“In keeping with Channel 40’s policy of bringing you the latest in ‘blood and guts’, and in living color, you are going to see another first—attempted suicide,” Florida anchorwoman Christine Chubbuck said before she committed suicide live and on-air during the morning show on July 15, 1974.
Chubbuck was only 29 years old when she committed suicide live on air, during the newsreel that preceded her morning current affairs. She drew a .38 Smith and Wesson revolver and shot herself behind her right ear, and then she fell forward violently onto the desk and the technical director faded the broadcast rapidly to black.
The reasons behind the 1974 tragic story of a newscaster shooting herself live on TV remains a big mystery for a long time, and this shocking sudden death of the young woman drew attention and different speculations from the viewers and broadcasting companies all over the world. Within hours of the shooting, the story made headlines in New York, Tokyo, London and Sydney: “TV Star Kills Self”, “TV Personality Takes Own Life On Air”, “On Air Suicide”.
According to The Washington Post, she had a hard time connecting with people and was seeing a psychiatrist to work through her many reported issues.
Her mother, Peg, told the Washington Post in a 1974 interview, “she just couldn’t connect with people”.
Also, in an with People magazine, her younger brother Greg says he now believes his sister suffered from bipolar disorder, a mood disorder characterised by bouts of manic highs and periods of depression. “She had no greys in her life,” he says. “Everything was black and white. Things were either wonderful, or terrible. Chrissie just didn’t have a compromise button.”
Furthermore, Greg also claims that his concerned parents had spent over £700,000 over 20 years on doctors fees, psychiatrists and psychologists to “help Chrissie find peace.” But aged 16, she received a devastating blow when her 23-year-old boyfriend was killed in a car accident, losing the man that Greg believes was “the love of her life”.
According to the Washington Post, she was a virgin, a man she was very involved with had rejected her, and she wanted to be a big television star. Her family claims she had confided in them a number of times about wanting to commit suicide, but it was always in an “offhand” way, her brother Tim claimed.
It seemed as if Chubbuck had been plotting and planning her last moments. It has been reported that Chubbuck left a suicide note before she took her life, and she even mentioned she purchased a gun to the 22-year-old night side news editor in the weeks leading up to the suicide. In the weeks before her death, she joked with co-workers about killing herself live on air, as a “nifty” way to improve ratings. She also spoke to her news director, 26-year-old Mike Simmons, and asked him if she could do a piece on suicide, reports add.
After the shooting, news director Mike Simmons found Chubbuck’s script included a third-person account of her death. “She had written something like ‘TV 40 news personality Christine Chubbuck shot herself in a live broadcast this morning on a Channel 40 talk program’,” he said. “‘She was rushed to Sarasota Memorial Hospital, where she remains in critical condition.’”
The shock of the 1974 incident, live from Sarasota, Florida, has not diminished over the years. Dramatic and disturbing as this incident was, the sad life and death of Christine Chubbuck was swiftly consigned to the archives of broadcasting history – the footage has never been made public – until, in an uncanny coincidence, two films revived the tragedy at last year’s Sundance Film Festival; Christine, directed by Antonio Campos, is a well-received dramatic bio-pic starring Michael C. Hall, and Rebecca Hall as Chubbock. Kate Plays Christine, directed by Robert Greene, is a documentary about an actress, Kate Lyn Sheil, preparing to the play the role of Christine Chubbuck.
Rolling Stone magazine also dug into the case and the fascination behind the incident and explored the idea that the video from that fateful day doesn’t exist – at least not for the public to ever see again. There may possibly be one video copy of the incident in existence, and it reportedly was the news director of the station who kept a copy. The director has since died, and reports suggest his wife has the shooting video, but she refuses to release it to anyone. Some say she gave it to a “very large law firm” for safe keeping.
Chubbuck’s show, Suncoast Digest, stayed on the air for several years with new hosts. Simmons, the station director, said Chubbuck’s suicide was unrelated to the station. “The crux of the situation was that she was a 29-year-old girl who wanted to be married and who wasn’t,” he said in 1977.
Whatever her reasons, and why, to Chubbuck, ending her life on camera seemed like the best option for her, her suicide moment in time will indeed live on (and so will the mystery of the footage). It will be remembered by those shocked few hundred viewers who saw it happen live, and for those who continue to learn about the deadly incident through history and entertainment.