“In keeping with Channel 40’s policy of bringing you the latest in … blood and guts … and in living color. We bring you another first …” Florida anchorwoman Christine Chubbuck said.
Chubbuck then looked down at her script, and then back up and directly down the barrel of the camera. She then finished her statement, the last words anyone would ever hear her say: “an attempted suicide.”
It was that moment when Chubbuck picked up a gun and shot herself with a .38 revolver in the head – live and on the air. It was a shocking, disturbing, and unforgettable moment for the news staff and for viewers who witnessed the terrible sight.
The shock of the 1974 incident, live from Sarasota, Florida, has not diminished over the years – in fact, two movies were recently made about it, which both coincidentally premiered in 2016 at the 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.
Described as alone, depressed, and a “spinster,” Chubbuck was only 29 years old. 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.
Chubbuck reportedly left a suicide note before she took her life. She even mentioned she purchased a gun to the 22-year-old night side news editor in the weeks leading up to the suicide. It seemed as if Chubbuck had been plotting and planning her last moments. Only weeks before Chubbuck took her life, 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.
At the time of her death, Chubbuck was approaching her thirtieth birthday. 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.
Although some people had semi-negative experiences with Chubbuck, Jean Reed spoke to The Post and remembers the good and the bad:
“She had a great sense of the absurd, almost a macabre sense of humor…. She did not like the unexpected. She insisted on being well prepared at all times. She had begun toward the end, however, to make nasty remarks about her guests. She said to me, ‘I’m getting sick of these people. They’re all using me. The only thing they want out of me is to be on my show ,and I resent it.’ The funny thing about that was, she was using them, too, because they were good guests. But she would never think of things that way.”
News director Simmons, said at the time, of Chubbuck’s decision to take the way out that she did:
“I think it was the last cry for recognition to all the people she had helped, reached out to, and who hadn’t reached back out. She was saying, ‘I was here, not just Sarasota, but I was here, world.’ If you do it on TV, nobody’s ever done it before. And Chris, being the professional newswoman that she was, always wanted us to have the story first. We weren’t even on the map before this happened. Now they know we’re here. Perhaps it was her way of trying to help us along.”
But Bob Keehn told The Post that he doesn’t think of it that way at all. “I think she was saying, ‘Is this what you want folks, this blood and guts? Well, here it is. See how stupid and horrible it is. This is what you really want?”
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.
Main photo: [Investigation Discovery/screenshot]