"In a lot of ways I wished I was their son in real life."
Unlike the four stars with whom he worked on I Love Lucy, Keith Thibodeaux isn't exactly a household name. The former child actor who played Little Ricky Ricardo explains, "They never gave me credit on the show, as either Keith Thibodeaux or my stage name, Richard Keith. In the credits, it was always just Lucille Ball, Desi Arnaz, Vivian Vance, William Frawley, and 'Little Ricky.' I think Desi and Lucy liked the public believing I was their real son."
Little Ricky, the TV son of Lucy and Ricky, was "born" on January 19, 1953. Desi Arnaz, Jr., the real-life son of Lucy and Desi, came into the world on the same day.
Thibodeaux, who hails from Lafayette, Louisiana, preceded his acting career with a stint as a pint-size professional drummer. He was born December 1, 1950, but in a world in which TV often muddies public perception of reality, Thibodeaux might as well share Ricky and Desi's January 19 birthday. It would provide some sort of cosmic symmetry to their interwoven stories.
All my life, people have confused me with Desi Jr.," Thibodeaux explains. "People think that I'm him or that he's me. It happened all the time back when I played Little Ricky. It still happens quite a lot. If I had been on The Dick Van Dyke Show and played the son on that show, there wouldn't be any mixup. People would know I was a little actor and not Dick Van Dyke and Mary Tyler Moore's son.
"But since I was on this particular show, because Little Ricky was born on the same day as Desi Arnaz, Jr., because Lucille Ball and Desi Arnaz were married in real life, because my name never appeared in the credits, because of all these reasons, no wonder people thought I was Lucy and Desi's real-life son."
Years after his career as a child actor ended, Thibodeaux says he went through a dark period that involved drug use, depression, and suicidal thoughts, "but God brought me out of all that."
Today, he lives in Jackson, Mississippi, with his wife, Kathy, a professional ballet dancer. Thibodeaux became the executive director of Kathy's touring ballet company, Ballet Magnificat, in 1993. Their daughter, Tara, is 19.
In 1994, he published his autobiography, Life After Lucy (New Leaf Press), which not only offered an insider's view of Lucy and Desi but also explained how Christianity changed his life for the better.
And, once uneasy about his place in pop-culture history, Thibodeaux even catches an episode of I Love Lucy now and then. "My girl really likes to watch them. She and my wife watch them and I've gotten to the point where I really do enjoy them. Whereas before, when I was a teenager, that was the last thing I wanted to watch, or see, or hear about."
© 1998, Biography Magazine.