All right, I'll out with it. I am partially responsible for inflicting Doogie Howser upon an innocent and unsuspecting world.
Neil was born June 15, 1973 in the small resort town of Ruidoso, NM. I happened to live there as well, and his mother, an attorney, counted my mom as part of her clientele, which is how I first met Neil.
In 1981, my sophomore year in high school, a drama club was formed, and our first production was chosen to be a stage presentation of The Wizard of Oz. I was cast as The Cowardly Lion. Neil's big brother, in eighth grade at the time, had come to try out as a Munchkin partially due to my urging ... but not getting cast because he was too tall for the part.
However, Neil also attended the casting call, and the director needed a Toto, badly. Neil was small for his eight years of age, but was also rather quiet and unresponsive to the queries being put to him by the adults, so we were on the fence as to whether or not to cast him.
So I piped up and asked him, "What do you want to be when you grow up?"
His answer? "I'm going to be a movie star."
We had found our Toto.
As we grew older, we acted together in many local plays, eventually joining the local community theater group, doing Neil Simon plays and campy summer melodramas for the tourists.
The last play we acted in together was in 1987, called Critic's Choice. During rehearsal for that show, Neil attended a youth drama camp in Las Cruces, NM where he caught the eye of writer Mark Medoff, who had recently gained attention for his stage play Children of a Lesser God. Medoff was penning a movie script called Clara's Heart which required a strong adolescent role. He cast Neil almost at first sight.
Since going Hollywood, Neil's career has been quite diverse, and he's had starring roles in television series, movies, eventually moving back to stage acting by appearing in productions ranging from Rent to Romeo and Juliet. It's rather unusual for a young star to command the large roles he has, but speaking from personal experience, Neil's more than equal to the task, and as he matures into adult roles such as the one he played in The Next Best Thing, it looks like he's successfully avoided both being forever labeled as "Doogie" (then again, maybe not) and the pitfalls many of his contemporaries have faced.
His filmography, lifted straight from the IMDB (and excluding his extremely large number of television credits):
For those who are curious, Neil's, at the very least, straight but not narrow. I'll just leave it at that.
NOW I DON'T NEED TO JUST LEAVE IT AT THAT COZ DOOGIE HAS OUTED HIMSELF AS OF 11-3-2006! YOU GO GIRLFRIEND! I'M SO VERY PROUD OF YOU! IT ONLY TOOK YOU, WHAT, TWENTY FUCKING YEARS?
I'm also a little freaked that I'm just one degree of separation away from nearly everyone in the entertainment industry thanks to knowing him. He's acted with everyone from Faye Dunaway to Madonna. Brrrrr.