Christine Chubbuck[a] (August 24, 1944 – July 15, 1974) was an American television news reporter who worked for WTOG and WXLT-TV in Sarasota, Florida. She was the first person to commit suicide on a live television broadcast.
Chubbuck in 1974
|Died||July 15, 1974 (aged 29)|
|Cause of death||Self-inflicted gunshot wound|
|Occupation||Television news reporter|
|Television||WVIZ, WTOG, WXLT-TV|
Christine Chubbuck was born in Hudson, Ohio, the daughter of Margaretha D. "Peg" (1921–1994) and George Fairbanks Chubbuck (1918–2015). She had two brothers, Greg and Tim. Chubbuck attended the Laurel School for Girls in Shaker Heights, a suburb of Cleveland. During her years at Laurel, she jokingly formed a "Dateless Wonder Club" with other "rejected" girls who didn't have dates on Saturday night. Chubbuck attended Miami University in Oxford, Ohio for one year, majoring in theater arts, then attended Endicott College in Beverly, Massachusetts, before earning a degree in broadcasting at Boston University in 1965.
Chubbuck worked for WVIZ in Cleveland between 1966 and 1967, and attended a summer workshop in radio and television at New York University in 1967. That same year, she worked in Canton, Ohio and, for three months, at WQED-TV in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, as an assistant producer for two local shows, Women's World and Keys to the City. In 1968, Chubbuck left WQED to spend four years as a hospital computer operator and two years with a cable television firm in Sarasota, Florida. Immediately before joining ABC affiliate WXLT-TV (now WWSB), she worked in the traffic department of WTOG in St. Petersburg.
Several years before her death, Chubbuck had moved into her family's summer cottage on Siesta Key, Florida. The Washington Post later reported that she had painted the bedroom and canopied bed to look like that of a young teenager. After Chubbuck's parents were divorced, her mother Peg and younger brother Greg came to live in the Florida home. When Greg left, her elder brother Tim moved in. Chubbuck had a close relationship with her family, describing her mother and Greg as her closest friends.
WXLT-TV's owner, Bob Nelson, had initially hired Chubbuck as a reporter but later gave her a community affairs talk show, Suncoast Digest, which ran at 9:00 am. Production Manager Gordon J. Acker described Chubbuck's new show to a local paper: "It will feature local people and local activities. It will give attention, for instance, to the storefront organizations that are concerned with alcoholics, drug users, and other 'lost' segments of the community." Page five of the article showed a smiling Chubbuck posed with an ABC camera.
Chubbuck took her position seriously, inviting local officials from Sarasota and Bradenton to discuss matters of interest to the growing beach community. After her death, the Sarasota Herald-Tribune reported that Chubbuck had been nominated for a Forestry and Conservation Recognition Award by the Bradenton district office of the Florida Division of Forestry. She was considered a "strong contender" by district forester Mike Keel, who had been originally scheduled to appear as a guest on Chubbuck's show the morning of her suicide; he had cancelled because of the birth of his son. On occasion, she incorporated homemade puppets she used to entertain children with intellectual disabilities during her volunteer work at Sarasota Memorial Hospital.
Chubbuck spoke to her family at length about her struggles with depression and suicidal tendencies, though she did not inform them of her specific intent beforehand. She had attempted to overdose on drugs in 1970 and frequently made reference to that event. Chubbuck had also been seeing a psychiatrist up until several weeks before her death. Her mother chose not to tell WXLT management of her daughter's suicidal tendencies, because she feared Chubbuck would be fired as a result.
Chubbuck's focus on her lack of intimate relationships is generally considered to be the driving force for her depression; her mother later summarized "her suicide was simply because her personal life was not enough." She lamented to co-workers that her 30th birthday was approaching and she was still a virgin who had never been on more than two dates with a man. Her brother Greg later recalled several times she had gone out with a man before moving to Sarasota, but agreed she had trouble connecting socially in the beach resort town. He believed her constant self-deprecation for being "dateless" contributed to her ongoing depression.
According to a 1974 Sally Quinn article in The Washington Post, Chubbuck had an unrequited crush on co-worker George Peter Ryan. She baked him a cake for his birthday and sought his romantic attention, only to find out he was already involved with sports reporter Andrea Kirby. Kirby had been the co-worker closest to Chubbuck, but she was offered a new job in Baltimore, which had further depressed Chubbuck. Chubbuck's lack of a romantic partner was considered a tangent of her desperate need to have close friends, though co-workers said she tended to be brusque and defensive whenever they made friendly gestures toward her. She was self-deprecating, criticizing herself constantly and rejecting any compliments others paid her.
