Peter Eugene Keefe (November 16, 1952 – May 27, 2010) was an American television producer best known for creating the popular series Voltron. Keefe’s work on the series is credited with introducing American audiences to Japanese animation and influenced later children’s programs like Dragon Ball Z, Pokémon and Power Rangers.
Keefe was born on November 16, 1952, in Rochester, New York.
His television career began as a movie critic for TV station KPLR in St. Louis, Missouri and he later produced documentaries for World Events Productions.
His “hugely popular” 1980s cartoon series Voltron featured a group of five spaceships combined to form the robot Voltron, who used his sword to protect the universe.
The series was credited by The New York Times in his obituary as having “helped prepare the way for other Japanese-style animation in the United States”. During its run from 1984 to 1987 Voltron was the top-ranked syndicated children’s program. It brought forth several spinoffs and merchandise licensing deals.
The Voltron series was created by Keefe by cutting and pasting bits of the Japanese cartoons Beast King GoLion and Kikou Kantai Dairugger XV.
Keefe licensed the programs in 1983 and updated the scripts for American audiences with less violence than the originals, removing Japanese location and cultural information to allow the material to be marketed worldwide.
After Voltron, Keefe created other animated series, including Saber Rider and the Star Sheriffs, Denver the Last Dinosaur, Vytor: The Starfire Champion (a series which only aired four episodes), Widget, Twinkle the Dream Being and The Mr. Bogus Show. The last three series were produced by Zodiac Entertainment, a company Keefe helped to found.
Over a 20-year span, Keefe created 600 half-hour episodes, that were enjoyed by millions of children worldwide.
After Zodiac closed down, Keefe went onto join other companies including Zen Entertainment as Managing Director from 1994 to 1996, as well as launching a global television production and merchandise licensing consultant company of his own titled Peter Keefe Productions and Equator Entertainment where he also worked as Managing Director.
In June 2003, Keefe joined a media and entertainment company called Earthworks Entertainment where he served as Chief Executive Officer.
Here he marketed and worked on an animated children’s Christmas special called Nine Dog Christmas which was about nine stray dogs who are recruited as reindeers to help Santa bring Christmas to the world when his reindeer catches a flu.
The special has also aired on Cartoon Network in the United States in 2005 and on The Disney Channel in Asia and Europe.
Known for his distinctive mustache and cowboy boots, Keefe died of throat cancer in Rochester, New York at the age of 57.
He was survived by his wife Pamela Mills Keefe, mother Anne, stepson James and five siblings (three sisters Mollie, Lisa and Kittie and two brothers Tony and Chris).
Before his death, Keefe was developing an animated series for Earthworks Entertainment called Z-Force (Zodiac Force) which features twelve action super heroes based on the ancient Oriental Zodiac.