Tom Keith Prairie Home Companion Died – “A Prairie Home Companion,” radio show sound-effects man Tom Keith died Sunday, Oct. 30, 2011 after collapsing at his home Sunday at the age of 64. He was a radio personality who worked for Minnesota Public Radio in St. Paul, Minnesota. He was the engineer for Garrison Keillor when he began his early morning radio show from the St. John’s University Collegeville studio.
Keillor wanted dialogue during the program and Keith was about the only other person around at that early hour. Keith’s friend and “Prairie Home Companion” colleague Tim Russell, who last worked with Keith on the Oct. 22 episode, said Keillor called on Keith in the early days of his morning radio show to come up with effects, “and Tom became quite a student of it.”
In an email statement Monday night, Keillor said the cause of death was a heart attack.
“(Keith) performed on the show Oct. 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 6 feet to 3 inches, using a balloon, some small sticks and vocal thwops and splorts, and then did the voice of a 3-inch-tall female,” Keillor wrote. “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.”
“He was a master at creating effects with physical items, in addition to his acting and vocal skills,” Russell said. “It’s a rare commodity. It’s hard to replace something like that.” Russell said he was shocked to learn of Keith’s death. He described Keith as a “pleasant, unassuming” guy with a great sense of humor.”He was such a master at what he did and was so generous with everyone he worked with,” Russell said. “The show was always fun. He was a constant joy.”
Keith, along with Dale Connelly, took over the “Morning Show” after Keillor left. The duo hosted the show for nearly 26 years before calling it quits in 2008.
“I’m heartbroken,” Connelly said about Keith’s death. “He was willing to laugh at himself. He could make a joke out of anything. Working with him all those years on the ‘Morning Show’ – he was my inspiration.”