Brian Keith, the burly, gruff film and TV performer who gained his greatest fame in the 1960s sitcom classic “Family Affair,” shot and killed himself Tuesday in the wake of a series of medical and personal problems. He was 75.
A sheriff’s spokesman said Tuesday that family members found Keith dead from a gunshot wound at his home in Malibu and that his death was being classified as a suicide.
The actor had apparently been suffering from lung cancer and emphysema in recent months. In addition, his daughter Daisy committed suicide six weeks ago and the actor suffered a reported massive financial setback earlier in the year.
Born in Bayonne, N.J., on Nov. 14, 1921, Keith went into theater and radio after serving in the Marines during World War II.
He made his film debut in 1953’s “Arrowhead” and got a major career boost in the 1961 Disney hit “The Parent Trap,” in which he played the father to identical twins (both portrayed by Hayley Mills).
Keith appeared in more than 80 films, working with an impressive list of directors including John Huston, Norman Jewison, Sam Fuller, John Milius, Sam Peckinpah, Henry Hathaway, Sydney Pollack and Peter Bogdanovich, opposite such leading ladies as Barbara Stanwyck, Ginger Rogers, Bette Davis and Kim Novak.
Among Keith’s films were “The Russians Are Coming! The Russians Are Coming!” (1966), “Nevada Smith” (1966) and “Reflections in a Golden Eye” with Elizabeth Taylor and Marlon Brando (1967).
After years as a stock player in Disney features and westerns, however, Keith struck career gold portraying Manhattan bachelor/father Bill Davis in “Family Affair,” on CBS from 1966 to ’71. It finished in the Nielsen top five for three consecutive seasons between 1967 and 1970.
Keith’s character on the series was a longtime playboy suddenly forced to raise the three orphans left behind by his brother’s death.
Keith seemed indifferent to the show’s success, at one point calling it “a tugboat with dollar signs attached.”
Besides “Family Affair,” Keith starred as a grouchy judge in the 1983-86 ABC drama “Hardcastle & McCormick” as well as in such short-lived shows as “The Brian Keith Show” (1972-74), “The Westerner” (1960) and “Pursuit of Happiness” (1987-88).
In the 1990s, Keith remained active doing commercial voiceover work and recently completed a supporting role as President William McKinley in the TNT miniseries “Rough Riders,” skedded to premiere in July.
Milius, who directed Keith in both “Rough Riders” and in the 1977 feature “The Wind and the Lion” (in which Keith played another U.S. President, Teddy Roosevelt), said he could tell that the actor was in failing health during filming.
“I knew he wasn’t going to last long,” Milius said Tuesday. “Brian was barely creeping along. But he was still terrific in the film despite his obvious pain. He’d tell everybody stories on the set and had everybody howling.
“Brian Keith was simply one of the finest actors I ever worked with. He did everything letter-perfect. Never made a mistake. Every take he gave you was one you could use.”
Keith is survived by his wife, actress Victoria Young. Funeral arrangements were not immediately known.