Obituaries

Jack Keil, 94, creator of the crime-fighting dog McGruff

McGruff the Crime Dog met President Ronald Reagan at the White House in 1984.
Barry Thumma/Associated Press/File
McGruff the Crime Dog met President Reagan at the White House in 1984.

NEW YORK — Jack Keil, the advertising executive who created and gave voice to McGruff, the cartoon hound who exhorts Americans to “take a bite out of crime,” died Aug. 25 at his home in Westminster West, Vt. He was 94.

His death was confirmed by his daughter, Betsy Kluck-Keil, who said he had recently learned he had pancreatic cancer.

Mr. Keil worked on ad campaigns for Toyota, Cheerios, and Life Savers during his years with the New York advertising agency Dancer Fitzgerald Sample (which was acquired by Saatchi & Saatchi in the 1980s). But his most enduring work began in 1979, when he spearheaded a pro bono campaign intended to educate Americans on how they could help reduce crime.

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Mr. Keil decided to try a catchy slogan delivered by an animal mascot, similar to Smokey Bear, who reminds people to prevent forest fires. He told Smithsonian magazine in 1988 that he had considered an elephant, a deer, and a cougar before the catchphrase and the dog character coalesced in his mind during a trip back to New York from the West Coast.

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“You can’t crush crime or defeat it altogether, but you can snap at it, nibble at it — take a bite out of crime!” he said. “And the animal that takes a bite is a dog.”

Mr. Keil took the idea to his team at Dancer and soon McGruff the Crime Dog, a lanky hound dressed in a trench coat with weary eyes and stubble, was born. Mr. Keil provided the voice, the raspy sound of a detective who had just finished a long, sleepless stakeout.

“He wasn’t vicious, not tremendously smart, maybe, but he was no wimp either,” Mr. Keil said. “He was a father figure or possibly an uncle figure.”

The character made its debut in 1980, and the name McGruff was chosen in a national contest soon after.

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At first McGruff advocated for small crime-fighting measures, such as forming neighborhood watch groups, locking doors, and leaving lights on to dissuade burglars. He later addressed drug abuse, gun violence, kidnapping, and other crimes in print, television, and Internet public service campaigns. One commercial included a young Drew Barrymore.

Mr. Keil voiced most of those spots, including a brief segment with the talk show host Dick Cavett.

McGruff still represents the National Crime Prevention Council, as the nonprofit organization that commissioned him is now known, and he remains a familiar and trusted figure, especially with children. Three studies conducted for the council by market research firms indicated that 8 out of 10 children and 9 out of 10 adults recognized him.

Mr. Keil continued to voice McGruff until recently.

John Mullan Keil, who went by Jack, was born in Rochester, N.Y., on Dec. 30, 1922. His father, Alvin, owned a charcoal company, and his mother, the former Elizabeth Mullan, was a homemaker.

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He interrupted his studies at the University of Rochester to serve as a bombardier during World War II. He returned to graduate in 1944 with a degree in economics.

‘He wasn’t vicious . . . but he was no wimp either.’

Mr. Keil, on McGruff 

After an unsuccessful attempt to forge an acting career in New York, he turned to copywriting.

Mr. Keil wrote two books on creativity in a corporate setting, “The Creative Mystique: How to Manage It, Nurture It and Make It Pay” (1985) and “How to Zig in a Zagging World: Unleashing Your Hidden Creativity” (1988).

In 1950, he married Barbara Miller, who died in 2014. In addition to his daughter, he leaves a son, Nick; a brother, Richard; five grandchildren; and a great-grandson.