In 1974, American TV reporter Christine Chubbuck herself became breaking news. She was the first and the only person ever to commit suicide on live TV. Belonging to Florida, Christine was said to be in very good spirits, before she ended her life. Her final words were, “…you are going to see another first— attempted suicide,” as she shot herself the very next moment. Her very public suicide seemed like a prank to the then-camera operator, Jean Reed. It was only when her body lay lifeless on the floor that her co-workers realized what she had done and rushed her to hospital. She was announced dead after 14 hours of medical treatment. Ms. Chubbuck was only 29 years old when she pulled the trigger on herself. She had no known health issue, seemed to be doing great in her career, and looked happy with her life. Her death was so tragic, that a movie, ‘Christine,’ based on her life, was released at the ‘Sundance Film Festival’ in 2016. With time, her memory has faded from the minds of people, but there has been no answer to the question, “Why did she end her life?”
Childhood & Early Life
Christine Chubbuck was born in Hudson, Ohio, US, on August 24, 1944, to Margaretha D. “Peg” and George Fairbanks Chubbuck. She was very close to her parents and family.
She also had an elder brother, Timothy, and a younger brother, Greg. After her parents’ divorce, she mostly stayed with her mother and Greg.
She attended the ‘Laurel School for Girls’ in a suburb of Cleveland. Later, she attended the ‘Miami University’ in Oxford, Ohio, and earned her major in theater arts.
She then attended the ‘Endicott College’ in Massachusetts. She also attended the well-known ‘Boston University’ to earn her degree in broadcasting.
Her formal education ended in 1965. She soon decided to become a TV reporter and anchor.
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She started her career in 1966 with ‘WVIZ’ in Cleveland, where she worked for a year. She also attended a workshop in radio and television at the ‘New York University’ in 1967.
In 1967, she worked at ‘WQED-TV’ in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, as an assistant producer for two local shows. Around the same time, she also worked in Canton, Ohio, on another project.
In 1968, she worked as a hospital computer operator and at a TV firm in Florida. Occasionally, she also volunteered at the ‘Sarasota Memorial Hospital, where she organized puppet shows for children with learning disabilities.
She was working in the traffic department of ‘WTOG’ in St. Petersburg, Florida, when she got her break in the ‘ABC’ affiliate ‘WXLT-TV’ (presently ‘WWSB’).
After six years of constant struggle, Chubbuck was finally offered a job that matched her potential. She was happy working as a reporter at ‘WXLY-TV.’ Initially, she was hired as a reporter by Bob Nelson, the owner of the channel, but her dedication toward her job led her to host a community affairs talk show, ‘Suncoast Digest.’
The show ran at 9 in the morning and featured local people involved in local activities. Issues like drugs usage, alcohol addiction, and other taboo topics were discussed in the show.
Chubbuck was truly passionate about her work, as she often invited local ‘Sarasota–Bradenton’ officials to discuss matters that involved the all-round development of the community. Chubbuck was on her way to live up to her full potential when the fateful day of her suicide arrived.
After her death, the ‘Sarasota Herald-Tribune’ reported that Christine was nominated for a ‘Forestry and Conservation Recognition Award,’ to be given by the ‘Florida Division of Forestry.’
On the morning of July 15, 1974, ‘Suncoast Digest’ was about to go live on TV at the scheduled time. Christine arrived at ‘Channel 40,’ the local Florida TV station, with the morning’s script in her hands.
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The only thing that was different about that morning was Christine’s decision to read a newscast when opening the show. That had never happened before, but nobody questioned the decision of a perfectly able and experienced Chubbuck.
She sat on the anchor’s chair and read out three national news stories and a local news story about a shooting at a local restaurant, ‘Beef & Bottle,’ before looking into the camera to utter her final words. Her exact words were, “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.”
After those words, she pulled out a .38 caliber ‘Smith & Wesson’ revolver from her bag and shot herself behind her right ear, on live TV. Her suicide was witnessed by thousand of viewers in America.
The script that she held in her hand had a complete account of her death, in third person. She was immediately taken to the ‘Sarasota Memorial Hospital,’ where she was pronounced dead after 14 hours of efforts of reviving her.
Struggle with Depression
Chubbuck had first attempted to end her life in 1970, when she tried to overdose on drugs.
Chubbuck had often discussed her struggle with depression and her suicidal tendencies with her family. However, she did not share her ultimate decision to end her life.
Her family spoke about her mental condition, after her suicide. They said that she was unable to connect with people and had remained dateless for years.
Her brother revealed later that she had only dated two men her life. One of those men died in a car accident. She was also consulting a psychiatrist until a few weeks before her suicide.
Being a virgin at 29 and losing people due to her struggle with depression affected her tremendously. This may have contributed to her decision to commit suicide.
In 1977, Mike Simmons, the station director of ‘Suncoast Digest’ claimed that the crux of the matter was that Simmons was a 29-year-old woman who wanted to be married but was not. Her list of heartbreaks made her self-deprecating, self-critical, and sad.
In 1976, Paddy Chayefsky wrote a script for the film ‘Network’ that carried quite a lot of resemblance with Christine Chubbuck’s suicide. However, it is said that Paddy had written that part of the script long before Chubbuck ended her life.
In 2007, Greg Chubbuck told the media that he had gained possession of the videotape of his sister’s tragic suicide and that he had no intention of watching it or of sharing it with the world. The only time her suicide was watched was when Christine actually shot herself on live TV.
In 2003, a short story by Christopher Sorrentino, ‘Condition,’ was published in the literary magazine, ‘Conjunctions.’ This was said to have been based on Chubbuck’s death.
In 2016, two movies, namely, ‘Christine,’ directed by Antonio Campos, and ‘Kate Plays Christine,’ a documentary, were released at the ‘Sundance Film Festival.’ Rebecca Hall played Chubbuck’s role in the former while Kate Lyn Sheil played Christine’s character in the latter.