PHOENIX — Bil Keane's Family Circus comics entertained readers with a simple but sublime mix of humor and traditional family values for more than a half century. The appeal endured, the author thought, because the American public needed the consistency.
Mr. Keane, who started drawing the one-panel cartoon featuring Billy, Jeffy, Dolly, P.J. and their parents in February 1960, died Tuesday at age 89 at his longtime home in Paradise Valley, near Phoenix. His comic strip is featured in nearly 1,500 newspapers across the country, including the St. Petersburg Times.
Mr. Keane died of congestive heart failure with one of his sons by his side, his son Jeff Keane said. His wife, Thelma, died in 2008. All of Keane's five children, nine grandchildren and a great-granddaughter were able to visit him last week, Jeff Keane said.
"He said, 'I love you' and that's what I said to him, which is a great way to go out," Jeff Keane said of his last conversation with his father.
Jeff Keane has been drawing Family Circus for the past few years.
Born in 1922, Mr. Keane taught himself to draw in high school in his native Philadelphia. About this time, young Bill dropped the second "L" off his name "just to be different."
He worked as a messenger for the Philadelphia Bulletin before serving three years in the Army, where he drew for Yank and Pacific Stars and Stripes. He met his wife while serving at a desk job in Australia.
They moved to Arizona in 1958, and two years later he started a comic about a family much like his own. Mr. Keane and his wife had a daughter, Gayle, and sons Glen, Jeff, Chris and Neal — one more son than in his cartoon family.
"I never thought about a philosophy for the strip — it developed gradually," Keane told the East Valley Tribune in 1998. "I was portraying the family through my eyes. Everything that's happened in the strip has happened to me."