Beyond 'Dr. Death': Kevorkian Revealed

You probably know Dr. Jack Kevorkian, who is being released from prison Friday, for his role in assisting nearly 100 suicides. But friends have a different picture of the man, who is also a musician, cookbook writer and painter. Close friend Ruth Holmes talks with Madeleine Brand.

Copyright © 2007 NPR. For personal, noncommercial use only. See Terms of Use. For other uses, prior permission required.

ALEX COHEN, host:

To get a better sense of Dr. Jack Kevorkian, we got in touched with one of his closest friends.

MADELEINE BRAND, host:

Ruth Holmes first met Dr. Kevorkian 11 years ago, when she used her expertise as a handwriting analyst to help pick jurors that would be favorable to his case. I spoke with her earlier.

Forgive me for asking, but Doctor Kevorkian has, well, quite a controversial reputation. He's known as Dr. Death. What attracted you to him?

Ms. RUTH HOLMES (President, Pentec, Inc.): I believe in the justice system and that I didn't see why this man was being prosecuted for something that I believe is a fundamental human right for everyone to make their own decisions on end-of-life issues. And I think that anyone who takes a stand and stands up for something they believe in, I found that very attractive. And then, using the handwriting, I also believe that I could help him as well.

BRAND: And I understand that since he was incarcerated for the last eight years you have spoken with him nearly every day.

Ms. HOLMES: I have spoken to him almost every day. I think it's probably close to 3,000 telephone calls, because there were days when he was putting together his book called "GlimmerIQs," which is a collection. He calls it florilegium, which is a bouquet of his articles. Because people don't know that he has written a diet book. He is an artist. He is a cartoonist. He's a very multi-talented man. And so, while he was in prison, we put together this anthology of his work called "GlimmerIQs," and that's spelled with an I-Q-S.

BRAND: If you don't mind my asking, Ms. Holmes...

Ms. HOLMES: Yes.

BRAND: ...I used the word attraction. It was kind of a loaded word. Was I right to use that word? And are you having a romantic attachment to him?

(Soundbite of laughter)

Ms. HOLMES: Certainly not.

BRAND: Okay.

Ms. HOLMES: No, not at all. No. I don't know where anyone would come up with that idea.

BRAND: Well it's not unheard of.

Ms. HOLMES: He's a confirmed bachelor. I can assure you of that.

BRAND: Okay.

Ms. HOLMES: That's a curious thought.

BRAND: Well, it's not unheard of.

Ms. HOLMES: I'm a happily married woman here.

BRAND: Okay. Good.

(Soundbite of laughter)

BRAND: Okay. Just want to clear it up there.

Ms. HOLMES: Thank you.

BRAND: What will Dr. Kevorkian do once he's released?

Ms. HOLMES: I think that he will continue his research and his writing. He has a book in mind in terms of quotations, and he's also going to help me edit some of the letters that had been written to him. We have thousands and thousands of letters that have come to him from all over the world. And so we're hoping to put these letters together in a format that I think people will appreciate when they see the vast variety of ideas and thoughts that have come from everyday people who wanted to write and support him.

BRAND: Of course, a lot of people don't share those sentiments. They think the opposite of him. In fact, some people in the assisted-suicide community, well, they're a little loath to embrace him upon his release and they think that he's not doing their cause any justice at all.

Ms. HOLMES: Well, I think he is going to be more of a changed person, because I think that he realizes that he pushed this as far as it could go and now it is up to people to say that they wish to have this right. And so if you see how pain management has improved, hospice has always been very important. But people are taking better care of people at the end of life for those who choose not to do it the way they do in Belgium, or Luxemburg, or Holland. I think that because people wish to have choices that the whole idea of pain management has changed because Jack pushed it as far as he did.

BRAND: In your many conversations with him, did he ever express any regret for how things turned out or anything that he did or said?

Ms. HOLMES: I think that probably his biggest regret is that the Supreme Court refused to hear the case. I think that he made a very large sacrifice and he probably ponders whether or not it was worth the eight years of his life to be in a eight-by-ten cell with a roommate. I think Jack is going to go down in history as one of the most misunderstood men in history.

And to know that this man has already become a noun or a verb, if you happen to catch any of the "CSI" shows. Was he Kevorked? I've heard that. And, you know, was it a Kevorkian? I mean, this is a man who's at this point alive and fairly well. And so, for this man to be a legend in his own time is, I think, really interesting. But I think people will see that he is quite changed and anxious to just support what needs to be done around the Ninth Amendment and the constitutional freedom.

BRAND: When he's released, he will not be allowed to practice medicine and he'll live, as I understand it, mainly on Social Security. Where will he live? And will you see him?

Ms. HOLMES: He has a number of friends who have offered him housing in the area, and he just wants to live a very quiet life out of the limelight. And a lot of people think he does this to be in the limelight. Jack is a very shy man, and so he really would like to have a few quiet years for his end of life.

BRAND: Will you see him the day he's released?

Ms. HOLMES: I am certainly hoping so.

BRAND: Will you have a party? What will happen?

Ms. HOLMES: He doesn't want a party. It's very curious. He doesn't want a party. He wants some grapes.

BRAND: Grapes?

Ms. HOLMES: And a turkey sandwich. And he has a favorite restaurant where he tells them to burn his toasted cheese sandwich.

BRAND: Okay. Well, thank you very much.

Ms. HOLMES: Excellent. Thank you very much.

BRAND: Ruth Holmes is a friend of Dr. Jack Kevorkian's.

Copyright © 2007 NPR. All rights reserved. No quotes from the materials contained herein may be used in any media without attribution to NPR. This transcript is provided for personal, noncommercial use only, pursuant to our Terms of Use. Any other use requires NPR's prior permission. Visit our permissions page for further information.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by a contractor for NPR, and accuracy and availability may vary. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Please be aware that the authoritative record of NPR's programming is the audio.

Comments

 

Please keep your community civil. All comments must follow the NPR.org Community rules and terms of use, and will be moderated prior to posting. NPR reserves the right to use the comments we receive, in whole or in part, and to use the commenter's name and location, in any medium. See also the Terms of Use, Privacy Policy and Community FAQ.