MINNEAPOLIS (AP) — Garrison Keillor, whose stories of small-town characters entertained legions of public radio listeners for 40 years on “A Prairie Home Companion,” became another celebrity felled by allegations of workplace misconduct on Wednesday when Minnesota Public Radio terminated his contracts.
The homegrown humorist told The Associated Press he was fired over “a story that I think is more interesting and more complicated than the version MPR heard.” Keillor didn’t detail the allegation to AP, but he later told the Minneapolis Star Tribune that he had put his hand on a woman’s bare back when trying to console her.
“I meant to pat her back after she told me about her unhappiness, and her shirt was open and my hand went up it about six inches. She recoiled. I apologized,” Keillor told the newspaper in an email. “I sent her an email of apology later, and she replied that she had forgiven me and not to think about it.
“We were friends. We continued to be friendly right up until her lawyer called.”
MPR said only that it received allegations of “inappropriate behavior” against Keillor last month involving one person who worked with him during his time hosting “A Prairie Home Companion.” Keillor retired as host of the radio variety show last year, but continued to work for MPR on various projects.
MPR said it had received no other complaints but had retained an outside law firm that was continuing to investigate.
Later Wednesday, Keillor gave a statement to MPR News saying he had to “respect the privacy of the two employees who have made the allegations.” A spokeswoman for MPR’s corporate arm didn’t immediately respond to questions from AP on whether Keillor was accused of bad behavior with more than one person.
Keillor’s hand-picked successor to host the show, mandolinist Chris Thile, tweeted Wednesday he was “in shock” after Keillor’s firing. Thile had been a frequent musical guest on the show and said he knew nothing about the allegation, adding: “I trust that the proper steps are being taken.”
Sue Scott, who worked on the show as a voice actor for 24 years with Keillor, told the AP she was stunned. She said she saw no evidence of inappropriate behavior from Keillor.
Fans also were shocked. Cindy Dina, of the Minneapolis suburb of Forest Lake, said she frequently listened when Keillor hosted the show and admired him, saying the Minnesota native was “iconic.”
“It’s just one more, wow,” she said, adding that she hoped the continuous allegations against high-profile men would send a strong message to all men.
Keillor’s storytelling earned him comparisons with Mark Twain and Will Rogers. His 1985 best-selling book, “Lake Wobegon Days,” landed him on the cover of Time magazine.
“A Prairie Home Companion” was heard by nearly 4 million listeners a week on nearly 700 public radio stations across the U.S. the year before Keillor left as host. The inaugural show — attended by about a dozen people at Macalester College in St. Paul, Minnesota, on July 6, 1974 — is in the Library of Congress’ national registry of historic sound recordings.
On Wednesday, Keillor didn’t say when the incident with the woman occurred. In his statement to AP, Keillor said it was “poetic irony to be knocked off the air by a story, having told so many of them myself.
“But I’m 75 and don’t have any interest in arguing about this. And I cannot in conscience bring danger to a great organization I’ve worked hard for since 1969.”
His separation from MPR came just days after Keillor, an avowed Democrat, wrote a syndicated column that ridiculed the idea that Minnesota Sen. Al Franken should resign over allegations of sexual harassment.
MPR said it would rename the show now hosted by Thile and end distribution of “The Writer’s Almanac,” Keillor’s daily reading of a poem and telling of literary events. MPR also plans to end rebroadcasts of “The Best of A Prairie Home Companion” hosted by Keillor.
Keillor’s “A Prairie Home Companion” aired on Saturdays, featuring tales of his fictional Minnesota hometown of Lake Wobegon “where all the women are strong, all the men are good-looking, and all the children are above average.”
The show featured musical acts, folksy humor, parody ads for fake products such as Powdermilk Biscuits and the centerpiece: Keillor delivering a seemingly off-the-cuff monologue, “The News From Lake Wobegon,” in his rich baritone voice.
He also has been working on a Lake Wobegon screenplay and a memoir about growing up in Minnesota.
“A person could not hope for more than what I was given,” Keillor said in his statement Wednesday to AP.
Keillor was scheduled to appear Wednesday evening at a theater in Pittsfield, Massachusetts, along with the folk duo Robin and Linda Williams, but the show was canceled.
A couple of hours later at a Pittsfield restaurant, he told The Berkshire Eagle that it’s “bewildering” that he worked on a show he loved for decades, and “somebody else can torch it in one morning.”