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My Brush with 'Dr. Death'

Jack Kevorkian was a master at self-promotion via the outrageous idea.

Before his reputation as "Dr. Death" crystallized, was merely a gadfly, writing letters to the editor about outlandish ideas, starring in a public access cable show and ending up as a guest on radio stations.

One day in 1988, he called WXYT-AM, the radio station where I worked as a programming assistant. My job at the station, which had a news-talk format, was a hybrid of clerical work and public affairs. I handled calls from listeners, talk-host hopefuls and people suggesting show ideas.

Kevorkian wanted to be a guest on one of our shows, having just launched his latest venture as a "death consultant."

Back then, talk radio actually involved conversation and debate instead of rants, so there were spirited discussions on ethics, politics and news of the day. When it came to controversial subjects, hosts like David Newman and Mark Scott interviewed representatives from all sides of an issue.

Kevorkian pitched the idea of a show on assisted suicide, although I don't recall if he used that exact term. But he also talked about something else which I've never forgotten.

Kevorkian thought it would be a brilliant idea for prisoners to be required to donate organs. He told me it would be a way for those who committed heinous crimes and were in prison for life to give back to society. He also said prisoners who had committed lesser crimes such as stealing cars could donate organs in exchange for reducing their sentences. He spoke very fast and with confidence.

His ideas were provocative and he expressed them clearly, though I didn't necessarily agree with him. I transferred his call to the executive producer's office. 

Kevorkian was a master of self-promotion via the outrageous idea.

A few years later, his name was synonymous with death, his court cases the stuff of screaming headlines. I recall one of my sisters wearing a button proclaiming "I Back Jack" and another referring to euthanizing her dog as "having him Kevorked."

However you feel about Jack Kevorkian, his practices and his ideas about death, it's clear that his actions and the ensuing court cases caused people to think and talk about the topic. His legacy, in my mind, is that he made death more of a conversational topic and less of a taboo.

Jesse Williams June 03, 2011 at 05:46 PM
Fantastic article - thank you for sharing!

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