Jack Perkins, NBC Reporter and ‘Biography’ Host, Dies at 85


Jack Perkins, a former NBC News reporter and anchor and host of the A&E program “Biography,” died on Monday at his home in Nokomis, Fla., near Sarasota. He was 85.

His death was announced by the Florida public television station WEDU, where he hosted a weekly magazine series, “Gulf Coast Journal,” from 2004 to 2012.

Starting as a writer for NBC News in the early 1960s, Mr. Perkins went on, as a reporter, to cover the civil rights movement, the Vietnam War and the assassination of Robert F. Kennedy in a 25-year career at the network and its station in Los Angeles. He made appearances on the “Nightly News,” the “Today” show and the series “NBC Magazine” and “Prime Time Sunday.”

In 1985, he won a local Emmy Award for a commentary on KNBC in Los Angeles in which he criticized NBC, the station’s parent network, for joking about drug abuse on “Saturday Night Live.” The station’s management, he said, never suggested that he alter the commentary.

He was also the host or narrator of numerous other television programs; most notably, he hosted the eclectic documentary series “Biography” from 1994 to 1999.

In 1986, Mr. Perkins left Los Angeles after working as an anchorman and commentator for KNBC to find refuge with his wife in a cabin that they called Moosewood on an island off Bar Harbor, Me., near Acadia National Park.

There he wrote books, including “Island Prayers: Photographs and Poems of Praise” (2006) and “Finding Moosewood, Finding God: What Happened When a TV Newsman Abandoned His Career for Life on an Island” (2013).

“After years of telling other people’s lives,” he wrote, “it was time to start living my own.”

Jack Morton Perkins was born on Dec, 28, 1933, in Cleveland to Fred and Ruth (Bryte) Perkins. His father was an electrical engineer, his mother a teacher. He was raised in Wooster, Ohio, about 60 miles south of Cleveland.

After winning a speech tournament that guaranteed him a four-year scholarship and a job at a local radio station, he attended Western Reserve University (now Case Western Reserve), receiving a bachelor’s degree in political science in 1956.

In 1960 he married Mary Jo Keplinger, an artist, who survives him. His survivors also include two sons, Eric, the sports director of KARE-TV, an NBC affiliate in Minneapolis, and Mark; a daughter, Julie Wong; and five grandchildren.

Mr. Perkins had held on-air positions in local radio and television when he received a call in 1967 from Reuven Frank, the NBC producer who had, a decade earlier, helped create “The Huntley-Brinkley Report,” the nightly news program anchored by Chet Huntley and David Brinkley. Mr. Perkins was one of four new reporters assigned to the program that year, along with John Chancellor, Douglas Kiker and Sander Vanocur. He worked closely with Mr. Brinkley.

“What Brinkley taught me was a master class in how TV news should be written,” Mr. Perkins said in a 2012 interview. “Say less, mean more. If a story is dramatic, you don’t have to tell it dramatically. Be simple. Direct. None of this, ‘The nation suffered a great tragedy’ nonsense.”

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