Chubbuck had her right ovary removed in an operation the year before her suicide, and had been told that if she did not become pregnant within two to three years, it was unlikely she would ever be able to conceive.
A week before her suicide, she told Rob Smith, the night news editor, that she had bought a gun and joked about killing herself on air. Smith later stated that he did not respond to what he thought was Chubbuck's "sick" attempt at humor, and changed the subject.
On the morning of July 15, 1974, Chubbuck confused co-workers by claiming she had to read a newscast to open Suncoast Digest, something she had never done before. That morning's guest waited across the studio while Chubbuck sat at the news anchor's desk. During the first eight minutes of her program, Chubbuck covered three national news stories and then a shooting from the previous day at local restaurant Beef & Bottle, at the Sarasota-Bradenton Airport. The film reel of the restaurant shooting had jammed and would not run, so Chubbuck shrugged it off and said on-camera, "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—(an) attempted suicide." She drew the .38-caliber Smith & Wesson Model 36 revolver and shot herself behind her right ear. Chubbuck fell forward violently and the technical director faded the broadcast rapidly to black.
The station quickly ran a standard public service announcement and then a movie. Some television viewers called the police, while others called the station to inquire if the shooting was staged.
After the shooting, news director Mike Simmons found the papers from which Chubbuck had been reading her newscast contained a complete script of her program, including not only the shooting, but also a third-person account to be read by whichever staff member took over the broadcast after the incident. He said her script called for her condition to be listed as "critical."
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. She was rushed to Sarasota Memorial Hospital, where she remains in critical condition.'— Mike Simmons, TV-40 news director, quoted in The Dallas Morning News
Chubbuck was taken to Sarasota Memorial Hospital, where she was pronounced dead fourteen hours later. Upon receiving the news, a WXLT staffer released the information to other stations using Chubbuck's script. For a time, WXLT aired reruns of the TV series Gentle Ben in place of Suncoast Digest.
Chubbuck's body was cremated. The funeral ceremony was held on the beach, where her ashes were scattered into the Gulf of Mexico. Approximately 120 people attended, including local officials who had appeared on her show. Three songs by Chubbuck's favorite singer, Roberta Flack, were played. Presbyterian minister Thomas Beason delivered the eulogy, stating, "We suffer at our sense of loss, we are frightened by her rage, we are guilty in the face of her rejection, we are hurt by her choice of isolation and we are confused by her message."
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.
The footage of Chubbuck's death has not been seen since its initial airing, and numerous theories on what happened to the footage have been advanced. One was that the station owner Robert Nelson kept it, and it was in the possession of his widow, Mollie. It was confirmed in June 2016 that the footage of Chubbuck's death exists and had indeed been in Robert Nelson's possession, but was handed over to a "very large law firm" for safekeeping by Mollie Nelson. She has no plans on making it publicly available.
In popular culture
In 2016, two films about Chubbuck played at the 2016 Sundance Film Festival. The first, Christine, was directed by Antonio Campos, and starred Rebecca Hall as Christine Chubbuck and Michael C. Hall as George Peter Ryan. The second was the documentary Kate Plays Christine which depicts actress Kate Lyn Sheil's preparation for the part of Chubbuck.
- Network, a 1976 fictional film where a newscaster is murdered on air.
- R. Budd Dwyer, a Pennsylvania politician who fatally shot himself in front of TV news cameras in 1987.
- Daniel V. Jones, an American man who died by suicide on live television in front of news helicopters in 1998.
- Alison Parker and Adam Ward, a reporter and photojournalist who were murdered during a live television broadcast on August 26, 2015, at Bridgewater Plaza, Moneta, Virginia.
- Mistakenly reported as "Hubbock" by some sources.
- Pelisek, Christine (February 10, 2016). "Journalist Christine Chubbuck Threw Herself a Going Away Party Before Killing Herself on Live TV, Colleague Says". People.com. Retrieved November 17, 2018.
- Pelisek, Christine (February 10, 2016). "Colleagues Recall Shock and Horror After Journalist Committed Suicide on Live TV: 'I Didn't See the Gun'". People.com. Retrieved November 17, 2018.
- Pelisek, Christine (February 11, 2016). "Brother of TV Journalist Christine Chubbuck Who Shot Herself on Air: 'She Never Felt Like She Was Good Enough'". People.com. Retrieved November 17, 2018.
