Reel Reviews

The Suicide Death of Brian Keith

America's Uncle Bill Ends His Own Life

The Suicide Death of Brian KeithBrian Keith, who became known to millions of Americans in the late '60s as Uncle Bill, was born on November 14, 1921, in Bayonne, New Jersey. The son of Robert Keith and Helena Shipman, Keith eventually went on to work with such film industry greats as John Huston, Peter Bogdanovich, Bette Davis, Marlon Brando and Sebastian Cabot. Although he started acting at the tender age of 3, it wasn't until he was well into his forties that Keith found his primary claim to fame as everybody's favorite sitcom uncle to child actors Anissa Jones and Johnny Whitaker on television's Family Affair.

Broadway, then Hollywood

Keith served in the U.S. Marine corps during World War II but resumed his acting career upon his return to the States after the war's end. Following a Broadway hit in 1946 and again in '48, Keith went on to be in such films as Arrowhead and Five Against the House.

The Suicide Death of Brian KeithAs television began to become a bigger player on the entertainment scene, Keith began appearing in many shows during the '50s. His first starring television role came in 1955 in the short-lived The Crusader. He went on to be cast in many more films including the highly successful, The Young Philadelphians.

Family Affair

Many more TV and film appearances, including The Parent Trap, The Wind and the Lion, and The Brian Keith Show lead up to his most successful foray into the acting world, the long running and award winning television series, Family Affair. Keith played opposite Sebastian Cabot as a Manhattan bachelor and guardian to Buffy, Jody, and Sissy, played by Anissa Jones, Johnny Whitaker, and Kathy Garver respectively. The highly successful series ran on CBS from 1966-1971 and was a ratings blockbuster at the time, placing in the top five of all shows in its three-year run. Keith was nominated for no less than 3 Emmys for his role as Uncle Bill.

The Suicide Death of Brian KeithHardcastle and McCormick

After the cancellation of the series following the '71 season, Keith continued his television and film career with numerous bit roles until 1983 when he garnered the lead role in another television series, Hardcastle and McCormick, which ran from 1983-86. Keith played retired judge Milton Hardcastle who, accompanied by his last defendant, follows up on cases that where dismissed due to technicalities.

1997, a Tough Year

Keith continued acting throughout the '80s and '90s, making bit appearances on such shows as Touched By an Angel and Walker, Texas Ranger. But by 1997, Keith's life had begun to unravel. He was diagnosed with lung cancer and emphysema, despite having quit his smoking habit more than ten years earlier. Brutal chemotherapy treatments began to take an emotional toll on Keith. In April of 1997 his daughter, Daisy, committed suicide in her Hollywood Hills home and reports had Keith suffering financial problems for the last few years. His daughter's death would be too much for the actor to overcome.

The Suicide Death of Brian KeithFailing Health and Financial Troubles

On June 24, 1997 at 10:13 a.m. family members alerted police to Keith's Malibu home at 23449 Malibu Colony Rd. The 75-year old actor had placed a gun to his head and pulled the trigger, ending his downward spiral of failing health, financial troubles and depression caused by the loss of his daughter. Brian Keith is survived by his wife since 1970, Victoria Young, who played Nurse Puni on The Brian Keith Show. Unlike his daughter, Keith left a handwritten note in which he wrote "The end is here. I'm finished. The pain is too much. Now it's time for me to join our little Daisy. She needs me. She didn't want to be without me here, so she'll have me again over there. Don't be sad. This had to come soon."

Interestingly, Johnny Whitaker spoke with Keith only five days before Keith's death. "He was not feeling well because he had been going through the chemotherapy for his cancer," Whitaker said. "And he'd been having other problems."

Keith's remains are interred above those of his daughter Daisy in Westwood Memorial Park in Los Angeles.

Following is Brian Keith's formal obituary as it appeared in 1997:

On Tuesday, Los Angeles County sheriff's deputies found Keith's body inside his home at 10:13 a.m., after being alerted to the scene by family members.

"Brian Keith was a generous actor, a kind man and a true friend," said Daniel Hugh Kelly, who costarred with Keith for three seasons on the popular action series Hardcastle & McCormick in the mid-1980s.

Born in November 1921 in Bayonne, New Jersey, Keith's career spanned more than 40 years. In film, he costarred with the likes of Marlon Brando and Liz Taylor ( Reflections in a Golden Eye ) and Burt Reynolds ( Sharky's Machine). He was also dad to Hayley Mills (or, at least, one of her twin selves) in the 1961 classic, The Parent Trap.

On TV, from 1966-71, he was Bill Davis, the rock of the orphaned Family Affair clan--which included child actor stand-outs Johnnie Whitaker and Anissa Jones. (Jones died of a drug overdose in 1976 at the age of 18.) Whitaker, now 37, said Tuesday that he spoke with his onetime TV dad on the telephone about five days before his death. "He was not feeling good because he had been going through the chemotherapy for his cancer," Whitaker said."And he'd been having other problems."

Keith's TV work also included the 1972-74 sitcom, The Brian Keith Show , and Hardcastle & McCormick , where Keith played cranky, crabby Judge Milton "Hardcase" Hardcastle.

Keith is survived by his wife since 1970, Victoria Young, who played Nurse Puni on The Brian Keith Show.


More Brian Keith Stuff:

The Suicide Death of Brian Keith
Map showing the location (A) of Keith's Malibu Home.

 

The  Suicide Death of Brian Keith
Satellite map showing the location (A) of Brian Keith's Malibu Home. (Click to enlarge.)

 

Brian Keith Burial Location
Brian and Daisy Keith's internment plot at Westwood Village Cemetery.

 

Brian Keith Burial Location
 

 

Following is a brief description of an incident encountered by Keith during World War II:
1941-1945 served with USMC - decorated with the Air Medal. "Brian was a Radio-Gunner in the rear cockpit of a two-man Douglass "Dauntless" (SDB) dive-bomber in a U.S. Marine squadron. During an attack on Rabaul, his plane was badly damaged by enemy ground fire. The pilot struggled to keep the plane in the air. Unable to keep up with the others, it fell behind. Two Japanese "Zero" fighters attacked the crippled plane from the rear. Both of Brian's machine guns jammed. He fired red tracer ammunition from his pistol. The Japs broke off the attack, but soon came again. Now completely out of ammunition, Brian reached for the Very pistol and fired a red rocket/flare at the fighters which immediately pulled up to figure out what that was. On the radio, Keith heard a New Zealand pilot saying, "Dont sweat it, Yank, I've got them surrounded up here!"

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