He worked as a messenger for the Philadelphia Bulletin before serving three years in the Army, where he drew for Yank and Pacific Stars and Stripes. He met his wife, Thelma (“Thel”), while serving at a desk job in Australia.
He started a one-panel comic in 1953 called “Channel Chuckles” that lampooned the up-and-coming medium of television. (In one, a mom in front of a television, crying baby on her lap, tells her husband, “She slept throught two gun fights and a barroom brawl — then the commercial woke her up.”)
He moved to Arizona in 1958, and two years later started a comic about a family much like his own. Mr. Keane and his wife had a daughter, Gayle, and sons Glen, Jeff, Chris and Neal — one more son than in his cartoon family.
“I never thought about a philosophy for the strip — it developed gradually,” Mr. Keane told the East Valley Tribune in 1998. “I was portraying the family through my eyes. Everything that’s happened in the strip has happened to me.
“That’s why I have all this white hair at 39 years old.”
He is survived by the five children he had with his wife, who died of Alzheimer’s disease in 2008 and was the inspiration for the Mommy character in the comic strip.
When his wife died, Mr. Keane called her “the inspiration for all of my success. … When the cartoon first appeared, she looked so much like Mommy that if she was in the supermarket pushing her cart around, people would come up to her and say, ‘Aren’t you the mommy in ‘Family Circus‘?”
She also served as his business and financial manager.
Arizona and Mr. Keane had a mutual influence on each other. His work can be found all around — from children’s centers to ice cream shops.
Likewise, Arizona could also be found in Mr. Keane’s work.
A 2004 comic saw the family on a scenic lookout over the Grand Canyon with the children asking, “Why are the rocks painted different colors” and “What time does it close?”
Although Mr. Keane drew the funnies, his work was not necessarily intended to be comical.
His goal was this: “I would rather have the readers react with a warm smile, a tug at the heart or a lump in the throat as they recall doing the same things in their own families.”