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'Family Circus' Cartoonist Bil Keane Has Died, He Was 89

Bil Keane, whose "Family Circus" comics have been appearing in newspapers since 1960, died Tuesday in Arizona at the age of 89.

His son Jeff, who has been drawing the comic in recent years, told Huff Post Media that Keane suffered congestive heart failure. All five of the cartoonist's children, his nine grandchildren and a great-granddaughter were able to see him within the last week, Jeff Keane added.

This blogger will certainly date himself by saying he's a couple years older than "Family Circus" and can't recall many days that didn't start with a glance at the often sappy but kind of reassuring comic.

Keane once told the AP that consistency and simplicity were the keys to his creation's longevity. "It's reassuring, I think, to the American public to see the same family," he told the wire service in 1995.

The comic appears in about 1,500 newspapers. It features a family with four little kids — Billy, Jeffy, Dolly, P.J. — their parents, their pets (dogs Barfy and Sam and the cat, Kittycat). It is, as the AP says, a family much like Keane's.

"I never thought about a philosophy for the strip; it developed gradually," Keane told the East Valley Tribune in 1998, according to the AP. "I was portraying the family through my eyes. Everything that's happened in the strip has happened to me."

Keane's wife Thelma died in 2008.

At the website of the National Cartoonists Society, President Tom Richmond (a caricaturist and regular contributor to MAD magazine) writes about Keane's longstanding role as emcee of the organization's annual awards event. When Richmond attended for the first time, he wondered if the man behind "a very sweet and gentle strip" would be the right person to act as host.

He quickly found out, Richmond writes, that Keane "was one of the funniest guys I'd ever met.. ... To say Bil Keane was only quick-witted is like saying Olympic superstar Usian Bolt is just 'sort-of fast.' "

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Mark Memmott
Mark Memmott is NPR's supervising senior editor for Standards & Practices. In that role, he's a resource for NPR's journalists – helping them raise the right questions as they do their work and uphold the organization's standards.