Brian Keith was a television actor that audiences will likely best remember from his role as Uncle Bill in the 1960s sitcom Family Affair. The actor maintained steady success after that classic show ended, appearing in a wide variety of television shows and films before his death in 1997. The story of his death and the events leading up to it stands as one of the most incredibly tragic tales in television history. Join Facts Verse as we explore the tragic events that lead to Brain Keith’s death (from Family Affair).
Brian Keith was born on November 14, 1921, in the town of Bayonne, New Jersey. Brian’s father was Robert Keith, a popular character actor that starred in numerous films during his time. Similarly, his mother was a stage actress by the name of Helena Shipman. The family was of the Roman Catholic faith. Although he began showing interest in following in his parents’ footsteps at an early age, Brian ended up serving as a Marine in World War II and didn’t pursue an acting career until coming back.
After serving as a Marine, Brian began performing small roles in radio and theater. He made his debut on Broadway as part on the ensemble cast of 1948’s Mister Roberts. Brian’s father was also amongst the ensemble, which perhaps gave the young man an easy in. Brian found considerable success on Broadway and was given a few more roles before successfully transitioning to television, and then eventually film. A few other notable plays that Brian performed in on Broadway include 1951’s Out West of Eighth and Darkness at Noon.
After making a name for himself on the stage, Brian began appearing more and more in small roles on television. He could be seen as a guest star on shows such as Shadow of the Cloak and Hands of Mystery. As well, he could be seen on the science fiction anthology series Tales of Tomorrow in an adaptation of Jules Verne’s 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea. Other series that Brian was featured in during these early days include Eye Witness, Suspense, and Police Story. Brian was given his first feature film role in 1953’s Arrowhead. However, his breakout performance didn’t come until several years later, in a 1961 Disney classic.
Brian’s big breakout role was in the hit 1961 Disney comedy The Parent Trap. Although Brian had certainly found success in previous roles, it was The Parent Trap that allowed the actor to finally garner the mainstream attention that he truly deserved. From there, Brian began being cast in more and more roles, both on film and television. Over the course of his career, the actor starred in over 80 films. Some of his more notable roles on film include 1966’s Nevada Smith, as well as 1967’s Reflections in a Golden Eye. In the latter film, Brian starred alongside screen legends Elizabeth Taylor and Marlon Brando, while Nevada Smith saw him star alongside Steve McQueen.
Despite Brian’s success in film, it was a 1966 television that proved to be his train to superstardom. This came in the form of the television sitcom Family Affair. On the sitcom, Brian played the role of Uncle Bill. Bill was an engineer tasked with raising the orphaned children of his brother. A wealthy bachelor, he resided in an upscale New York City apartment and had a hard time keeping up with his new lifestyle. The show ran for five seasons, airing from 1966 until 1971. Over those five years, 138 episodes were produced. The show represented the peak of Brian’s success, though he could be seen in numerous other roles throughout the remainder of the 1970s.
After the 1970s, Brian began to gradually work less and less. However, he still showed up every once in a while to reminds the viewers that he was alive. One of the more prominent productions that Brian starred in later in his career was the 1989 television series Heartland. The series was notable not only for giving Brian a starring role during the later part of his career, but also for allowing him to star on screen alongside his real life daughter.
Heartland aired on the CBS network for less than a year, starting it’s airing in March of 1989 and leaving the air only a few months later, in June. Despite the show not being a major success, it was certainly a happy moment in Brian’s life to be able to act alongside his daughter. However, both of their lives were going to take a tragic turn less than a decade later. If you’re enjoying this video so far, be sure to hit the like button to show your support! As well, subscribe to the channel if you’d like to be among the first to know when more Facts Verse videos are on their way!
Although Brian Keith had an incredible amount of success in entertainment throughout his career, he didn’t always have the same degree of success in his personal life. He experienced two failed marriages before meeting his third wife, who stayed with him until his death. As well, he experienced many troubling events leading up to his death that truly put a damper on the later years of his life.
Brian was first married in 1948, to a woman named Frances Helm. Though the two had no children, they stayed together until 1954. After divorcing Frances, Brian married a dancer by the name of Judy Landon that same year. Brian has recalled that he stumbled upon Judy in action on a set after following two other attractive dancers that he had seen on the street. According to him, he was instantly enamored of Judy. He approached her and convinced her to go on a date with him. Several weeks later, the two were married.
Brian’s second marriage was more successful than his first in numerous ways. Not only did it last a good deal longer, with the two remaining together until 1969, but it also yielded the pair five children. Two of these were biological children, named Michael and Mimi. The other three were adopted, and they were named Barbara, Betty, and Roy. Sadly, Michael caught pneumonia at the age of eight and died from the illness within just a week. Though this death took an enormous toll on Brian, it was the death of another child decades later that was going to hit the hardest.
Brian and Judy were married for 15 years. As with his first divorce, Brian didn’t waste much time finding a new partner after his marriage with Judy ended. However, this new marriage was going to prove far more successful than either of his previous two, with Brian and his third wife remaining together until his death in 1977.
Brian’s third wife was a woman by the name of Victoria Young. They had two children together, making a total of seven for Brian over the course of his life. Their two children were named Bobby and Daisy. Early on, Daisy began showing interest in acting, leading to her father getting her the role on Heartland. Due to Brian being a bit older than the average father during the time of the show’s production, he ended up playing her grandfather instead.
Despite Brian being closer to Daisy than he had been to any of his previous kids, he still wasn’t able be there for her quite as often as he wanted to be due to his acting gigs. Among other factors, this lead to Daisy developing some personal issues into her teen years. As well, some other issues were soon to arise relating to her father’s health.
Throughout the 1990s, Brian could be seen in television shows such as Touched by an Angel and Walker, Texas Ranger. Even though he was still getting a moderate amount of work, Brian began experiencing some pretty severe financial troubles in 1995. These troubles caused the aging actor a good deal of stress, and were likely a huge contributing factor to what was going to happen later.
In 1997, Brian was diagnosed with lung cancer and emphysema. The actor began undergoing chemotherapy treatments almost immediately, but they were incredibly hard for him due to his old age. However, something even worse happened later into the year when Daisy committed suicide. Whether it was the stress of her father’s diagnosis, personal issues, or a mix between the two, Daisy’s own pain became too much for her to bear. Brian was emotionally devastated, and soon followed suit.
As a result of both his failing health and the suicide of his daughter, Brian made the decision towards the end of 1997 to take his own life. He made the decision calmly, believing that it was simply his time to go. Before pulling the trigger, Brian called two of his oldest and closest friends to deliver the news personally. According to them, he said he did this because he didn’t want them to wonder why he had made the decision to take his own life.
The two friends that Brian called were John Whitaker and Kathy Garber, two of his co-stars on Family Affair. Though they were taken aback when Brian delivered the news, they understood. After all that he had been through, they felt it was his right to end his life the way he wanted.
Brian shot himself in the head on June 24, 1997. At the time of his death, he was 75 years old. He was survived by his wife and his remaining children. As well, he left a considerable impact through his work over the course of his career. Although the actor’s life did end in tragedy, he expressed in his final moments that he was happy that he was going to be able to be with Daisy once again.
Besides his most notable role as Uncle Bill on the sitcom Family Affair, Brian Keith appeared in a number of other projects over the course of his career. Comment down below to share if you remember Brian Keith from a role besides Family Affair, or if you were surprised to learn about the tragedies that he faced towards the end of his life. As always, like this video to show your support, and subscribe and hit the notification bell if you’d like to be among the first to know when more Facts Verse videos are on their way!