Thursday, February 29, 2024

Jack Kevorkian: Dr. Death Becomes a Rock Star


Dr. Jack Kevorkian: he helped 130 people to their deaths through assisted suicide. He spent 8 1/2 years in jail. And now, at the age of 82, Dr, Death is a rock star.

Last night was the New York premiere of Barry Levinson’s excellent new HBO about Kevorkian, “You Don’t Know Jack,” starring Al Pacino. The screening was at the Ziegfeld, with a heavy A list. The party was at the legendary Four Seasons restaurant. This is the top. You can’t do better than this kind of action.

At the Four Seasons, young girls in mini-skirts lined up to have their picture taken with Kevorkian. A listers like Bob Balaban, Michele Lee, and Garry Trudeau were guests. The Four Seasons served their famous lambchops and mashed potatoes.

The joke going around was: don’t even tell Dr. Kevorkian you have the sniffles. In case he’s trigger happy.

But seriously: Oscar winner Levinson has made an Emmy worthy movie, giving Pacino a nuanced performance–his best in many years. John Goodman and Danny Huston are very, very good in supporting roles, as is Susan Sarandon as Kevorkian’s right hand. Ordinarily Sarandon would be the female standout but “Jack” has a surprise: Brenda Vaccaro.

Youngsters may wonder: who is Brenda Vaccaro? Well, she was hot stuff–cute, smart and sexy–in the 60s and early 70s. Vaccaro was an “It” girl. sort of in the same category as Susan St. James and Stefanie Powers. She did tons of TV every year, dated everyone, and had a great role in a Best Picture, “Midnight Cowboy.”

In “Jack,” Brenda plays Kevorkian’s beloved sister Margo, his partner and rock as if her whole legacy depended on it. She and Pacino seem like they’ve been brother and sister forever. They’ve known each other in real life since the 60s, so that helps. “Marty Bregman gave us each our starts and introduced us,” Al explained, while Bregman beamed. “We go all the way back,” said Brenda. Pencil her in for a Best Supporting Actress Emmy next fall.

Pacino was happy cat all night. He brought his 33 year old Argentinian girlfriend, Lucilla, who’s also the mother a 13 year old. He also brought his 20 year old daughter, Julie, a budding filmmaker. A short film of hers called “Prodigal,” may play out of competition at Cannes. Pacino has two younger kids with Beverly D’Angelo, but this one’s ready to go in the world. She’s a smart cookie, and funny.

“She’s also a great softball player,” Pacino chimed in.

But back to Dr. K on the couch, getting his picture taken with nymphets. He’s very happy about the movie. And why not? It’s a very synpathetic portrait of a man who–right or wrong–helped 130 people die. These stories usually don’t end with lambchops. He loves Pacino. He told Al, “I’d love to go down the street with you dressed as me. I’d say, I’m Al Pacino and this is Jack Kevorkian. That’s how much you’re like me in the movie.”

Each of Kevorkian’s attorneys were there, too, but only one–Detroit’s Geoffrey Feiger–is in the film (played so well by Danny Huston). Feier rose to fame on TV defending Kevorkian, but apparently they had a falling out along the way. The more steadfast Mayer Morganroth, who’s mentioned in passing in the film, was the guy who really filed all the motions and stuck by Dr. Death for 16 years. He never leaves his client’s side. After years of pro bono work, he’s finally getting paid.

Kevorkian is looking forward to all his new fame, starting with that lunch time interview on Friday with Anderson Cooper. “Bring your toughest questions,” he advised me. “I’ll answer anything.” Stay tuned.

Roger Friedman
Roger Friedman
Roger Friedman began his Showbiz411 column in April 2009 after 10 years with Fox News, where he created the Fox411 column. His movie reviews are carried by Rotten Tomatoes, and he is a member of both the movie and TV branches of the Critics Choice Awards. His articles have appeared in dozens of publications over the years including New York Magazine, where he wrote the Intelligencer column in the mid 90s and covered the OJ Simpson trial, and Fox News (when it wasn't so crazy) where he covered Michael Jackson. He is also the writer and co-producer of "Only the Strong Survive," a selection of the Cannes, Sundance, and Telluride Film festivals, directed by DA Pennebaker and Chris Hegedus.

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