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Geoffrey Fieger: Behind the mouth

Fieger has a love-hate relationship with local reporters, who gather to hear his attention-grabbing sound bites. (Free Press photo by David P. Gilkey)

Price of fame

On an early September Sunday, Fieger relaxes in his tasteful West Bloomfield Township home. It sits on a golf course, although Fieger doesn't play. The home is spotless, dominated by large, framed pieces of art, light colors and a baby grand piano, though Fieger doesn't play that either.

A cozy library reveals Fieger's leanings: "First In His Class," a book about President Bill Clinton; "The Lives of John Lennon"; "Wired," by Bob Woodward. There are Chekhov novels, books about Oscar Wilde, and volumes of plays. Foul-mouthed Fieger is a Shakespeare fan.

He wears a black, sleeveless T-shirt and black jeans, drinks spiked fruit juice, and pops vitamins. Keenie comes in with bagels. Kevorkian drops by and reads the newspaper.

Fieger and Keenie laugh over his picture on the front page of the Detroit News and Free Press, following another Kevorkian-assisted suicide. The camera caught Fieger with his hair flying in the wind.

"I look like I have wings," Fieger says.

"You look like Bozo," Keenie says.

During this weekend, he has done a session of "Good Morning America" and held two news conferences, plus radio shows and press interviews.

When all is said and done, the evidence will show that the Kevorkian case at some point took over Geoffrey Fieger's life. It has become his joy and his burden. It has brought him great reward, mostly in the way of recognition, since Kevorkian does not pay him.

But there have been costs.

Keenie, an architecture student, says the case has invaded their personal lives. They can't go anywhere without being recognized.

"I can't do bad things anymore," Fieger jokes.

People ask for autographs, interrupt their dinners, offer advice, criticize. Many weekends are consumed by interviews, the post-suicide calls, case preparation -- or Fieger's preoccupation with the whole issue.

"It's his life," Keenie says. "It has evolved. It wasn't always that way. Even though Geoffrey does a lot of other cases, this takes every other moment."

He has no hobbies, she says. "He doesn't have time. All he does is work, so when it's time to relax, I think he's forgotten how."

Outside of work, Fieger's personal life consists mostly of an early morning workout and an occasional show or dinner. Most days, he comes home exhausted, inconsolable if he has lost a case, and usually very quiet. He takes a couple of melatonin and falls asleep to CNN.

Fieger admits Kevorkian has taken time from Keenie. "I gotta learn to be more sensitive to her feelings," he says.

One wonders if he will have time. Each week seems to bring new twists, questions, insinuations. There is a growing public perception even among those who advocate assisted suicide that Kevorkian and Fieger have gone circus, that they are no longer the right messengers for the issue.

"That's wrong," Fieger says. "First of all, we're the only messengers. And second of all, the only circus is the police and the prosecutor. If we were priests and literally ascetic and not doing a thing, they would still accuse us of that because it's necessary since we're winning.

"What did we do? We simply refused to back down and we simply refused to shut up."

If a time bomb is ticking, Fieger doesn't hear it. The play is the thing. The debate over assisted suicide "needs to go to a different level," he says. "The fact of the matter is . . . we have been successful, overwhelmingly, on this issue in winning the hearts and minds."

So, ladies and gentlemen of the jury, what say you about Geoffrey Fieger?

He stands charged with offensive behavior, trickery, blustery; accused of lying, misleading, grandstanding; labeled as an egotist. He is a hero to his clients and a winner in court, but also an attorney burdened by his own choosing with an odd client and an issue that strikes at our souls: death.

Is Geoffrey Fieger acting or sincere? Does he care about assisted suicide, or just the notoriety it brings him?

Your verdict doesn't seem to matter to Fieger. After all, he needs only to worry about the opinion of his famous client.

Jack Kevorkian isn't crazy about his lawyer's flamboyance, his profanity, his insatiable appetite for publicity. But he likes the way Fieger thumbs his nose at the system. And he likes the way he wins.

"I always felt my career and everything was a failure. And it still may be," Kevorkian says. "But I feel successful now because of the freedom I have to do what I want to do. . . . He's helped me do that."

Free Press story by Sheryl James

The Kevorkian Controversey: An index of stories

Voice your opinion on assisted suicide at the Freep's Kevorkian forum.


Behind the mouth | His father's son | Kevorkian's choice | Trickery and bluster | 'The play is the thing' | Price of fame


CONTENTS

Behind the mouth

His father's son

Kevorkian's choice

Trickery and bluster

'The play is the thing'

Price of fame

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