Keith Morris died last week of a heart attack at the age of 60. From the magazine's founding 33 years ago until February 1986, when he retired as director of special events, Morris served SI in a variety of promotional capacities. He was important to us from the very beginning; we now feel a special loss.
When word got out early in 1954 that Time Inc. editor-in-chief Henry Luce was planning to publish a weekly sports magazine, Morris was among a number of talented people who wanted to join the staff of the fledgling SI. At the time, he was a zone manager in the circulation-promotion department for Time Inc. in Philadelphia. He was a tireless worker there, making sure that TIME and LIFE were prominently displayed at newsstands and supermarkets in the area. "He was very persistent," recalls his wife, Lotta. "Those stores were going to make that display front and center no matter what." Persistence also paid off for Morris when he lobbied for, and was granted, a transfer to Luce's proposed sports publication.
In his new job, Morris spread the word that SI was on the newsstands and was well worth looking at. He became a transcontinental town crier for us, ringing his bell and giving his spiel from one tidal shelf to the other. He helped organize SI's Speakers Bureau, which set up appearances and speaking engagements for sports figures. By 1979 his interviews with athletes were carried weekly by more than 300 radio stations, the TV versions by more than 200 channels.
With his enthusiastic personality, Morris was ideal for his job. He made countless friends for the magazine. He never forgot a face or a name. He attended so many sports events in Madison Square Garden that he was probably the best known person there other than a Walt Frazier or a Rod Gilbert. The New York Rangers certainly knew him. Every season from the late 1950s to the early 1970s, Keith and Lotta threw a party in their Ardsley, N.Y., home for the entire team. Hockey was his favorite sport; on his first date with Lotta, back in 1948, they went to a Rangers game.
For many coaches, athletes and fans, Morris personified SI. Which explains the countless times over those 30-odd years that staff members—myself and the nine publishers before me included—were told, "I know your boss, Keith Morris." Understandable, if inaccurate.
No, Morris wasn't SI's boss, but he was SI's friend.
Morris was SI's transcontinental town crier.