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Bil Keane, creator of Family Circus, passes at age 89

Bil Keane, the creator of the iconic Family Circus comic panel has passed away at age 89.

He was born in Philadelphia in 1922 and according to his bio on his website he was a self taught artist. After WWII, he worked as a staff artist at the Philadelphia Bulletin for 15 years and created the syndicated comic “Channel Chuckles” in 1954. Family Circus was launched in newspapers in 1960 where it has become one of the most widely syndicated strips in comics. Bil was named NCS’ cartoonist of the year in 1983.

His son, Jeff has been working on the strip for many years and will continue to do so.

Condolences to the Keane family.

UPDATE: News is hitting mainstream media. Here’s the AP wire story.

Video report from the AP:

Community Comments

#1 Stephan Pastis
November/9/2011
@ 11:54 am

Very sad news.

I got to interview him once on behalf of the Schulz museum, and we spoke for hours about the strip, his life, his family. He was great. And I know that whenever someone dies, people say how nice he was, but Bil was truly kind to me. Showed me around his house in Phoenix, told me great stories.

I used to call him just to talk to him. And he was funny then too. One time, at the end of a long telephone conversation, he said, “Well, great talking to you. Now my dinner is cold.”

I even got to ask him what he thought of the parodies I did of Family Circus. He said, “I don’t mind at all, as long as they’re funny. So be funny.”

And he was absolutely hilarious as the Reubens emcee all those years. Most non-cartoonists didn’t get to see that side of him. But he was laugh-out-loud funny.

The truth is that as a little kid, my parents used to let me get one book at the bookstore when we’d go out together on Sundays. And frequently, I’d get one of those paperback Family Circus collections. And I loved them.

#2 Gerry Mooney
November/9/2011
@ 11:59 am

Thanks Bil for all the great cartoons and characters!

#3 Tom Racine
November/9/2011
@ 12:12 pm

Comic Strip Royalty has passed. “Family Circus” got so many of us interested in the art form…he leaves us a huge legacy.

#4 KEITH POLETIEK
November/9/2011
@ 12:41 pm

I imagine him in heaven drawing a cartoon of Billy checking out everything in heaven, dotted lines following him and everything. Those Sunday cartoons were my favorite.

Thanks Bil, you made me want to be a cartoonist!

#5 Erin Tselenchuk
November/9/2011
@ 12:44 pm

My thoughts go out to Bil’s family and friends. He was an iconic cartoonist who brought joy to many daily…over the years, my dad sent him strips and panels which he would sign, personalize, and return without hesitation. They all live framed in my “cartoon” room and I will be forever grateful to have known his work.

#6 Mike Cope
November/9/2011
@ 12:48 pm

The Family Circus paperbacks were a staple of my childhood library visits in the 1980’s, and an endearing source of inspiration. Thank you for everything you did, Mr. Keane.

My sincere condolences to the Keane family.

#7 David Jones
November/9/2011
@ 1:13 pm

Oner of the greats. I cannot begin to express my sadness. I have studied Bil’s work for as far back as I can remember. Jeff is doing an awesome job and my prayers go out to Jeff and the rest of his Family Circus….. God bless you Bil.

#8 Eddie Pittman
November/9/2011
@ 2:27 pm

I was very sadden to hear about Bil’s passing. Family Circus was a huge influence on me as a young cartoonist and I liberally stole from it’s humor and wonderful art. I had the great pleasure of seeing Bil present at the Reuben Awards a few years back and I have to say he was one of the funniest people I’ve ever seen. When we met him afterward he was warm, gracious and encouraging. Keeping the Jeff, Glen and the rest of the Keane clan in my prayers.

#9 Stephen Beals
November/9/2011
@ 2:30 pm

I still have my Family Circus books from my childhood. They’ve survived many years and multiple moves because they helped start my lifelong love of reading. He was a wonderful human being.

#10 Jeff Knurek
November/9/2011
@ 2:33 pm

Whenever I draw someone reading a paper, I always draw a mini Family Circus. It wouldn’t be a newspaper without it. I remember buying the paperbacks as well. I loved the fact there was a boy named Jeff(y) in the paper. Thanks Bil! God Bess.

#11 Brien Miller
November/9/2011
@ 2:41 pm

A quiet giant; legendary for one of the longest running strips ever. Always enjoy Family Circus. Truly sad news.

#12 Jason Smith
November/9/2011
@ 2:44 pm

His greatest skill was to make a small circular area seem so expansive. RIP.

#13 John Lotshaw
November/9/2011
@ 4:32 pm

Sir Isaac Newton was famous for having said, “If I have seen a little further it is by standing on the shoulders of Giants.” All of us who do this, either professionally or not, stand little bit lower today, as one of the Giants has left us.

#14 Rick Kirkman
November/9/2011
@ 7:45 pm

Bil was so nice to me as a fledgling cartoonist, way before Baby Blues. Such a funny and nice man. I always admired his wit and his integrity. I consider myself lucky to have known him.

#15 Anne Hambrock
November/9/2011
@ 9:57 pm

In an age where 5 year olds routinely watch the Simpsons it can be hard to appreciate the genius of the gentle humor of the Family Circus. But in households that still read newspapers (like mine) it truly has been, not only a gateway strip that pulled my kids to the comics with humor they could understand, it also helped to hold them there. Though they are mostly grown now, they remain fans of comic strips in general and the Family Circus in particular.

Our sincere sympathy and condolences to Jeff and the rest of the Keane family.

Anne and John Hambrock

#16 Stacy Curtis
November/10/2011
@ 12:22 am

I read the comics pages every day as a kid and the “Family Circus” was one of the comics I grew up reading and could understand the jokes.

We were also big fans of the animated Family Circus Easter and Valentine specials.

#17 John Hover
November/12/2011
@ 8:38 pm

Bil was an inspiration for all of us… his work will live on forever. Seeing the Family Circus in the paper everyday made all of us better cartoonists. Thank you Bil for all the comics, laughs, and memories! He will live on through his comic and all of us.

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