One of life’s persistent questions: Will Keillor really let himself retire?

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Did Garrison Keillor, that red-sneakered, 68-year-old host of A Prairie Home Companion, really announce his retirement plans in an interview published last week?

You decide. Here are your clues:

  • On March 16, AARP issued a press release, “Public Radio Legend Garrison Keillor Announces Retirement in AARP Bulletin Exclusive Interview.”
  • In the question-and-answer dialogue on AARP’s website, Keillor said, “I am planning to retire in the spring of 2013, but first I have to find my replacement.”
  • Soon after AARP’s piece appeared online, his longtime broadcaster and distributor, Bill Kling, president of American Public Media, told an MPR blogger that “Garrison has been talking about things like this for the last couple of years and when Garrison says it, it doesn’t necessarily mean anything more than that morning’s musings.”
  • Later that same day, an APM memo to client stations tried to reassure them: “Garrison has been open in talking about his own future and in working out ways for A Prairie Home Companion to continue for many years to come. . . . APHC is continuing in its present form for the foreseeable future.” The homey variety show, chock full o’ tales of Lake Wobegon, music, comedy sketches and sound effects, is broadcast live from St. Paul, Minn., as well as from New York and sundry roadshow stops.

And if you’re thinking, gee, let’s just ask Keillor for clarification about all this — sorry, he’s on vacation.

Keillor

Keillor

He doesn’t even have to utter the “r” word to set off such reactions. In September 2009, Keillor, who had just suffered a minor stroke, told the Minneapolis Star Tribune he was “not counting on [hosting the show] more than a couple more years.” He was pondering a move to producing “a successor show,” he said, adding, “I think I’d be a better producer than a host.”

Well. Even that set off enough bells at the Star Tribune that it produced a story 10 days later analyzing the “ripple effects” to the state economy (!) that his retirement would create.

Those reverberations would be “enormous for businesses, from Minnesota Public Radio to the Minnesota State Fair.” The state fair? “Crowds of between 7,000 and 11,000 have shown up during the last six years when Prairie Home has been booked at the Minnesota State Fair grandstand,” the paper said.

Keillor stunned close listeners in January by having someone else — singer and fiddler Sara Watkins — open the show and serve as its first-ever guest host.

This twitched the aerials of Dennis Haarsager, veteran station manager and former NPR exec, who blogged a concise but big-picture view of the talent in question: “Garrison Keillor was born 107 years after Mark Twain and now, 100 years after Twain’s death, GK has used his first guest host on APHC. Will Rogers overlapped Twain about 30 years, but it’s hard to name someone else in the company of these three.  It’s hard, too, to believe APHC will survive the retirement of its creator.  It’s about the writing, not the music.”

Keillor may have let someone else open the show, but he still participated in writing and performing. “That’s who he is — he can’t not be part of a show that he loves doing,” Kling told Current. As for Keillor’s latest comments: “He throws things out there to see what the reaction would be.”

Keillor created A Prairie Home Companion in 1974. He said his first farewell on June 13, 1987, proclaiming he was “returning to the life of a shy person.” But in March 1988 he did ‘‘A Prairie Home Companion: The 2nd Annual Farewell Performance’’ at Radio City Music Hall. Within two years, also in New York, he kicked off a Home-like show called American Radio Company of the Air. By 1992, Keillor was back with Prairie Home.

So, given Keillor’s track record, has he truly decided to take a curtain call in ’13? Well . . .

“I’m pushing forward, and also I’m in denial,” he told AARP.

Comments, jokes? sefton@current.org