- Pelisek, Christine (February 11, 2016). "Brother of Christine Chubbuck, the 70s Journalist Who Committed Suicide on Live TV, Says No One Will Ever Find the Tape of that Horrific Day". People.com. Retrieved November 17, 2018.
- "Margaretha D Chubbuck public record". Retrieved November 17, 2018.
- Hart, Anna (January 24, 2017). "The newsreader who shot herself live on air: the tragic true story of Christine Chubbuck". The Telegraph. Retrieved December 20, 2019.
- "Tragic death of former Hudson resident on live TV is inspiration for two films". January 31, 2016. Retrieved June 26, 2020.
- "TV Hostess Dies in 'Suicide Show'". The Pittsburgh Press. July 16, 1974. p. 8. Retrieved November 17, 2018.
- Dietz, Jon (July 16, 1974). "On-Air Shot Kills TV Personality". Sarasota Herald-Tribune. Retrieved November 17, 2018.
- "Chris Chubbuck Memorial Services Thursday". Sarasota Herald-Tribune. July 17, 1974. Retrieved November 17, 2018.
- Quinn, Sally (August 4, 1974). "Christine Chubbuck: 29, Good-Looking, Educated. A Television Personality. Dead. Live and in Color" (PDF). Archived from the original (PDF) on December 26, 2004. Retrieved November 17, 2018.
- Wesson, Helen (August 30, 1973). "WXLT-TV Adds A.M. Talk Show". Siesta Key Pelican.
- "Chris Chubbuck is Posthumous Award Candidate". Sarasota Herald-Tribune. July 20, 1974. Retrieved November 17, 2018.
- Kamstock, Dr. Edwin L. (July 15, 1974). "Autopsy report #A-74-203". Sarasota County Sheriff's Dept. File, Case #74-15120. Retrieved November 17, 2018.
- "Interview with Greg Chubbuck for "Boulevard of Broken Dreams: Christine Chubbuck"". E! Entertainment Television. February 26, 2007.
- "Chubbuck Rites On Beach". The Hudson Hub. July 28, 1974.
- "Sarasota County Sheriff's Dept. file, case #74-15120". July 15, 1974. Retrieved November 17, 2018. Cite journal requires
- Rubin, Valerie (July 16, 1974). "Tragic TV drama unfolds before unbelieving eyes". Sarasota Herald-Tribune. Retrieved November 17, 2018.
- "Newswoman shoots self on live TV". The Dallas Morning News. July 16, 1974. p. 1A.
- "Florida TV talk show host dies after shooting herself during broadcast". Associated Press. July 16, 1974.
- "Special Memorial Service Held On Public Beach For TV Personality Christine Chubbuck". Sarasota Herald-Tribune. July 19, 1974. Retrieved November 17, 2018.
- "Timothy Chubbuck Eulogizes Sister in Beach Service". Sarasota Herald-Tribune. July 18, 1974.
- "Chris Chubbuck is Eulogized". Sarasota Herald-Tribune. July 18, 1974.
- "'Suncoast Digest' Survives". Ocala Star-Banner. August 1, 1977. Retrieved November 17, 2018.
- Riesman, Abraham (June 8, 2016). "The Existence of Christine Chubbuck's Suicide Video Has Been Confirmed". Vulture.com. Retrieved November 17, 2018.
- "Christine Chubbuck". Boulevard of Broken Dreams. February 24, 2007. E! Television.
- "Conjunctions:40". Conjunctions. Archived from the original on October 5, 2016. Retrieved November 17, 2018.
- Christine on IMDb
- Buckley, Cara (October 9, 2016). "When Rebecca Hall First Got This Script, She Hid It". New York Times. Retrieved November 17, 2018.
- Kate Plays Christine (2016) on IMDb
- Guerrasio, Jason (January 25, 2016). "A movie about one of the most horrific moments in TV history has become the talk of the Sundance Film Festival". Yahoo! Finance. Retrieved November 17, 2018.
- Holden, Stephen (August 24, 2016). "Review: 'Kate Plays Christine,' a Blurring of Fact and Fiction in a Suicide Story". New York Times. Retrieved November 17, 2018.
- Itzkoff, Dave (August 19, 2016). "News Anchors Mad as Hell in 'Network' and Suicidal in 'Kate Plays Christine'". New York Times. Retrieved November 17, 2018.
- Blauvelt, Christian (February 1, 2016). "Christine Chubbuck: The broadcaster who shot herself on air". BBC. Retrieved April 14, 2019.
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