Jack Perkins, 'Biography' Host, Dies at 85

The reporter and commentator hosted the series from 1994-1999.
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Jack Perkins

Jack Perkins in 1979

Known for his understated on-air presence, former newsman and cable TV host Jack Perkins died at his home in Casey Key, Florida on August 19, 2019, at the age of 85. He had Parkinson's disease.

Perkins began his longstanding journalism career at NBC News, serving as a reporter, correspondent and anchor for NBC Nightly News as well as the TODAY Show. Among his professional highlights was his live reporting of President John F. Kennedy's assassination on November 22, 1963.

During his early years at the network, Perkins was mentored by anchor David Brinkley, who helped shape his journalistic philosophy and inspired his understated approach to reporting.

“What Brinkley taught me was a master class in how TV news should be written,” Perkins said during an interview in 2012. “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.”

After 25 years with NBC, Perkins retired in 1986 and moved to Casey Key, Florida. He went on to become a cable TV host for A&E's Biography Channel from 1994 to 1999 and continued his hosting duties for local PBS programs in Florida and Tennessee.

Still, despite his low-key work projects and life as a retiree, Perkins had strong criticisms and concerns about the changing face of journalism.

“I never called myself a journalist either; language got more grand as the craft itself eroded,” Perkins told the Sarasota Herald-Tribune in 2009. “I guess it’s how deliberately contentious it is, how politically biased and intemperate. It was always too quick to promote tales of the most bizarre and outrageous specimens, the aberrants of society; it is even more so now. I’m with Thoreau who thought that 'All news is, as it is called, is gossip.' But I’d go further: He seemed to suggest that as gossip, it was harmless. I believe that too often today’s 'journalism' corrodes the nation’s very soul.”

Perkins is survived by three children and his wife of 59 years, Mary Jo.