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Keillor responds to accusations with humor, humility

| Thursday, Nov. 30, 2017, 9:24 a.m.
In this Feb. 19, 2016 photo, Garrison Keillor uses his phone at the Fitzgerald Theater in St. Paul to time a promo for an upcoming show. Keillor said Wednesday, Nov. 29, 2017, he has been fired by Minnesota Public Radio over allegations of improper behavior.
In this Feb. 19, 2016 photo, Garrison Keillor uses his phone at the Fitzgerald Theater in St. Paul to time a promo for an upcoming show. Keillor said Wednesday, Nov. 29, 2017, he has been fired by Minnesota Public Radio over allegations of improper behavior.

Garrison Keillor, who was fired Wednesday from Minnesota Public Radio for “inappropriate behavior,” said in a statement that it was “poetic irony to be knocked off the air by a story, having told so many of them myself.”

On Wednesday night, Keillor posted on Facebook before deleting it an hour later: “It's astonishing that fifty years of hard work can be trashed in a morning by an accusation.”

He added: “I always believed in hard work and now it feels sort of meaningless. Only a friend can hurt you this badly.”

Keillor finished: “I think I have to leave the country in order to walk around in public and not feel accusing glances.”

Earlier Wednesday in an email to the Minneapolis Star Tribune, Keillor said, “I put my hand on a woman's bare back. 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. 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.”

Keillor even managed a joke of sorts: “Getting fired is a real distinction in broadcasting and I've waited fifty years for the honor. All of my heroes got fired. I only wish it could've been for something more heroic.”

Then he turned more serious: “Anyone who ever was around my show can tell you that I was the least physically affectionate person in the building. Actors hug, musicians hug, people were embracing every Saturday night left and right, and I stood off in the corner like a stone statue.

“If I had a dollar for every woman who asked to take a selfie with me and who slipped an arm around me and let it drift down below the beltline, I'd have at least a hundred dollars. So this is poetic irony of a high order. But I'm just fine. I had a good long run and am grateful for it and for everything else.”

Keillor, 75, retired last year from his longtime radio show, but still produced “The Writer's Almanac” for syndication by MPR's parent company, St. Paul-based American Public Media, or APM.

In his statement, Keillor said, “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.”

Officials at MPR said they would not speak beyond a statement that said officials were notified last month of the allegations, “which relate to Mr. Keillor's conduct while he was responsible for the production of ‘A Prairie Home Companion.' ”

MPR said it will:

• Change the name of “Prairie Home,” now hosted by Chris Thile.

• End distribution and broadcast of “Writer's Almanac” and rebroadcasts of old Keillor-hosted “Prairie Home” shows.

• Separate itself from the Pretty Good Goods online catalog, which sells Keillor merchandise, and the website.

“I'm in shock,” Thile said on Twitter. “I know nothing beyond what's contained in the MPR statement but I trust that the proper steps are being taken.”

Keillor later posted a statement on his web site.

“I am sorry for all the poets whose work I won't be reading on the radio and sorry for the people who will lose work on account of this. But my profound feeling is that of gratitude, especially to my wife Jenny, and for this painful experience that has brought us even closer together.”

He and Jenny Lind Nilsson, a violist for the Minnesota Opera, have been married since 1995. It is Keillor's third marriage.

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