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Bil Keane

Bil KeaneAKA William Keane

Born: 5-Oct-1922
Birthplace: Philadelphia, PA
Died: 8-Nov-2011
Cause of death: Heart Failure

Gender: Male
Religion: Roman Catholic
Race or Ethnicity: White
Sexual orientation: Straight
Occupation: Cartoonist

Nationality: United States
Executive summary: Family Circus

Military service: US Army (1942-45)

Bil Keane started drawing The Family Circle in 1960, but within a few months lawyers from the magazine of the same name objected, and the strip was re-named Family Circus. Keane and his wife Thel raised five kids, who provided Keane with decades of comedic fodder for the strip, and later his grandchildren provide the inspiration. In the strip, Mommy and Daddy have four fictional kids (Billy, perpetually 7; Dolly, 5; Jeffy, 3; and PJ, 18 months). There are also two dogs (Barfy and Sam), and a kitty cat (Kittycat). The strip's Daddy is a cartoonist, and it actually made the news when Keane gave Mommy a new hairdo in 1996.

The Family Circus is consistently corny, sometimes insightful, and sometimes weirdly disturbing -- especially when long-dead Granddad appears, watching over the family from beyond the ceiling. Keane said he was not really trying to make readers laugh, just smile. At its peak, the strip ran in more than 1,500 newspapers.

"Re-captioning" the utterly innocent Family Circus with drug, sex, and death jokes spawned the popular Dysfunctional Family Circus website in the 1990s. When King Features's lawyers sent a cease-and-desist letter, DFC's webmaster, Greg Galcik, was considering a legal fight, until he got a personal phone call from Keane. The two men talked amicably for an hour and a half, Galcik says. Keane made him laugh, and also made him understand how much the parodies hurt Keane's feelings. After the chat, Galcik took his parodies off-line (though you can still find many if you're persistent).

Keane himself started out by doing parodies, publishing a 1930s zine called The Saturday Evening Toast, in which he satirized popular New Yorker cartoons. He dropped the second 'l' from Bill in his late teens, "to be distinctive."

While working as an editor at the Philadelphia Bulletin, Keane drew Silly Philly. In the Army during World War II, Keane drew a strip for Pacific Stars & Stripes called At Ease with the Japanese -- comics that are now difficult to find, presumably because they might make present-day readers squirm. Keane also drew Channel Chuckles, a feature that ran alongside many newspapers' TV listings, from 1954-1977.

For the last several years of his life, Keane's real-life son Jeff drew the strip, inking each day's illustrations based on his father's pencil drawings and gags, with the understanding that Jeff would take over the strip when Bil retires or otherwise exits the funny pages. The elder Keane died in 2011.

Father: Al Keane (d. 1956)
Wife: Thelma Carne ("Thel", m. 1948, d. 23-May-2008 Alzheimer's)
Daughter: Gayle (Bil's administrative assistant)
Son: Neal
Son: Glen Keane (animator for Disney, b. 13-Apr-1954)
Son: Christopher
Son: Jeff (Bil's assistant)

    High School: Northeast Catholic High School, Philadelphia, PA

    Stars and Stripes
    Reuben Award 1982

Official Website:

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