Physician Jack Kevorkian is famous for his controversial views on death and the right to die though physician-assisted suicide. That history now irrevocably flavors the perception of his rather less-well-known work: paintings, a jazz-funk album and even a lost film. For Atlas Obscura, Eric Grundhauser writes about the creative endeavors from the man known as "Dr. Death."
The doctor "tried to experience everything in life," Neil Nicol, a close friend and colleague of Kevorkian, tells Grundhauser. "He did more than anybody I’ve ever known. Art was just one of the things he took his hand to."
Kevorkian's one and only album A Very Still Life is available for online listening thanks to Youtube.com user Johnny Terwilliger.
It’s a jazz-funk album, first released in May, 1997. The first track, "Whispering, Came Violets," has a vaguely creepy, dark vibe. A few other tracks are faster, cheerier and some are quite mellow. Kevorkian plays the flute and the organ. Grundhauser describes the overall sound as "a bit like Vince Guaraldi’s A Charlie Brown Christmas by way of Angelo Badalamenti’s Twin Peaks soundtrack." For Jazz Review, Josephine Ochej wrote at the time:
Ya, it's a shock to think of Jack Kevorkian breathing softly into a flute, and that he actually wrote all these songs (save one), but you get over that quickly enough by just listening to the sounds that are very much grooviness (save one: in strange loops, a bordering on too flowery power cheese that only irks). Ends on a maybe too ominous a note, being just a wee predictable, but with stuff in between that's worthy of multiple spins.
The album’s title came from the the name of the very first painting of Kevorkian’s, which depicts a glowing white iris emerging from the eye socket of a skull. The skull’s jaw is agape and crooked, resting between rib bones and a broken femur, atop a ribbed, red foreground that looks like the inside of intestines. It’s gruesome for sure.
After Kevorkian was convicted of second-degree homicide in 1999 and sentenced to 10 to 25 years in prison (he served eight), he stopped pursuing his art, but that doesn't mean you can't peruse it. Visit Atlas Obscura to hear the doctor's take on his art, take a peek at his other paintings and learn the story behind his lost film version of Handel’s Messiah.