Former child star Philip McKeon died Tuesday morning in Texas at age 55

By Aurelie Corinthios
December 11, 2019 05:30 PM

Both actors and just two years apart in age, Nancy McKeon and Philip McKeon were incredibly close from childhood onwards.

Philip, who died on Tuesday morning in Texas after battling a longtime illness, is survived by Nancy and their mother, Barbara. He was 55.

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

A source told PEOPLE that Nancy, 53, is “devastated” over her older 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.”

In February 1982, TV’s dream teen siblings Philip and Nancy, then 17 and 15, respectively, opened up about their close bond in an interview with PEOPLE. At the time, Philip was starring in the CBS sitcom Alice as Linda Lavin’s tall and toothily handsome son Tommy, while Nancy was playing the tough-talking, street-smart Jo on NBC’s The Facts of Life.

Nancy McKeon and Philip McKeon
Credit: Ron Galella Collection via Getty

The McKeon kids were close, with no hint of rivalry, and both were introduced early to the industry. Nancy began modeling baby clothes for Sears catalogs at age 2; Philip landed his first commercial for Fruit Loops at age 4.

The family, originally from Forest Hills, Long Island, shuttled regularly to Manhattan for what would be some 60-odd commercials in seven years. Then, when Philip landed Alice in 1976, the McKeons headed West.

“I was happy for Philip, but I had to start all over again,” Nancy told PEOPLE in 1982. “I was getting up at quarter to 5, practicing singing and dancing before school and again when I came home, but nothing was happening. I thought of quitting.” After three years of auditions — and numerous brotherly pep talks — she began landing series guest spots and eventually The Facts of Life.

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

Teenage Philip told PEOPLE he would “joke a lot — everything is funny to me,” while teenage Nancy, in contrast, said she saw herself as “a very serious kind of person, maybe too serious.” Despite their differences, they were great friends growing up, both studying with tutors for hours a day on-set, attending Catholic Mass every Sunday, and going to the movies together, they recalled to PEOPLE.

More than anything, they said they wanted to work together.

“That’s a constant dream we have,” said Philip, adding proudly, “Nancy is one of the best actresses in the world.”

“I think he’ll become one of the finest directors of our time,” Nancy added. “If I had to pick a brother, I’d pick him.”

Philip went on to work at Los Angeles station KFWB News 98 in its news department for 10 years before moving to Wimberly, Texas, where he hosted his own radio show and relocated to be closer to family. His other credits include the 1987 slasher film Return to Horror High and appearances in CHiPs, Fantasy Island and The Love Boat.

Nancy has not publicly addressed his death, but last month she wished her brother a happy birthday on Instagram while reflecting on the loss of their father, Donald McKeon, who died in October.

“A huge happy birthday to my big brother!!” she wrote. “It’s been a tough time lately… but as we’ve always said…we’ll get through it together…love you Dude….and as always… our humble thanks to all our veterans.”