Kevorkian was born in Pontiac, Mich., the son of working-class parents who left Armenia after the genocide of 1915. He was trained as a pathologist and first got his name, Dr. Death, because of a 1956 paper he wrote about photographing the eyes of dying patients.
He also created music and art with ghoulish themes.
Kevorkian was dismissed from his residency at the University of Michigan for advocating experimentation on consenting convicts during execution. Other medical projects included experiments on transfusing blood from cadavers into living patients.
By 1987, he began advertising in newspapers as a "physician consultant" for "death counseling," and in 1989 he built his suicide machine on his kitchen table.
The first assisted death was that of Janet Adkins, a 54 year old from Oregon with Alzheimer's disease. It took place in Kervorkian's parked Volkswagen van.
By the 1990s, Kevorkian was charged and acquitted in numerous other assisted deaths, and his medical license was revoked. By 1992, Michigan passed a ban on the procedure.
In one contentious case, he helped Hugh Gale, a 70-year-old with emphysema and congestive heart disease, to die, but investigators reportedly found papers that showed Kevorkian altered the account of the death, deleting Gale's request to halt the procedure.
But it was a 1998 episode of CBS's "60 Minutes," showing Kevorkian giving a lethal injection to Thomas Youk, 52, who suffered from Lou Gehrig's disease, or amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, that led to Kevorkian's conviction on second degree murder charges.
"He was a complex man, the smartest man I ever met," said Geoffrey Fieger, the lawyer who got Kevorkian acquitted eight times.
"We had a love-hate relationship," Fieger told ABCNews.com last year. "It was a father-son relationship -- me being the father and he being the son. I was up against the governor, politicians, police and the prosecutors, but the biggest problem was Jack Kevorkian. He was headstrong."
Even Hemlock Society founder Derek Humphry, now 81 and the self-described "grand old man" of the assisted death movement, said Kevorkian's methods were "too perilous and risky."
Humphry wrote "Last Exit," a how-to guide for people wishing to end their lives, after helping his terminally ill wife, Jean, end her life with an overdose of medication.
In 1989, when Kevorkian was still practicing medicine in Los Angeles, he and Humphry "quarreled right on the spot."
"He came to me hoping that I, as head of Hemlock, would send him the patients," Humphry told ABCNews.com. "I said, 'No,' I don't believe there should be a clinic for assisted suicide. It should be done at home or in a hospital."
"He stormed out of the room and has never spoken to me since," Humphry said.
After that, Kevorkian reportedly opposed Humphry's approach, saying assisted suicides should be done in a medical setting.
"People are aware of euthanasia because of him," he said. "But I think he ruined it in the eyes of the medical profession."
"I credit him and criticize him," said Humphry. "The American public and the media gave him so much attention. He had lot of ego. He was not a team player at all."
Kevorkian's lawyer Morganroth said there were no plans for a memorial.