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Trying to get to the heart of Jack Kevorkian

For Al Pacino and Barry Levinson, the doctor who advocates assisted suicide proves an irresistible subject. Pacino stars in ‘You Don’t Know Jack’ on HBO.

April 23, 2010|By David Ferrell, Special to the Los Angeles Times

Jones found the physician widely known as "Dr. Death" to be extraordinarily compassionate — a man who lives in a nearly barren apartment outside Detroit and gets around by public bus. "He is concerned about the footprint he leaves on the planet," Jones said. "He doesn't waste anything — I mean, anything. On the other hand, he's a genius. He's probably the most well-read individual I've ever encountered. He can quote Cicero and Socrates and Thoreau. He can quote just about any important book of literature you can name."

Studios found the story amazing — and passed on it. "They were terrified of … a backlash," Jones said.

HBO gladly stepped in to develop the Adam Mazer screenplay, said Len Amato, president of HBO Films.

"Thematically, it was dealing with the last taboo," Amato said. "It was a movie no one else would make. That's a plus for us."

Kevorkian's depth and tenacity were the clinchers, Amato said.

"When you scratch the surface and go down deeper, it's a different person," he said. And, like him or not, consider him as a benevolent crusader or an evil killer, Kevorkian was willing to put his own life on the line and to hold fast to his principles, Amato said. "In that sense, he's a hero — with flaws. There's something classically heroic about that."

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