Museum of Death Buys Dr. Kevorkian’s Suicide Device

Jack "Dr. Death" Kevorkian Thanatron Suicide Machine on display at the Jack Kevorkian art exhibit at Gallerie Sparta in Los Angeles, California on April 3, 2014. Photo by Jim Steinfeldt/Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images.

Los Angeles’s nearly 20-year-old Museum of Death has purchased the Thanatron, the infamous intravenous drip suicide machine invented by Jack “Dr. Death” Kevorkian, reports the Los Angeles Times.

As reported by artnet News, the Thanatron was included in an exhibition at West Hollywood’s Gallerie Sparta in April. At the time, the starting bid for the morbid device was $25,000, although the final sale price has not been released. The exhibition also showcased a dozen paintings by the late Kevorkian, who was known to have created at least 18 artworks. The museum has also purchased Fever, a canvas depicting a grimacing man with a transparent, bright red torso.

The gallery has sold seven of the paintings, the individual price tags ranging from $12,000 to $40,000. Leonardo DiCaprio and his father were among those who have visited the show, Gallerie Sparta co-owner Lee Bowers told the Times. The actor “has become a very big collector of edgy outsider art, and Kevorkian falls into that category,” he added. Nevertheless, “he didn’t make an offer on any of them.”

Although some visitors to the gallery found the presence of the Thanatron disquieting, Museum of Death co-founder J.D. Healy was unperturbed by the lethal device. As he told the Times, “We’re not here to tell people what to think. We’re here to give them information. Is it murder or is it suicide? That’s what museums are supposed to do—ask the hard questions.” Among the museum’s other holdings are one of the bunk beds from the 1997 Heaven’s Gate mass suicide.

Healy is also considering purchasing the white 1968 Volkswagen van where Kevorkian operated the Thanatron. In 2011, an attempted eBay sale of the vehicle was cancelled due to ethical concerns over selling so-called “murderabillia” (see Examiner article).

A September exhibition in Hollywood will include the medicine bag Kevorkian used to carry lethal chemicals, and the suitcase and wooden box used to transport the Thanatron. Afterward, the device will likely move to the museum’s New Orleans branch, the Musée de Mort Orleans, which is opening this fall. According to Healy, however, “it should be in the Smithsonian.”

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