First news anchor who committed suicide live, on-air: Christine Chubbock (1944-1974).
"At 9:30 on the morning of July 15, 1974, Christine Chubbuck began her regular morning news program, Suncoast Digest on WXLT (Now WWSB) in Sarasota. Earlier that morning, Christine had taken her crew by surprise by announcing that she was going to begin her program with a news recap. Typically, the first half-hour of Suncoast Digest was informal, almost unscripted, focusing on guests and light features. This morning was different.
For about the first eight or so minutes of her news wrap-up, Christine was her usual self: pretty, professional, measured, but friendly. She summarized three national stories from the day before and then read a piece about a shooting at a local restaurant the previous evening. Chris's crew attempted to run footage from the story about the shooting, but a technical malfunction prevented the footage from airing. Jean Reed, the camerawoman who was working that morning thirty-two years ago, later recalled becoming nervous. Christine had a reputation for not responding well when technical problems caused her to come off badly on the air. News director Mike Simmons considered Chris "very emotional."
Jean queued her anchorwoman: "Chris, the film's not going to roll." "Not going to roll," Chris repeated with apparent wry amusement. Jean later remembered having time to feel relief that Chris didn't seem angry. The crew cut back, live, to the newscaster. The things that Chris Chubbuck said and did next weren't soon forgotten by those who witnessed them, whether at the WXLT studio or on live regional television.
Queued, on the air once again, Chris said the following:
"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."
With that, Chris Chubbuck raised her right hand from below the desktop. In it, she held a .38 caliber handgun. Placing the gun to the bottom of the back of her skull, she pulled the trigger. A quick-thinking video-director immediately cut the live visual feed, but WXLT's audience heard the gunshot that morning. It was only when Chris's twitching, contorted body fell to the floor that everyone in the studio realized that what they'd seen hadn't been a tasteless prank. Blood-soaked on her anchor's desk was a story she'd previously written long-hand: the story of her own suicide attempt with prophetic details about her transport to Sarasota Memorial Hospital and her "critical condition." Within 14 hours of her arrival at the hospital, the 29 year old local celebrity was pronounced dead.
Chris Chubbuck had committed suicide on live television.
By the time the networks picked up the story that evening, Chris's last words resonated in almost every household in the country: " the latest in blood and guts and in living color..."
Christine Chubbuck's life was no different than most; quirky in some ways, nondescript in others. The child of a wealthy family from Hudson, Ohio, Chris had moved to Sarasota to pursue her career in television and had taken up residence in the family's vacation home in that area. By July of 1974, the 29 year old was sharing the home with her recently-divorced mother and her brother, a sickly interior decorator.
Chris had a difficult time reaching out to people and found it almost impossible to form relationships with people outside of her immediate family. It's said that she spoke self-depreciatingly of the fact that she'd reached the age of 29 a virgin, and that she considered her mother and her brother to be her best friends. It's also said that she dryly mentioned the desire to kill herself to even casual acquaintances, but that nobody took her seriously because she exuded such command. Christine Chubbuck was known as a "tough cookie."
Bob Keehn, WXLT's regular evening news anchor, remembered Chris as "someone with very deep feelings... what seemed to concern her was her involvement with the human condition. She would express a negative reaction to people and the way they treated each other." Sports reporter Andrea Kirby said that Chris "came on so heavy, so intense." Jean Reed said "she had a great sense of the absurd, almost a macabre sense of humor."
If Chris's co-workers didn't always know what to think of her, her family sometimes found themselves dumbstruck. Chris's mother, Peg Chubbuck remembered her daughter this way: "There was a haunting melody in Chris. She gave so many presents, spent so much money, not to buy their friendship... but because she wanted to. It's almost like her life was a little out of gear with other people. She was the only person I ever knew who would walk into a room and every head would turn... yet nobody ever came over and asked for her phone number. It's been like that since she was 13."
Lacking even the most rudimentary social life, Chris's existence revolved around the home she shared with her mother, brother and pet poodle… and her job. In fact, Chris's work in television became her focus. According to her mother, "She had a job that she loved. She said constantly that if it ended tomorrow she would still be glad she had had it. But she had nothing else in her social life."
Andrea Kirby recalled after Chris's death that she'd once told her that she "'would like to have, just for one week, someone I really loved, who really loved me.'" Nonetheless, Chris's mother speculated that Chris didn't have more than twenty-five dates in the last ten years of her life. Shortly before her death at the age of 29, Chris had to have an ovary removed for medical reasons. Her doctors told her that her chances of having a child would be exhausted within a couple of years.
Lacking the prospects of a family, Chris Chubbuck threw herself into her job; into television. Television became her parent, her lover, her one trusted friend. Television became her savior… and it ate her alive.
About a week prior to July 15, 1974, Christine contacted local police departments, ostensibly to gather information for a story on suicide prevention. One question she asked was which methods of suicide were the most successful. An officer told Christine that the most foolproof method of suicide involved using a "wadcutter" slug (which explodes upon entry), fired from a .38 caliber revolver, to the lower back of the head.
When she died by her own hand on that July morning in 1974, Chris related a warning to each of her viewers. That might be fitting. Who better to show us what television really is than someone who's seen it from the inside out? "The latest in blood and guts and in living color."
Lasrever: The original tape was either lost, destroyed, put in a sherriff's vault, or given to the family of the deceased -- no matter how hard I searched I could not obtain the original footage.
I added some artistry at the beginning and end of the video, though, and I feel an affinity with her.
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