Morris, Michael (1914–99), 3rd Baron Killanin, writer, film producer, and sports administrator, was born 30 July 1914 in Dublin, son of George Henry Morris, lieutenant-colonel in the Irish Guards, and Dora Morris (née Wesley Hall). His father was killed in action later that year and his mother married Gerard Tharp (1918). He was educated at Eton (while there he became Lord Killanin on the death of his uncle, Martin), the Sorbonne (BA), and Magdalene College, Cambridge (MA). When in college he boxed, swam, and rowed competently. At Cambridge he was president of Footlights and literary editor of Varsity Weekly.
In 1935 he was recommended to Lord Beaverbrook by Lord Castlerosse (qv), Valentine Browne, and employed as a reporter on the Daily Express. He then joined the Daily Mail, where he worked as a diplomatic and political correspondent, covering the abdication crisis, the coronation of George VI (wearing coronation robes), and the Sino–Japanese war. He also worked as a political columnist for the Sunday Dispatch. He edited Four days (1938), a series of accounts of the events surrounding the Munich peace conference, written by seven leading journalists from Europe and America. During the late 1930s he abandoned pacifism, becoming convinced that Hitler had to be resisted. He volunteered for the British army in 1938, becoming brigade major of 30th Armoured Brigade in 1943; he took part in the Normandy invasion and was awarded an MBE.
He was interested in art, architecture, and antiquities; his book Sir Godfrey Kneller and his times (1948) is a study of the eponymous portrait painter and English portraiture in the late seventeenth and early eighteenth centuries. He contributed articles to periodicals such as the Journal of the Galway Archaeological and Historical Society (1947) and the Furrow (1950), and was a founding member of An Taisce. These interests are revealed to best effect in The Shell guide to Ireland (1962; 2nd ed. 1967), which he wrote with Professor Michael V. Duignan (1907–88).
In 1952 he co-produced the film The quiet man with director John Ford (qv). Pre-production began in 1946 and the budget was tight, but this was a misleadingly facile entry into the world of cinema, winning four Oscars and the Silver Lion at the Venice film festival. This prompted Killanin, Ford, Tyrone Power, and Michael Scott (qv) to found a production company named Four Provinces with the aim of making films in Ireland. In 1957 he produced another Ford film, The rising of the moon, and was appointed to a government commission established to inquire into the film industry. Four Provinces financed Gideon's day (1958) and The playboy of the western world (1962). The latter film, of which he was executive producer, disappointed. Gary Raymond proved to be poor Christy Mahon and Siobhán McKenna (qv) was too old to be a convincing Pegeen Mike. His final flirtation with the film world was as associate producer of Young Cassidy (1965). Ford was again due to direct this film, which was loosely based on the life of Sean O'Casey (qv), but he contracted pneumonia after thirteen days shooting and Jack Cardiff took over. Killanin was chairman (1958–70) of the Dublin theatre festival.
In 1950 Killanin was elected president of the Olympic Council of Ireland (OCI), and in 1952 was appointed a member of the International Olympic Committee (IOC). His rise to prominence in the IOC began when he became chef de protocol in 1966. In 1967 he was elected to the executive board of the IOC, and was chairman of the IOC commission that travelled to South Africa to investigate the treatment of black athletes by the South African Olympic committee. The report was damning (perhaps not surprisingly, given that he was a member of the Irish Anti-Apartheid Society). In 1968 he became chairman of the press committee of the IOC and a vice-president, but refused to challenge Avery Brundage for the presidency. In 1968 the president of the IOC did not have a salary or an expense account, and so he could not afford to seek the office. When Brundage resigned in 1972, however, the president's expenses were met. Killanin was elected.
His tenure (1972–80) was one of transition and crisis. He was a less authoritarian figure than Brundage or his successor, Juan Antonio Samaranach. Under his leadership the IOC began to move away from a rigid adherence to its amateur ethic and to recognise the de facto professionalism of many athletes. He appointed women to membership of the IOC for the first time and oversaw China's return to competition.
In the days between his election and his assumption of the office the hostage crisis and massacre that marred the 1972 Munich Olympics erupted. Then at a late stage Denver withdrew as host city for the winter Olympics of 1976 and the games had to be switched to Innsbruck. The 1976 summer Olympics in Montreal were equally troublesome. The stadium and facilities were completed with little time to spare; wastage, mismanagement, and corruption marred the process. Worse, the USA almost boycotted the games when the Canadian government refused to allow Taiwan to participate. The Taiwanese withdrew and the crisis was averted. Twenty-two African countries did boycott the games; they were upset that New Zealand was not punished by the IOC when the All-Blacks toured South Africa. The Soviet invasion of Afghanistan prompted sixty-two countries, including the USA, to boycott formally the 1980 Moscow games (though in many instances athletic associations sent representative teams). Killanin wrote a history, The Olympic games (1975), with John Rodda, and a memoir of his experiences, My Olympic years (1980).
He had been a member of the Irish Turf Club since 1971 and in 1982 the government appointed him chairman of a commission to inquire into the thoroughbred horse breeding industry. The commission reported in 1986. He was Monaco's honorary consul general in Ireland (1961–84). My Ireland (1987) is a coffee-table guide to Ireland, heavily dependent on colour photographs. He was a director of several companies, including Chubb Ireland, Beamish & Crawford, Ulster Banking Ireland, and Gallaher (Ireland).
In 1945 he married (Mary) Sheila Dunlop, daughter of the rector of Oughterard, Co. Galway. She had received an MBE for her work in decoding at Bletchley during the war. They had a daughter and three sons: Deborah (artist), Redmond (film producer), Michael (jockey and racehorse trainer) and John (photographer). In his final years Killanin struggled with Parkinson's disease and died 25 April 1999 at home in Rathmines.