'Facts of Life' 's Julie Piekarski Remembers Late Philip McKeon's 'Great Laugh' and 'Big Smile'

Facts of Life star Nancy McKeon's brother, Alice child actor Philip McKeon, died last week at age 55

Philip McKeon
Photo: Julie Piekarski Probst/Instagram

Forty years later, Julie Piekarski Probst still remembers Philip McKeon‘s toothy grin and kind heart.

Speaking to PEOPLE, Piekarski Probst — who starred in the beloved 1980s sitcom The Facts of Life, briefly alongside Philip’s younger sister Nancy McKeon — shares some of her fondest teenage memories of growing up in Hollywood with Nancy and Philip, who died on Dec. 10 at age 55 after battling a longtime illness.

When they first met, Philip was starring in the CBS sitcom Alice as Linda Lavin‘s son, Tommy, and Piekarski Probst, now 56, was a Mouseketeer on the Mickey Mouse Club. She would go on to be cast as Sue Ann Weaver on The Facts of Life.

“At the time, in Hollywood, certain age kids would kind of hang together a little bit, because you want to have socialization,” she says. “I just remember [Philip and Nancy] as good people — good, kind, honest, dedicated people. And I could relate to that coming from the Midwest. We just all clicked really well.”

“I remember being at their house a couple of times, I believe it was in Burbank,” she adds. “And Philip and I went out a few times, we enjoyed each other’s company.”

Piekarski Probst, who has not kept in touch with the McKeons in recent years, remembers young Philip as being “very genuine.”

“He had a great laugh and that big smile,” she says. “I’m going to use the word adorable because of his personality. You can say someone is handsome — and he was, he was cute to look at — but his personality came through.”

“He was very personable and down to earth — never put on airs,” she adds. “Very humble, and very authentic. They were what-you-see-is-what-you-get kind of people.”

Nancy and Philip McKeon
Tony Korody/Sygma/Sygma via Getty

After Alice ended in 1985, Philip made periodic acting appearances before moving on to radio. He worked in the news department at Los Angeles station KFWB News 98 for 10 years, then moved to Wimberly, Texas, where he hosted his own radio show.

He is survived by Nancy, 53, and their mother, Barbara.

“We are all beyond heartbroken and devastated over Phil’s passing,” family spokesman Jeff Ballard told PEOPLE in a statement last week. “His wonderful sense of humor, kindness and loyalty will be remembered by all who crossed his path in life.”

Nancy McKeon and Philip McKeon
Ron Galella Collection via Getty

A source told PEOPLE that Nancy is “devastated” over her brother’s death.

“She and Philip were very, very close,” the source said. “The whole family is going to cling together and find comfort in each other during this time. My heart goes out to them.”

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