The untold truth of Keith Morrison

Few names have become as synonymous with murder and mayhem as Keith Morrison. Since 1995, the Canadian-born journalist has been a correspondent for Dateline, where he’s become renowned for bringing viewers lurid true-crime stories — the more horrible and bizarre, the better. 

According to his network bio, Morrison began his broadcast news career at Canada’s CTV News in the ’70s, before moving to CBC News, and then heading south in 1986 to join NBC affiliate KNBC, where he anchored the evening newscast. He joined NBC News as a correspondent on the West Coast just two years later, before going back to his home country in 1992 to host a nation-wide morning show. He then returned to NBC to join Dateline, his home ever since. 

Throughout his career, Morrison has reported on an array of news stories and events, ranging from the Middle East peace process to 9/11. However, Morrison has long since transcended news to become an icon to fans of the true crime genre, one of the rare journalists to become a pop culture figure in his own right without sacrificing credibility. Even longtime fans are sure to learn plenty about the veteran broadcaster just by reading further to discover the untold truth of Keith Morrison.

Keith Morrison almost had a career as a church minister

As one of five children of a United Church minister growing up in the small Canadian town of Lloydminster, Saskatchewan, Keith Morrison told GQ in 2019 that he had initially planned on becoming a lawyer — a dream that fell apart when the 20-year-old failed law school. Morrison had no idea what he wanted do with his life, and his father pulled some strings and got him a summertime job filling in for a minister in a nearby town.

During his tenure, a local farmer passed away, and Morrison found himself in unfamiliar territory when he was expected to help guide the widow through her grief. “It was one of those unforgettable moments when you understand this is real and you better shape up and grow up, because this 80-something-year-old woman is leaning on me for advice and support,” Morrison told the magazine. “That was probably the moment I realized I shouldn’t do this.”

When he returned home, a neighbor — a newspaper editor who had just started managing a radio station — hired the inexperienced Morrison to be a reporter. He flourished, becoming caught up in “the intensity” of the job as he took his first steps toward a career in journalism.

Keith Morrison's stepson is one of the stars of Friends

Keith Morrison was a political reporter for Canada’s CTV News when he first met Suzanne Perry, then press secretary for Canadian Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau. As Today pointed out, when the couple wed in 1981, both Morrison and Perry each had a son from their previous marriages, and went on to welcome four additional kids together. Yet, what fans may not realize is that Morrison’s stepson is even more famous than he is: Matthew Perry, a.k.a. Chandler Bing of Friends fame.

Appearing on Watch What Happens Live in 2017, Morrison admitted to host Andy Cohen that he always had an inkling that his stepson would become famous, but clarified, “probably not as an actor.” 

In fact, Morrison later told People that his stepson’s success on Friends “surprised him as much as it surprised us.” As Morrison explained, Perry was at a point when he was questioning whether the whole acting thing was going to work out just before he was cast as Chandler. That role, said Morrison, “matched his particular sense of humor precisely … that character is Matthew. Yeah, and it always has been him. He’s just a talented soul, a smart guy.”

Bill Hader's classic SNL Keith Morrison impersonation came from being a big fan

One of Bill Hader’s more memorable Saturday Night Live impressions was his take on Keith Morrison’s Dateline reports. As portrayed by Hader, Morrison would take ghoulish glee in luridly reciting the grisliest details of each particularly nasty murder. In 2019, Hader received a surprise visit from Morrison himself during an interview for Sunday Today.

Joking that Hader’s impression “probably extended my career,” Morrison recalled the first time he saw himself spoofed, when his daughter phoned him on a Saturday night, “screaming into the phone and laughing” as she told him to turn on Saturday Night Live. Morrison admitted watching Hader play him was “very weird, I gotta tell you.” In an interview with actress Kristen Bell for Entertainment Weekly, Morrison described his first reaction as confusion. “I didn’t know whether to s**t or go blind,” he quipped. “I mean, it’s weird when somebody does that.”

Hader, a self-proclaimed Dateline junkie, revealed those iconic SNL sketches came to be when the show’s writers noticed him impersonating Morrison for his own amusement. “That was one of those things where I would do it around the office,” Hader explained. “I would just walk around going, ‘Ohhh.'”

