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'Family Circus' creator Bil Keane dies at 89

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PHOENIX (AP) - 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.

(Photo: Associated Press)

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.

Jeff Keane, Keane's son who lives in Laguna Hills, Calif., said that his father died of congestive heart failure with one of his other sons by his side after his conditioned worsened during the last month. All of Keane's five children, nine grandchildren and 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 the last conversation he had with his father. "The great thing is Dad loved the family so much, so the fact that we all saw him, I think that gave him great comfort and made his passing easy. Luckily he didn't suffer through a lot of things."

Jeff Keane has been drawing "Family Circus" in the last few years as his father enjoyed retirement.

Keane said in a 1995 interview with The Associated Press that the cartoon had staying power because of its consistency and simplicity.
"It's reassuring, I think, to the American public to see the same family," he said.

Although Keane kept the strip current with references to pop culture movies and songs, the context of his comic was timeless. The ghost-like "Ida Know" and "Not Me" who deferred blame for household accidents were staples of the strip. The family's pets were dogs Barfy and Sam, and the cat, Kittycat.

"We are, in the comics, the last frontier of good, wholesome family humor and entertainment," Keane said. "On radio and television, magazines and the movies, you can't tell what you're going to get. When you look at the comic page, you can usually depend on something acceptable by the entire family."

Jeff Keane shared the sentiment, saying "Family Circus" had flourished through the decades because readers continue to relate to its values of family moments.

"It was a different type of comic, and I think that was my dad's genius - creating something that people could really relate to and wasn't necessarily meant to get a laugh," he said. "It was more of a warm feeling or a lump in the throat."

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