Producer plans Kevorkian play, DeLorean TV miniseries

Mike Martindale
The Detroit News

Plans are in the works to retell the lives of two Metro Detroit legends — in film and on stage.

Jack Kevorkian, left, went to jail for assisting suicides. The John DeLorean story will touch on his rise in the auto industry.

A TV miniseries is planned on the late auto industry maverick John Z. DeLorean, who was the subject of several films and books in which a Hollywood producer said “never got his story right.”

The same producer plans a live stage treatment on the little-known “human side” of assisted-suicide advocate Jack Kevorkian, who between 1990 and 1998 was involved in more than 130 deaths. Don’t expect an evening of song and dance, but the tentatively titled “Dr. Death: Jack of All Trades” will include an “entertaining” view of the late Kevorkian’s art, music, and writings.

Both projects are in development and are expected to gain traction next year with “DeLorean” being filmed partly in Detroit and “Dr. Death” possibly destined for Broadway, said Steve Jones, CEO of Bee Holder Productions, who is producing both projects.

Both productions are in the early stages of development and Jones hopes to finish the projects by late 2016 or early 2017.

“Both of these men led incredible lives,” he said. “While there have already been some films and several books on them, there is still much the public doesn’t know about them.”

Jones should know. He produced the HBO film “You Don’t Know Jack” which starred Academy Award winning actor Al Pacino as Kevorkian. Jones’s company also did a documentary called “Kevorkian.”

The multi-faceted DeLorean story will touch on his rise within the U.S. auto industry, his efforts to produce the ill-fated DeLorean gull-winged door sports car, and his eventual fall from grace highlighted by his arrest for cocaine possession.

“It’s a Detroit story. An LA story and a North Ireland story,” Jones said. “And it will be partly filmed in all those locations.

“We thought about doing just one film but there are so many aspects to it that a TV mini-series, likely eight parts, seemed more appropriate. We have family members — all three of his brothers — involved that will provide insight to DeLorean.”

Jones said a DeLorean script is in development with writers of “You Don’t Know Jack.” One of the producers will be Mark Huffam of the award-winning “Game of Thrones” HBO series. Casting is still being discussed.

Acting as consultant, on both projects, is well-known Birmingham attorney Mayer Morganroth, who more than a decade ago successfully defended DeLorean in 40 civil and criminal cases seeking in excess of $1 billion from DeLorean.

Morganroth recalls DeLorean as being very outgoing and generous — even loaning the attorney his Manhattan apartment. But he also recalls him as very shrewd — at one point trying to sue Morganroth for legal malpractice to avoid paying $8 million in attorney’s fees racked up over a decade.

Kevorkian and Morganroth became friends, he said, a relationship he still treasures. He aided in Kevorkian’s legal efforts — Kevorkian chose to defend himself in his final trial — and as executor of his estate since his 2011 death.

“These two men couldn’t be more different,” Morganroth said.

DeLorean’s flashy lifestyle

DeLorean Car Co.’s stainless steel DMC-12 vehicle was immortalized in the 1980s “Back To the Future” film trilogy. An image of it adorns DeLorean’s tombstone.

While both men were visionaries, their public image differed greatly.

The outspoken Kevorkian was a bachelor who lived simply, drove a rusty VW bus and shopped at thrift stores for his signature cardigan sweaters and golf hat. He wore a crew cut and was probably more comfortable with his poker-night buddies rather than the media spotlight he eventually used as a platform for right-to-die advocacy.

With his “Dr. Death” nickname — earned while a hospital pathologist because of his fascination with death and photographing the eyes of patients after their deaths — some found Kevorkian ghoulish.

In contrast, DeLorean led a flashy lifetstyle that ruffled staid auto company executives, whose ranks he joined in 1965 at the age of 40 — the youngest person to ever head a division in GM history. Between designing and developing cars such as the Pontiac GTO, Firebird and Grand Prix, he hobnobbed with celebrities, dated — and eventually wed — beautiful models and led a jet set lifestyle.

He wore his hair and sideburns fashionably long and was an unconventional but natty dresser — from cashmere coats to tuxedos. Like the fictious James Bond character, women wanted DeLorean and men wanted to be like him.

He left GM in 1973 to found the DeLorean Car Co. which would eventually make the stainless steel car. It was later immortalized as a time-travel vehicle in the 1985 “Back To the Future” comedy film.

But running a car company was no joke. Production delays in Ireland, the pricey cost of the vehicle and economy all worked against DeLorean, whose company was $175 million in debt in 1982. It floundered and, unable to get proper funding, collapsed.

After being acquitted of cocaine trafficking charges supposedly in an effort to raise money for his company, DeLorean went bankrupt and was evicted from his 434-acre estate in Bedminster, N.J. The estate was later bought by developer Donald Trump, who turned it into a golf course.

DeLorean died of a stroke in New Jersey in 2005 at the age of 80. His ashes are buried in White Chapel Cemetery in Troy, beneath a tombstone engraved with an image of the DMC-12 vehicle.

Kevorkian’s sacrifice

Kevorkian has already been portrayed in productions including the HBO film “You Don’t Know Jack” which starred Academy Award winning actor Al Pacino.

Jones described the life of Kevorkian — who died of thrombosis in 2011 at age 83 — as “multi-layered and fascinating.”

“He cared about his carbon footprint left in this world,” Jones said. “I remember when we were working on one of the film projects. He was finishing a meal at home and there were some salt grains on the table which he swept into his hand and carefully put them back inside the salt shaker.”

Kevorkian went to prison after providing a film of one death to CBS’ “60 Minutes” TV news program. Kevorkian served eight years and three months of a 10-25 year prison sentence before receiving early parole in 2007. Morganroth led a campaign to have Kevorkian released early from his prison sentence.

“He was a writer, a poet, and a musician — he played both the organ and the flute,” Jones said. “He was also an artist — I am proud to have one of his paintings in my home. His history will be part of the play but its focus will be on his light side, one which the public doesn’t know too much about.”

Morganroth supervised a New York auction of many of Kevorkian’s personal possessions, the proceeds going to Kevorkian’s sole heir, a niece, and charity.

This past August, his VW minibus — at first thought ot have been destroyed — was sold from an area pawn shop to a Metro Detroit auto dealer for $25,000. His private papers were donated to a University of Michigan library earlier this year.

Kevorkian was key to promoting global dialogue on the right-to-die issue.

“Jack (Kevorkian) was best known for his involvement with assisted suicides but he was so much more,” Morganroth said.

Kevorkian is also buried in White Chapel Cemetery and his simple unadorned tombstone reads: “He sacrificed himself for everyone’s rights.”

mmartindale@detroitnews.com

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