Thelma Keane, 82, the inspiration for the Mommy character in the long-running

Family Circus

comic created by her husband, Bil Keane, died Friday in Arizona of Alzheimer's disease.

Family Circus, which Keane began drawing in 1960, depicts the good-humored life of two parents and their four children. It is now featured in about 1,500 newspapers.

"She was the inspiration for all of my success," Bil Keane, 85, said yesterday. "When the cartoon first appeared, she looked so much like Mommy that if she was in the supermarket pushing her cart around, people would come up to her and say, 'Aren't you the Mommy in Family Circus?' and she would admit it."

Bil and Thelma "Thel" Keane met during World War II in the war-bond office in Brisbane, Australia. She was an Australian working as an accounting secretary, and Bil worked next to her as a promotional artist for the U.S. Army.

"I had this desk alongside the most beautiful Australian 18-year-old girl with long brown hair," Bil Keane said. "And I got up enough nerve to ask her for a date."

The two married in 1948 and moved to Philadelphia, Bil Keane's hometown. They had five children and moved to the Phoenix suburb of Paradise Valley in 1958.

Not only was Mrs. Keane the inspiration for the always-loving and ever-patient comic character also named Thel, but she worked full time as her husband's business manager. Her family says she was the reason Bil Keane became one of the first syndicated newspaper cartoonists to win back all rights to his comic.

Bil Keane continues to produce Family Circus with the help of his youngest son, Jeff. Keane sketches out the ideas, characters and captions and sends them to Jeff for inking.

- AP