The reason his longtime producer thinks Keith Morrison is 'the Mister Rogers of murder'

After working with Keith Morrison for 20 years, Dateline producer Vincent Sturla shared his impressions of the anchor for a GQ profile on Morrison. “He has a great deal of empathy for people, and he doesn’t think he’s above it all,” Sturla explained. “He’s very sincere … kind of like the Mister Rogers of murder.”

According to that GQ piece, those who’d worked with Morrison elaborated on that empathy, explaining how it allows him to create “connections” with the people he interviews. This, in turn, brings the subjects to open up more than they might otherwise. 

In fact, Morrison told the magazine that his role on Dateline kind of upended everything he’d been taught throughout his career in journalism, forcing him to essentially “unlearn” the type of emotional detachment that’s typically associated with reporting objectively on a story. “You back away for a little bit from the traditional journalistic habit of staying totally emotionally separate,” he explained. “If you don’t allow yourself to get more emotionally involved, I don’t think you can understand it.”

Keith Morrison has a photographic memory

While Keith Morrison’s reactions during his Dateline interviews are spontaneous, the interviews themselves are anything but. Speaking with BuzzFeed NewsDateline field producer Carol Gable recalled the first time she worked with Morrison, putting together an exhaustive dossier about their case, even proposing questions he could ask. When Morrison arrived for the interview, Gable admitted she was shocked to see he was “empty-handed,” assuming he’d ignored her work and she’d just done all that research for nothing. 

What Gable quickly discovered is that Morrison has a photographic memory. When it was time for the interview, he had “committed every little thing to memory. Everything,” said Gable. “I give him tons of research and background and questions and he shows up in the interview and he knows all of it. He is one of the best-prepared correspondents I’ve ever worked with. No work you do for him is wasted.”

According to Morrison, that research allows him the ability to “sit down and have an intimate conversation with a stranger … and by the end of the conversation, that person doesn’t feel like a stranger anymore.”

Keith Morrison owes his health to an iconic fitness guru and trail mix

When it comes to his health, Keith Morrison relies on a combination of advice he received from a legendary fitness guru and an iconic broadcast journalist. Speaking with The Cut about wellness in 2017, he admitted he’s “not one of those people who frets about” it a whole lot. 

When he’s on the road for Dateline, Morrison explained, “I walk as much as I can, I try not to overeat, I follow the advice of the great Jack Lalanne, who I used to do stories about for years. Jack had his ‘Lalannisms,’ as he called them, and they were really not so much about the kind of exercise you should do, they were about diet, they were about nutrition. Those kind of sunk in, and I’m careful about what I eat.”

Morrison also recalled some advice from late 60 Minutes correspondent Mike Wallace, then in his 70s: “I asked him, ‘What do you do, you’re on the road all the time, there’s all this crappy food around, how do you stay healthy and keep reasonably fit?’ because he looked terrific. He said, ‘Simple: trail mix.'”

How Keith Morrison stays positive while immersed in murder

Given that his job requires him to take deep dives into gruesome murders, Dateline‘s Keith Morrison doesn’t let all that darkness impact his own psyche. In a 2018 interview with NBC’s Today, Morrison explained that he tries to keep it all in perspective. “I keep the statistics in mind,” he said. “The fact of the matter is that in the years that true crime has been such a popular genre on American television, and in books and every other place, the crime rate in America has gone way down. There are far fewer murders than there once were. It’s just that people are more interested in them.”

He also doesn’t take his work home with him. “I get deeply embedded in these stories. [But] it doesn’t tend to carry over into bedtime: When it’s time to relax, it’s time to relax, move on to something else,” Morrison told The Cut. “When I’m not doing a story about a crime, I’m thinking about something else. I don’t have the same difficulty distancing myself from my work as maybe some people do. When I’m not in it, I’m not in it.”

Why Keith Morrison had to be 'dragged' into the world of true-crime reporting

It’s arguable that few people are more associated with true-crime reporting than Keith Morrison, yet he’s admitted that murder was never really something he considered particularly compelling until he found himself covering it. As the longtime Dateline broadcaster told The Wrap in 2016, it was only when he was “dragged into it” that he really began to appreciate the genre for which he’s become best known. 

“It wasn’t something I planned to do and I did not embrace it enthusiastically,” Morrison admitted of true crime. “I found myself getting assigned to such stories. But then once there, it became so obvious that it was a remarkable and interesting field to plow.”

