A man with ties to two of the most well-known programs in television history will be in Mount Airy later this year for the annual Mayberry Days celebration.
Keith Thibodeaux (known by the stage name of “Richard Keith”) is linked to “The Andy Griffith Show” due to his portrayal of Johnny Paul Jason, one of Opie Taylor’s pals, in 12 episodes of the series from 1963-66. Thibodeaux also was in a 1962 “AGS” episode in which he appeared as a character named Carter French.
But even before that involvement with the classic show starring the Mount Airy native, Thibodeaux had hit the big time of the small screen in the 1950s with a role on arguably the most popular sitcom of all time, “I Love Lucy.”
He played Little Ricky Ricardo, the young TV son of stars Lucille Ball and Desi Arnaz, and later had the same role on their “Lucy-Desi Comedy Hour” program, for a total of 36 episodes as that character.
Now 67, Thibodeaux will be making his first-ever appearance as a Mayberry Days celebrity. Since its beginning in 1990, the annual celebration — this year set for Sept. 24-30 — has featured persons who acted in “The Andy Griffith Show” as special guests.
The securing of Thibodeaux for the Mayberry Days 2018 lineup came after numerous attempts, according to Executive Director Tanya Jones of the Surry Arts Council, which sponsors the event.
“I have been communicating with him every year for a number of years,” Jones said Tuesday of long-running efforts to bring Thibodeaux to town.
The former child actor who also is a musician and plays the drums, has remained active, including being involved in recording projects and partnering with his wife in a ballet company and school. And because of that schedule, Thibodeaux always has managed to have conflicts when Mayberry Days was held.
But each year he urged Jones to remain in contact with him under a promise of maybe next time.
“So this is the year and we are really excited about it,” the Surry Arts Council official added.
Thibodeaux, a native of Lafayette, Louisiana, began playing drums at age 2 and toured the country before auditioning successfully for the role of Little Ricky in Hollywood. It was Arnaz who gave him the Richard Keith stage name.
In addition to “I Love Lucy” and “The Andy Griffith Show,” Thibodeaux appeared in such TV shows as “Route 66,” “Ben Casey,” “The Farmer’s Daughter” and others.
He later toured with mainstream and Christian rock bands and in 1991 became involved in the Christian ballet company and school Ballet Magnificat! with his wife Kathy, a former silver medalist in international ballet competition.
Tom Joyce may be reached at 336-415-4693 or on Twitter @Me_Reporter.