Wednesday, November 16, 2005

'Little Ricky', the drum-playing child star of the great I Love Lucy show was in town a few weeks ago. I was introduced to him by a mutual friend and we spent some informal time together over a 2-day period.
His real name is Keith Thibodeaux (tib-uh-doe) and he is the last surviving cast member of that TV landmark. He also appeared on The Andy Griffith Show as Opie's best friend, 'Johnny Paul Jason', and he says today that Ron Howard was "one of the nicest people I ever met in Hollywood."
Of course, I Love Lucy made legends out of Lucy, Desi, William Frawley and Vivian Vance, and Keith has only good memories of working with them on the set. It was always on a first name basis: he was told, "Call us Lucy and Desi." Bill Frawley was a really nice guy, not an ogre as some have pictured him. His usual greeting to 'Little Ricky' was, "How're you doing, kid?" And Vance was, "just Viv", and a close real-life friend of Lucy's.
He was invited often to spend time at home with Lucy and Desi, playing with their own children, Lucie and Desi, Jr. Lucy and Desi gave him many gifts through the years including a full-size teepee, bike, and a Gretsch drum set from 1956 that he still has. Desi took him fishing and bowling, making Keith feel like one of the family. "Desi was a nice man when he wasn't drinking. When he was, you didn't want to be around him."
With the Arnaz's divorce and the end of the show, Keith became unemployed--at the age of nine! He worked on some other shows until he was 15, when he moved back home to Louisiana.
He began to drink in high school and then as he says, "went the way of other troubled child stars."
He started playing drums in a rock band and moved on to hard drugs. He wound up, in his words, "mentally, physically, and emotionally ill and spiritually lost." At this lowest point he cried out to God and promised to serve Him. He turned his life around with his new faith in Jesus. Keith says, "He is who he said he was and is the savior of the world."
His became a pioneering Christian rock band in the early '70s. Today, Keith and his wife Kathy own and operate a Christian dance company called Ballet Magnificat. He is a friendly, open and down-to-earth man, sincere, easy-going and most interesting to talk to. He says, "I went from being a child star with no purpose, at the end of his rope, near the point of suicide to having my life transformed. If I could give advice to anyone in show business, especially child stars, it would be to include Jesus and not build on worldly things."


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