After reporting on so much murder and mayhem, Morrison came to notice that “a lot of the same patterns repeat themselves,” which he admitted “can be discouraging.” Yet, what continues to draw him into these investigations, Morrison divulged, is the rare opportunity to “look at humanity raw and see where our boundaries are, or aren’t.”

How Dateline led Keith Morrison to launch a podcast

Given that Keith Morrison is television’s go-to guy for true crime, and true-crime podcasts have become all the rage, it was only a matter of time before Morrison entered the podcast game himself. That came to pass in 2019 with the launch of The Thing About Pam, a Morrison-hosted podcast about a “brutal murder” that set in motion “a chain of events that would leave another person dead and expose a diabolical scheme.”

Shifting his focus from television to podcasting, Morrison admitted, allowed him to exercise some new muscles. “Podcasts are a really fun new outlet,” he said in an interview with Vulture. As Morrison explained, the longer-form nature of a serialized podcast allows the opportunity to present far more information than Dateline allows.

“One of the frustrations of any kind of reporting is you have to leave an awful lot of stuff out,” Morrison continued. “In our case, if we’re doing a two-hour story, we leave out about 90 percent of what we hear. With a podcast, you get a lot more time to spin all that out and live in the details and be more conversational.”

Keith Morrison is a true-crime 'sex symbol'

The enduring popularity of true-crime programming on television speaks for itself, and there’s no denying the genre has legions of fans. In fact, Keith Morrison got to meet some of them face to face in 2019, when he paid a visit to New Orleans for CrimeCon, a unique convention dedicated to the genre. At CrimeCon, Morrison and the Dateline crew received the kind of adulation usually reserved for rock stars.

“They are like The Rolling Stones of true crime,” convention attendee Greta Griffin told the Los Angeles Times of Morrison and fellow Dateline correspondents Josh Mankiewicz and Dennis Murphy. “Everybody just thinks they are cool.” As Morrison posed for photos with fans (with Morrison, the Times noted, asked to do his signature lean for the pics), Murphy quipped, “Keith is a sex symbol. I’m just glad I’m in his gravitational flow.”

Despite the adulation, Morrison remains nonplussed by his celebrity status, as unexpected as it’s been. “It’s sweet and lovely and overwhelming … and undeserved,” he said in a September 2020 interview with People.

Keith Morrison singled out the craziest homicide he'd ever covered

While appearing on an after-show segment for Watch What Happens Live with Andy Cohen, a phone caller asked Keith Morrison to recall “the craziest or most bizarre murder” he’d ever covered on Dateline

“Boy oh boy, there have been a lot of crazy murders,” Morrison admitted, but one did spring to mind. “I like the one about the preacher who decided he didn’t like his junior wife enough,” he said, “and so he cut her into little pieces and put her into Tupperware containers and buried her in the desert.” As host Andy Cohen’s jaw literally dropped, Morrison delivered the kicker when he revealed what the preacher said when he interviewed him in prison: “I’ll be meeting her again in heaven,” the murderous minister told Morrison. “We’ll be together.”

In that same interview, Morrison was also asked to comment on whether popular true-crime docuseries such as The Jinx and Making a Murderer were piggybacking on the popularity of Dateline. “I’m amazed at how much people really are interested in this sort of thing,” Morrison marveled.

Keith Morrison is still getting paid for appearing on Seinfeld

Keith Morrison has continually demonstrated a sense of humor about himself, evident from his embrace of Bill Hader’s Saturday Night Live impersonation and when he spoofed his own persona during a faux investigation of Ellen DeGeneres for a bit on her daytime talk show. 

However, Morrison’s comedy connections extend even further back, all the way to an appearance on Seinfeld in the early 1990s. In the episode, Morrison plays a newscaster — identified on screen as Keith Morrison of Action News — reporting on Kramer (Michael Richards) when a mix-up led the “hipster doofus” to become a suspected serial killer. 

“I don’t even know why they chose me. It was an accident in timing,” Morrison later told The Wrap. According to the Dateline star, he was “between contracts” when he received a call about doing a “quick thing” for the sitcom, and quickly agreed. “I was there maybe 20 minutes, half an hour, and I got back in the car and forgot all about it,” Morrison added. “It’s been running over and over. It’s bizarre because, of course, those entertainment shows have residuals. My little tiny part, I get a check for like $5 practically every month.”

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