Overlooked As a Kid, Fieger Makes Sure He Gets Plenty Of Attention Now

By Laura Berman - The Detroit News

OAK PARK -- At the time I was growing up here, on Avon Street, it never occurred to me that a certain next-door neighbor would become a big, controversial celebrity, oh, even during the Barbie years, I knew Geoffrey Fieger was big - - he was a big, lunky kid with a booming voice and a bullying manner -- but it was his younger brother, Doug, who seemed destined for stardom.

Geoffrey wasn't known for being smart or creative or even, in an activist era, for being politically inclined. He played football, got into fights and spent a lot of time washing his blue VW Beetle.

Oak Park in the Sixties was a distinctive place: a middle-class Jewish suburb full of striving, optimistic, Kennedy liberals who happily lived in houses that looked exactly alike. By 1969, when Geoffrey graduated from Oak Park High School, the place had erupted into shaggy-haired turmoil, and the high school was deserted during the 1970 moratorium against the Vietnam War.

To any child with imagination, having the Fiegers as the family next door was a definite bonus. They were vaguely avant-garde and unconventional, even before Woodstock and marijuana, and especially after. Basically, life seemed a lot more interesting in the house next door.

Once, Doug got Geoff involved in convincing the younger kids in the neighborhood, including my brother and me, that Doug had rather suddenly and quite unexpectedly died. To Geoffrey fell the job of funeral director, and he oversaw our burial of Doug beneath a pile of leaves, organizing the pallbearers and delivering a terse eulogy.

I do not believe this event presaged Geoffrey's interest in the right-to-die movement and his long relationship with Jack Kevorkian. But then again, who knows?

Even the Fieger cat, Skipper, a tawny creature with the personality of a dog and the IQ of a human, was highly individualistic.  Meanwhile, the Fieger parents exemplified permissive parenthood: To my fascination, Doug's girlfriend moved into the Fieger house in high school.  June Fieger was a brainy, high-powered teachers union official who didn't mingle much with her stay-at-home-mom neighbors. When she wanted a swimming pool, she had a one-of-a-kind pool constructed:  It had a retracting roof and could be used year-round, when it was working. She encouraged creativity, not conformity.

But it was Doug Fieger, not Geoff, who had the obvious gift for drama, who kept a Jean-Paul Belmondo poster on his bedroom wall, devised creative games for all of us to play (hanging my brother in the basement, with noose), who acted professionally at age 12, staged Edward Albee plays as a teen-ager and went on to found The Knack, a rock group that was nationally famous for 15 minutes.

It was Doug who was the good-looking, articulate one, the leader we'd follow any time, if only he'd notice us.
Today, our two houses are still side by side, neatly landscaped and maintained, The Fieger pool has been filled in, and a sprinkler whirs around a circle of bare dirt.

"What was it like to grow up next door to Geoffrey Fieger?" people ask me now.  He was the oldest son, overshadowed by his younger brother in youth. In adulthood, I think, he has wreaked his revenge.  Finally, everyone's looking at him.

Laura Berman's column appears Sunday, Tuesday and Thursday. Write to her at The Detroit News, 999 Haynes, Birmingham, Mich. ,48009. Her e-mail address is lberman@detnews. com, Her fax number is (248) 647-0267.
 

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