Around the world, his cadaverous mug is the symbol of suicide, death and dying. But now Dr. Death is playing Dr. Ruth with a public service announcement encouraging people to wear condoms.
The ad, filmed this spring for an ABC-TV special on AIDS, features Jack Kevorkian warning that people who don't practice safe sex "are the people who are really killing themselves."
"Why perfectly healthy people would want to commit suicide is beyond me," Kevorkian concludes.
The ad was part of the traveling road show the Michigan pathologist and his legal sidekick, Geoffrey Fieger, brought to Washington on Monday for their joint appearance before the National Press Club.
The show featured a protester dressed as the grim reaper, adoring elderly women and a signature speech from Kevorkian indicting the "corrupt" social order, from the president to Michigan courts to the pope.
Fieger screened the ad for a Press Club luncheon crowd of about 250 _ and C-SPAN's national viewing audience _ to focus attention on "a side of Jack Kevorkian you rarely see," the side that's "about life."
That message was a bit muddied, however, by Fieger's other blockbuster announcement: Kevorkian now has a partner. Psychiatrist Georges Reding of Galesburg, Mich., has helped Kevorkian carry out five recent suicides, Fieger said, doing "everything Kevorkian does."
Reding declined to talk to reporters. But he sat at the head table during the Press Club luncheon, and rose to tell the crowd that he joined Kevorkian because he was "embarrassed by the cowardice of my profession," whose leaders refuse to support suffering patients who seek help in ending their lives.
"The five people I saw die, their serenity was so beautiful," Reding told the crowd. "It's very beautiful and it's full of sorrow."
None of them would discuss details of Reding's involvement. But his name first emerged after the May 6 death of Austin Bastable, a Windsor, Canada, resident who suffered from multiple sclerosis. Reding signed Bastable's death certificate, listing "patholysis" as the cause of death, a word coined by Kevorkian and his followers to describe doctor-assisted suicide.
Bastable is among 33 "patients" Kevorkian has helped die _ and one of six suicides he attended during and after his most recent trial on murder charges, one of the three in which he has been acquitted of criminal wrongdoing.
Kevorkian addressed the Press Club, unleashing a 20-minute rant laced with his trademark humor and deliberate attempts to offend. To critics who say his methods are undignified, Kevorkian summoned the image of Christ dying on the cross, his hands bleeding, his side pieced by spears.
"Had Christ died in my van, with people around him who loved him, it would have been far more dignified," he said. "My rusty van.
"Pass any law you want. I don't care," Kevorkian said in closing. "I know what's right. And I'm going to do what's right."