ghoulish, solipsist public figure than Kevorkian,” said Smith. “Yet, he is to be beatified, Hollywood style. Color me absolutely disgusted.”


Executive producers of the HBO biopic are Levinson, Lydia Dean Pilcher, Glenn Rigberg, and Steven Lee Jones. Jones obtained the movie rights to the Wylie-Nicol book, and completed a feature-length documentary on Kevorkian’s 2008 run for Congress, where he gained just 2.8% of the vote for Michigan’s 9th District.


Kevorkian’s sordid career finally came to an end when he videotaped and aired his 1998 killing of Michigan resident Thomas Youk, 52, on CBS' “60 Minutes” show. Since Michigan had banned assisted suicide, prosecutors had the evidence they needed to convict Kevorkian in 1999 of second-degree murder with a 10- to 25-year sentence.


However, Kevorkian was released on parole after only serving eight years behind bars amidst pleading from his lawyer that the former pathologist had less than a year to live.  However, since his release Kevorkian has pursued a variety of routes to promote assisted suicide (although his parole forbids him to describe how to kill someone), has run for Congress, and gives speeches that cost anywhere between $50,000 – $100,000 per speaking engagement.


In a speech last year at the University of Florida in Gainsville, Kevorkian lectured students that every “law is an infraction of liberty” and said that the legislative branch was in the hands of “the tyrant,” who was blocking his rights to not only carry out assisted suicide, but to smoke marijuana and carry cocaine.


See related coverage by


Kevorkian Denounces Unnamed “Tyrant,” Pushes for Euthanasia in Florida Speech


Doctor “Death” Kevorkian to Speak at Florida University for $50,000 Speaking Fee


Kevorkian Vows to Push for Assisted Suicide Laws After Upcoming Prison Release