'Voltron' producer Peter Keefe dies

Credits included 'Widget,' 'The Mr. Bogus Show,' 'Twinkle'

Peter Keefe, an animation executive and producer best known as the creative force behind the iconic children's TV series "Voltron," died May 27 of throat cancer in Rochester, N.Y. He was 57.

During the past two decades, Keefe created, produced and sold more than 600 half-hours of children's and family entertainment programming, shows that were watched by hundreds of millions while generating hundreds of millions of dollars in business.

Keefe distinguished himself not only for his creative and marketing savvy but also for his trademark black handlebar mustache, long blond hair and cowboy boots. That was complemented by a rich vocabulary that made him larger than life, even at a young age.

During the mid-'80s, Keefe adapted Japanese animated series "Go Lion" and "Dierugger" into a single seamless story line that became "Voltron." Debuting in U.S. syndication on Sept. 10, 1984, "Voltron: Defender of the Universe" quickly rose to become the No. 1 nationally ranked series in kids syndication during the 1984 and 1985 broadcast seasons.

Shown in more than 100 countries, the series remains widely recognized as among the world's top Japanese-originated children's franchises of all time, and it became the template for such other genre mega-hits as "Power Rangers" and "Pokemon."

"Voltron" also became one of the leading kids merchandise licensing franchises of the decade, driving retail sales for licensed products into the hundreds of millions of dollars.

Keefe then created "Denver, the Last Dinosaur," a U.S.-France animated co-production that debuted in the U.S. in 1988 and went on to air in more than 90 countries.

In 1989, Keefe and longtime associate Brian Lacey formed Zodiac Entertainment, a joint venture with Central Independent Television in the U.K. Under the Zodiac banner, Keefe created and produced such animated series as "Widget," "The Mr. Bogus Show" and "Twinkle."

"Widget" has been hailed as perhaps the first animated series aimed at kids to blend entertainment with pro-social and -environmental messages.

Keefe also produced and marketed "Nine Dog Christmas," a 2005 animated holiday special that was broadcast on Cartoon Network in the U.S. and on Disney Channel in Europe and Asia.

His most recent creation, now in development, is "Z-Force (Zodiac Force)," another animated series that features 12 action heroes based on the ancient Oriental Zodiac.

Keefe, who was born in Rochester, began his showbiz career as an on-camera movie critic for a PBS outlet in St. Louis. In 1983, he became vp and executive producer for World Events Prods., also in St. Louis.

Keefe is survived by his wife, Pamela Mills Keefe; his mother, Anne Keefe, a former talk show host at KMOX-AM St. Louis; his stepson, James; and five siblings, sisters Lisa, Kittie and Mollie and brothers Tony and Chris. He died at Mollie's home in Rochester.