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America's Quintessential Storyteller, Garrison Keillor, Signs Off

  • Catherine Maddux

FILE - Garrison Keillor looks over the script during rehearsal for "A Prairie Home Companion" at the Fitzgerald Theater in St. Paul, Minn., April 13, 2007. (AP)

FILE - Garrison Keillor looks over the script during rehearsal for "A Prairie Home Companion" at the Fitzgerald Theater in St. Paul, Minn., April 13, 2007. (AP)

On the very last performance of "A Prairie Home Companion," Garrison Keillor's long-running public radio variety show famous for its tales from the fictitious Lake Wobegone, Minnesota, President Barack Obama phoned in.

“One of the reasons I miss driving is that you kept me company," the president said. "'A Prairie Home Companion' made me feel better and more human.”

Radio host Garrison Keillor gestures to his audience during the first show in the newly remodeled World Theatre in St. Paul, Jan. 11, 1986. (AP/file)

Radio host Garrison Keillor gestures to his audience during the first show in the newly remodeled World Theatre in St. Paul, Jan. 11, 1986. (AP/file)

It's fair to say that many other fans, in an audience that peaked at 4.1 million in 2006, would agree with the president.

Keillor, 73 and distracted by recent health concerns, came up with the idea for the public radio show 42 years ago while working as a writer for The New Yorker.

He quit the elite magazine and, later in1974, an audience of 12 watched the very first edition of the show, a live performance of songs, skits and the "News from Lake Wobegone" in St. Paul, Minnesota.

Keillor's show helped form the voice of public radio in America at a time when it was just emerging and had no identity. Keillor himself reflected on his unexpectedly long career in an interview with The New York Times last month:

"With radio, I owned it. I owned it. Nobody else was doing this," he said. "You find yourself on new ground, and you are so free. You are so free."

writer and humorist Garrison Keillor hosts his final broadcast of the weekly radio variety show "A Prairie Home Companion" on July 1, 2016, at the Hollywood Bowl in Los Angeles, Calif. (AP)

writer and humorist Garrison Keillor hosts his final broadcast of the weekly radio variety show "A Prairie Home Companion" on July 1, 2016, at the Hollywood Bowl in Los Angeles, Calif. (AP)

The format of Keillor's final show was very much like the first: live performances of American folk music interspersed with skits, humorous ads for "Powdermilk Biscuits" and other fake products, and, of course, Keillor's recounting of the week's events in his fictional hometown of Lake Wobegone.

The reports from Lake Wobegone are homespun America, telling the mundane — yet somehow oddly humorous and sometimes dark — stories of the day-to-day lives of a town "where all the women are strong, all the men are good looking, and all the children are above average."

While Keillor has said goodbye, "A Prairie Home Companion" continues later this year with Chris Thile as host.

In the meantime, here's a clip of highlights from Keillor's last show, which aired Saturday night:

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