'Lucy's' Little Ricky grows into new roles
November 4, 2008

Keith Thibodeaux, who played Little Ricky in the "I Love Lucy" series, at the studios of Uplifting Entertainment in Carnegie.
By Monica Haynes,
Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

Let's try former child stars for $800, Alex.

He was a professional drummer by the age of 3 and on a hit television show by 5, playing the son of a Cuban band leader and his zany redheaded wife.

Who is Keith Thibo-deaux?

That's correct!

Keith Thibodeaux was Little Ricky on the legendary sitcom "I Love Lucy."

Of course, on the show he was billed as Richard Keith because producers thought Thibodeaux (pronounced tib-id-oe) would be too difficult for people to pronounce.

Recently, the 57-year-old musician/actor and director of a dance company called Ballet Magnificat was in Pittsburgh to shoot a role for the Christian movie "C Me Dance," now filming in and around Carnegie.

"Well, we got a call from [director and producer] Greg Robbins," he said, "so it was kind of out of the blue, and I wasn't very much aware of Greg and what he had done." Robbins' company, Uplifting Entertainment, produces and distributes Christian entertainment for families.

Robbins sent Thibodeaux the script, which centers on a young dancer.

The former child star was able to work the film shoot into the dance company's North American tour.

Thibodeaux got accustomed to a busy schedule at a young age. Born in Lafayette, La., he was traveling with a big band as a professional drummer by the age of 3. During a hiatus in Los Angeles, a friend of his father's found out Desilu Studios was looking for a little boy to portray Lucy and Ricky's son.

"I got signed to a seven-year contract with them in 1956," Thibodeaux recalled.

He was part of Lucille Ball and Desi Arnaz's extended family, he said.

"Lucy took care of me," he said. "On the set they gave me whatever I wanted, made sure the crew didn't cuss around me. They basically looked out for me as a child being on an adult set."

He said while his parents loved him and wanted the best for him, his father was a bit of a stage dad.

"He had always wanted to go to Hollywood and always saw himself there," he said. Eventually his father got a job with Desilu's public relations department.

After "I Love Lucy" went off the air, Thibodeaux continued to work, doing episodic television, including a recurring role as Opie's best friend, Johnny Paul Jason, on "The Andy Griffith Show."

His parents divorced in the mid-'60s.

"We ended up living with our aunts and uncles," he said of his mother, brothers and sisters. "That really kind of ended my Hollywood show business career."

Thibodeaux began playing in high school bands and continued with rock bands and garage bands after his 1968 high school graduation and some time at the University of Southwestern Louisiana.

In the early 1970s, he joined a rock band called David and the Giants.

But like many former child stars, he had trouble with drugs and other personal problems.

"My life took a turn for the worse," Thibodeaux said.

He was clinically depressed and desperate.

"I was either going to die from what the sin in my life had become or I was going to have a miracle," he said. "I began to cry to God and I said, 'If you don't help me I'm going to end up in a mental institution.' "

Thibodeaux became a Christian and began to talk to his bandmates about God. "I told them God is real and that there's more to God than men have led us to believe."

He left the band, met his wife, Kathy, and moved to Los Angeles. Eventually the other members of David and the Giants turned to religion, and Thibodeaux rejoined his old bandmates in 1979.

He toured with the band throughout the '80s, leaving in 1989 to become director of the ballet company he and his wife started.

The couple, who live in Jackson, Miss., have been married for 32 years and have a 29-year-old daughter, Tara Drew, who is choreographing some of the scenes in "C Me Dance."

"She's a very talented choreographer and teacher," Thibodeaux said.

Monica Haynes can be reached at mhaynes@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1660.
First published on November 2, 2008 at 12:00 am

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