Acclaimed Star Trek artist Keith Birdsong, renowned for his photorealistic renderings of Star Trek actors, passed away on June 4, 2019, as a result of injuries sustained in an earlier car crash. He was 59 years old.
The Oklahoma artist was born on July 14, 1959, in Muskogee, where he spent much of his childhood. Birdsong was a self-taught artist who began drawing before he was talking, according to his mother. “The big breakthrough for me was getting the nose right when I was 4 or 5,” Birdsong once said. “I didn’t follow directions. I always drew what I wanted. I would kind of start with what they wanted and then end up doing something else, doing my own thing.”
When he was 15, Birdsong spent a year in California and Texas before settling in Missouri. After finishing school, Birdsong got married and joined the United States Army, serving as a paratrooper in the 82nd Airborne Division. Throughout his nearly five year in the military, Birdsong did several illustration projects and worked as a journalist. He eventually built a portfolio and began pitching to various magazine and book companies.
Among his first professional jobs was drawing Michael Jackson for Right On! magazine, a periodical aimed at teens. He later drew a caricature of Jackson and Mick Jagger together, as well as an illustration of Duran Duran for Tiger Beat. Following his discharge from the Army, Birdsong started doing illustrations for book covers. He spent time as a commercial artist in North Carolina, before moving back to Oklahoma to work as a freelance artist.
During the 1990s, Birdsong gained prominence for his Star Trek work. His body of work for the franchise includes hundreds of illustrations ranging from posters and book covers to collector plates. The artist once noted that during his peak era, he drew 97 Star Trek paintings and was usually booked for many jobs a year in advance.
Birdsong later provided likenesses of Elvis Presley and others for the US Postal service, along with work on the game Shadowrun, and the children’s book The Halloween Hex: Hi-Tech Howard. Several of his pieces are in the Smithsonian Institution, including a likeness of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Birdsong returned to the world of Star Trek in 2017 to paint an image of the new Star Trek cast for Lightspeed Fine Art.
In 2018, Birdsong suffered a stroke that resulted in memory loss and impaired vision. Although he was told he probably wouldn’t draw again, Birdsong’s vision began improving and he was able to resume his illustrative pastime.
Services are scheduled for June 14 at 2 PM at the Christian Chapel in Muskogee on 4043 Chandler Road.