Tom Keith, 1946 - 2010

Friends and colleagues of Tom Keith put on a show in his honor Saturday, November 12 at the Fitzgerald Theater. No speeches, no laments. Songs, magic, dancers, jokes, juggling, loon calling, the Mighty Wurlitzer, and a pie in your face.

Audio, video, and photos from the show»

Our colleague the actor and sound-effects man Tom Keith died Sunday night of a heart attack at his home in St. Paul. He performed on the show October 22 at the Fitzgerald with the cast and guest John Lithgow — played a zombie and a beery Elizabethan bartender, did the sound effects for "Lives of the Cowboys" and "Mom" and did a wonderful and shocking sound effect of a grade-school teacher being shrunk from six feet to three inches, using a balloon, some small sticks, and vocal thwops and splorts, and then did the voice of a three-inch-tall female. He complained of shortness of breath the next week, but put off going to see a doctor, and collapsed Sunday night around 6 p.m. He was conscious afterward but died in the ambulance on his way to the hospital.

Tom was one of radio's great clowns. He was serious about silliness and worked hard to get a moo exactly right and the cluck too and the woof. His whinny was amazing — noble, vulnerable, articulate. He did bagpipes, helicopters, mortars, common drunks, caribou (and elands and elk and wapiti), garbage trucks backing up, handsaws and hammers, and a beautiful vocalization of a man falling from a great height into piranha-infested waters.

He was an engineer at Minnesota Public Radio in 1971, when I did the morning show in the studios in Park Square Court in Lowertown St. Paul, and he took the name Jim Ed Poole, did the sports segment, and talked about his pet chicken, Curtis, who lived with him at the Hotel Transom. When "Prairie Home Companion" started in 1974, he engineered most of the first two seasons, using a five-channel mixer, and then graduated to the stage where he played three roles in the ongoing "Buster the Show Dog" — the dog, Father Finian, and Timmy the Sad Rich Teenage Boy. He was Maurice the maître d' at the Café Boeuf and he was Larry who lived in the basement under the Fitzgerald stage.

He was an ex-Marine (who could do a fine drill instructor), a good golfer, a sturdy, reliable, can-do colleague, a gifted performer with the unassuming demeanor of a stagehand. Whenever Tom came onstage for a sketch, I could see the audience's heads turn in his direction. They could hear me but they wanted to see Tom, same as you'd watch any magician. Boys watched him closely to see how he did the shotgun volleys, the singing walrus, the siren, the helicopter, the water drips. His effects were graceful, precise, understated, like the man himself. All of us at the show are shocked by his passing and send our sincere condolences to his family and also to the listeners who enjoyed his work so much.

The Royal Academy of Radio Actors presents Tom Keith - Sound Effects Man»

A full hour of highlights celebrating the work of Tom Keith on A Prairie Home Companion.


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An Interview with Tom Keith

"Teacher" — October 22, 2011

"Shakespeare" — October 22, 2011

"Chess" — October 8, 2011

"SFX/Rhubarb" — March 21, 2009

Remembering Tom

Share your thoughts and memories of Tom»


A Hurrah for Tom Keith
"A Hurrah for Tom Keith" Tribute Show — November 12, 2011

Remembering Prairie Home Companion's Tom Keith
Minnesota Public Radio's Midday — November 1, 2011

The Lives of the Cowboys script
A Prairie Home Companion — October 22, 2011

Open script
A Prairie Home Companion — May 14, 2011

The Prairie Home Morning Show
May 14, 1981

Best Bits, 1998 - 2000
The Morning Show

The Morning Show: Final Broadcast
December 11, 2008 — Hour 1

The Morning Show: Final Broadcast
December 11, 2008 — Hour 2

The Morning Show: Final Broadcast
December 11, 2008 — Hour 3

The Morning Show: Final Broadcast
December 11, 2008 — Hour 4


Tom Keith Memorial Service (video)

Interview: Tom Keith

The Morning Show: Final Broadcast

The Morning Show Timeline

R.I.P. Tom Keith (Dale Connelly)

Tom Keith: The real essence of the man (Russ Ringsak)

Fred Newman: Tom Keith's Sound Haiku (The Story)

Jim Ed Poole on KTCA (video)

Tom Keith Montage (video)

A montage of Tom Keith's work (Minnesota Public Radio)

Sue Scott reflects on the life of Tom Keith (Minnesota Public Radio)

Prairie Home Companion sound effects man Tom Keith dies (Minnesota Public Radio)

The passing of Tom Keith (Minnesota Public Radio News Cut blog)

Tom Keith, 'Prairie Home' sound effects master, dies of heart attack (Minneapolis Star Tribune)

'Prairie Home' sound effects man Keith dies at 64 (St. Paul Pioneer Press)

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