‘I Love Lucy’s Little Ricky Actor Keith Thibodeaux on the Last Time He Saw Lucille Ball: ‘It Was Kind of Sad’

Actor Keith Thibodeaux played “Little Ricky” on I Love Lucy with such perfection, it was difficult for viewers to remember he wasn’t actually Lucy and Desi’s son.

The classic comedy series was an important part of his life at such a young age.

Here’s what the actor said took place when he last saw Lucille Ball in the 1980s.

Keith Thibodeaux (front) with the cast of 'I Love Lucy'
Keith Thibodeaux (front) with the cast of ‘I Love Lucy’ | Silver Screen Collection/Getty Images

Auditioning to play Little Ricky

Keith Thibodeaux in 1955
Keith Thibodeaux in 1955 | Arnold M. Johnson/Graphic House/Archive Photos/Getty Images

Keith Thibodeaux, as a musically precocious child, was earning $500 a week by age 3 while touring with the Horace Heidt Orchestra. His father took him to audition for the role of Little Ricky when he was about 5 years old.

“My dad brought me down to the studios, and I was introduced to Lucy. She said, ‘He’s cute, but what does he do?’ You have to do something, you know, for Lucy. My dad said, ‘He plays the drums.'”

‘I think we’ve found Little Ricky’

Lucille Ball and Desi Arnaz in 1951
Lucille Ball and Desi Arnaz in 1951 | CBS/Getty Images

The show had a set of drums right on the set, so Thibodeaux, whose stage name was Richard Keith, showed everyone he knew how to keep a beat. According to Thibodeaux in his 2005 conversation with the Archive of American Television, 500 other boys had been vying for the role of the son of America’s most famous couple at the time.

“Everyone wanted to know what the commotion was, and Sheldon Leonard, the director for The Danny Thomas Show and other shows came over and was enjoying this little kid playing.

“Then finally, Desi Arnaz himself came over and started jamming with me on the drums and playing with me. He stood up and laughed in his way and said, ‘I think we’ve found Little Ricky.'”

His final visit with Lucille Ball

Keith Thibodeaux, front, in 2007 with Desi Arnaz Jr.
Keith Thibodeaux, front, in 2007 with Desi Arnaz Jr. | Kevin Winter/Getty Images

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In the early 1980s, Thibodeaux recalled seeing Lucille Ball “on one of her birthdays.” It would be the last time he would see the actor before her 1989 death.

“I was playing with a band and I was in Los Angeles at the time,” he said. “It was her birthday, Lucy’s birthday, and my sister who lives in California, wanted to see Lucy.”

His sister decided they should just drop in on the red-headed legend but Thibodeaux didn’t like the idea. Eventually, his sister and his wife convinced him into seeing Lucy, along with the couple’s 3-year-old daughter.

Thibodeaux gave up hope of seeing her after working his way through a crowd of fans outside her home and leaving a note with Ball’s housekeeper that he had stopped by.

Ball was alone on her birthday

Lucille Ball with husband Gary Morton, left
Lucille Ball with husband Gary Morton, left | Jeff Kravitz/FilmMagic, Inc

He began backing his car off her property when “Here comes Lucy, just running out of the house, waving her hands and she’s just like, ‘Come on back!’ All these fans are going crazy by this time ’cause here comes Lucy out of the house,” Thibodeaux said.

“This is typical Lucy: She’s standing at the end of her hall, it’s about 50 feet down. She’s not greeting me at the door, she’s way down by the staircase, she’s got her hands wide open. Like, ‘Come to me!'” Thibodeaux said as he laughed at the memory. “There was this big hug, Lucy when she hugged you she just squeezed the life out of you. We spent a good hour there.”

Although it was her birthday, Thibodeaux’s former television mom was alone, he realized.

“It was kind of sad because it was her birthday and there was nobody there on her birthday,” he said. “She was by herself. I really thought it was a good thing that we were there.”

In the end, it turned out Thibodeaux’s sister’s idea had been a good one.

“It was just cool. She said, ‘I hear good things about you, I’m proud of you.'”