Brian Keith

Brian Keith
CBS

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Brian Keith
TV: North side of the 7000 block of Hollywood Boulevard
Actor
Born Nov. 14, 1921 in Bayonne, N.J.
Died June 24, 1997 of suicide by gunshot in Malibu, CA

Brian Keith, who debuted in show business at 3, forged a varied career for himself, starring in comedies, dramas and westerns and picking up plum roles in film and on television.

He costarred in the 1961 Disney movie "The Parent Trap" and during his long career played opposite many legendary leading ladies, including Bette Davis, Ginger Rogers and Elizabeth Taylor. All told, he made more than 80 films.

Refreshingly blunt — like many of the characters he played— Keith never hesitated to say what he thought about his various show business projects.

He boasted of telling CBS executives "to go fly a kite" when they suggested toning down his series "The Westerner" to make it appropriate for children. He once complained that "all TV seems to want is tripe."

Throughout his career, Keith delighted in creating gruff, rough characters — but he preferred them realistic. In fact, he disdained some of his most famous work, as Matt Anders in the 1955-56 television drama "Crusader," because he thought the character was too much a souped-up action hero, not enough a regular guy.

"He was always charging around and always a winner. Who can win every time?" Keith complained in an interview with The Times a few years after the show ended. "Besides, people thought [the character] was for real. I still get letters, pathetic letters, from people asking me to help relatives stuck in an Iron Curtain country or something. It's embarrassing. I'm not an avenging angel."

Much more to Keith's taste was his role as the rumpled, plain-spoken cowboy in "The Westerner" — a character so down-to-earth that he was known to fall off a horse on occasion.

But much as he relished his work in westerns, Keith did not achieve national celebrity until he took the role of Uncle Bill — the reluctant guardian of Buffy, Jody and Cissy — in the CBS sitcom "Family Affair," which ran from 1966 to 1971.

Blending his trademark gruffness with a hint of tenderness, Keith played Uncle Bill as a swinging bachelor whose life was thrown into chaos when he was forced to raise his orphaned nieces and nephew with help from his English butler, Mr. French. For a generation of television viewers, reluctant family man Uncle Bill was to be Keith's signature role.

Keith came by his talent naturally. His mother, Helena Shipman, was an actress. His father, Robert Keith, appeared in dozens of films, plays and television shows.

Keith was married three times, lastly to actress Victoria Young. He fathered four children and adopted three others.

At 75 years old, Keith was found shot dead in an apparent suicide. He had been suffering from emphysema and lung cancer, and it was just a few weeks after his daughter Daisy had also committed suicide.

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