Animation wiz Peter Keefe, who was the creative force behind iconic children’s animated series “Voltron,” died May 27 in Rochester, N.Y., of throat cancer. He was 57.
Keefe creatively adapted two distinct Japanese animated series (“Go Lion” and “Dierugger”) into a single seamless storyline that became a kids entertainment phenomenon, “Voltron” in the mid-1980s. Debuting in U.S. syndication in 1984, “Voltron: Defender of the Universe” quickly rose to the top ranks in kid ratings and remains widely recognized as among the world’s top Japanese-originated children’s franchises of all time. It led the way for other Japanese anime series to be creatively adapted for the global market such as “Power Rangers” and “Pokemon.”
Keefe also created the successful U.S.-French animated co-production with “Denver the Last Dinosaur,” which preemed in U.S. syndication in 1988 and helped set a trend for French-American animated co-productions. Following its U.S. airing, “Denver the Last Dinosaur” became yet another global hit for Keefe with broadcast sales in over 90 countries.
In 1989, Keefe and long-time associate Brian Lacey formed Zodiac Entertainment, a joint venture with Central Independent Television (U.K.). Under the Zodiac Entertainment banner, Keefe created and produced three multiaward-winning and critically acclaimed animated series, including “Widget,” “The Mr. Bogus Show” and “Twinkle.”
His other high-profile accomplishments include serving as producer and marketer of “Nine Dog Christmas,” a 2005 animated holiday special that was broadcast on Cartoon Network in the U.S., and the Disney Channel in Europe and Asia. His most recent creation, currently in development, is “Z-Force (Zodiac Force),” an animated series that features 12 character action heroes based on the thousands of years old Oriental Zodiac.
A master pitchman, Keefe distinguished himself not only with his creative brilliance and marketing savvy, but also for his trademark black handlebar mustache, long blond hair and cowboy boots, complemented by a rich vocabulary and a manner of speech that made him larger than life, even at a young age.
Over the past two decades, Keefe created, produced and sold over 600 half-hours of award-winning children’s and family entertainment programming watched by hundreds of millions the world over and generating hundreds of millions of dollars in commercial business.
Keefe is survived by his wife, Pamela; his mother, Anne, a former St. Louis radio talkshow host; a stepson; and three sisters and two brothers.