Christine Chubbuck

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Christine Chubbuck

Born August 24, 1944(1944-08-24)
Hudson, Ohio, United States
Died July 15, 1974 (aged 29)
Sarasota, Florida, United States
Occupation Television news reporter

Christine Chubbuck[1] (August 24, 1944July 15, 1974) was an American television news reporter who committed suicide during a live television broadcast.


[edit] Biography

Born in Hudson, Ohio, Christine Chubbuck attended the Laurel School for Girls in nearby Shaker Heights. During her years at Laurel, she started a small tongue-in-cheek group called the "Dateless Wonder Club". She attended Miami University of Ohio for one year, majoring in theatre arts, then attended Endicott College in Beverly, Massachusetts before earning a degree in broadcasting at Boston University in 1965. She worked for WVIZ in Cleveland, Ohio for a year in 1966-67,and attended a summer workshop in radio and television at New York University in 1967. Also in 1967, Chubbuck worked for a few months for public television stations in Pittsburgh and Canton, Ohio before moving on to spend four years as a hospital computer operator and two years with a cable television firm in Sarasota, Florida. Immediately before joining WXLT-TV (now WWSB), she worked in the traffic department of WTOG in St. Petersburg, Florida.[2][3]

Several years before her death, Chubbuck had moved into the family's summer cottage on Siesta Key, Florida. The Washington Post would later report that her painted bedroom and canopied bed looked like a young teenager's. After the divorce of her parents, Chubbuck's mother Peg and younger brother Greg came to live in the Florida home. When Greg left, her elder brother Timothy moved in. She had a close relationship with her family, describing her mother and Greg as her closest friends.

Chubbuck volunteered at Sarasota Memorial Hospital, giving puppet shows to mentally handicapped children, and occasionally incorporated the homemade puppets into her WXLT-TV talk show.[citation needed]

WXLT-TV owner Bob Nelson had initially hired Chubbuck as a reporter, but later gave her a community affairs talk show, "Suncoast Digest", which ran in the morning after the national feed of The PTL Club. 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.[4]

Chubbuck took her position seriously, inviting local Sarasota-Bradenton officials 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 Mike Keel, district forester, who had been scheduled to appear as a guest on Ms. Chubbuck's show the morning of her suicide, but had cancelled because of the birth of his son.[5]

[edit] Depression

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 medication in 1970 and frequently made reference to the event. She had also been seeing a psychiatrist up until several weeks before her death. Chubbuck's mother chose not to tell station management of her daughter's suicidal tendencies because she feared that she would be fired as a result.[6]

Her focus on her lack of relationships was generally considered to be the driving force for her depression; her mother later summarized that "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 that she had trouble connecting socially in the beach resort town. He believed that her constant self-deprecation for being "dateless" contributed to her ongoing depression.[7]

She had her right ovary removed in an operation the year before, and had been told that if she did not become pregnant within a year, it was unlikely she would ever be able to conceive.

Apparently, she 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 that he was already involved with sports reporter Andrea Kirby. Kirby had been the co-worker closest to Chubbuck, but 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 that she tended to be brusque and defensive whenever they made friendly gestures towards her. She was self-deprecating, criticizing herself constantly and rejecting any compliments she was given. She was fond of word play and puns.[8]

[edit] Lead-up

Three weeks before her suicide she had asked the station's news director if she could do a news piece on suicide. After getting her pitch approved she visited the local sheriff's department to discuss with an officer methods of suicide. In the interview, an officer told her that one of the most efficient ways was to use a .38 caliber revolver with wadcutter target bullets, and to shoot oneself in the back of the head rather than in the temple.[2]

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 told the Washington Post that he had chided her for the comment.[2]

On July 12, 1974, she had an argument with news director Mike Simmons after he cut one of her stories to cover a shoot-out instead. Robert Nelson, the station owner, had tried to convince staff to concentrate on "blood and guts".

[edit] Suicide

On the morning of July 15, 1974, Chubbuck confused co-workers by claiming that she had to read a newscast to open her program, Suncoast Digest, something she had never done before. That morning's talk show guest waited across the studio while she sat at the news anchor's desk.[2] Her news copy actually contained a speculative report of her impending suicide, wherein she conjectured she would be declared dead eleven hours later. She placed a .38 revolver in her bag of puppets and put it beneath her desk.

During the first eight minutes of her program, Chubbuck covered three national news stories and then a local restaurant shooting from the day before. The restaurant was the Beef and Bottle Restaurant at the Sarasota-Bradenton Airport on U.S. 41.[9] The filmreel of the restaurant shooting had jammed and would not run, so Chubbuck shrugged it off and said:

"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."

She drew the revolver and shot herself behind her right ear.[2] Chubbuck fell forward violently and the technical director faded slowly to black.[10] Camerawoman Jean Reed later recalled that she thought it had been an elaborate prank, and that it was not until she saw Chubbuck's twitching body that she realized it was genuine.

The station quickly ran a standard public service announcement and then a movie.[11] Some television viewers called the police, while others called the station to inquire if the shooting was faked.[12]

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[11]

After the shooting, news director Mike Simmons found that 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 whatever staff member took over the broadcast after the incident. He said that her script called for her condition to be listed as "critical."[11]

Chubbuck was taken to Sarasota Memorial Hospital, as her script had predicted; there, she was pronounced dead 14 hours later. Upon receiving the news, a WXLT staffer released the information to other stations using Chubbuck's script.[12]

For a time, WXLT aired reruns of the TV series Gentle Ben in place of Chubbuck's program.[3]

[edit] Aftermath

Chubbuck 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,[13] and one attendee in a bikini.[14] Three songs by Christine's favorite singer, Roberta Flack, were played.[15]

Presbyterian minister Thomas Beason delivered the eulogy, stating that "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."[16]

All three national commercial television networks reported her death.

Christine's family brought an injunction against WXLT to prevent the release of the 2" quad videotape of her suicide. The Sarasota Sheriff's Department file lists a copy of the tape seized as evidence and later released it to Christine's family along with her possessions. Since home video recording was extremely rare in 1974, that tape was (or is) likely the only record of the incident; its fate is unknown.

For the first time since 1974, Greg Chubbuck spoke publicly about his sister in a 2007 E! Entertainment Television special.[17]

[edit] See also

  • Network (A film made two years later about a news anchor who plans to commit suicide during his final broadcasts)
  • Budd Dwyer (killed himself during a taped televised press conference)
  • List of unusual deaths

[edit] References

  1. ^ (mistakenly reported as "Hubbock" by some sources)
  2. ^ a b c d e Dietz, Jon. "On-Air Shot Kills TV Personality", Sarasota Herald-Tribune, July 16, 1974.
  3. ^ a b "Chris Chubbuck Memorial Services Thursday", Sarasota Herald-Tribune, July 14, 1974.
  4. ^ Wesson, Helen. "WXLT-TV Adds A.M. Talk Show", Siesta Key Pelican, August 30, 1973.
  5. ^ "Chris Chubbuck is Posthumous Award Candidate", 'Sarasota Herald-Tribune', July 20, 1974.
  6. ^ Kamstock, Dr. Edwin L., Sarasota County Associate Medical Examiner, Autopsy report #A-74-203, Sarasota County Sheriff's Dept. file, case #74-15120, July 15, 1974.
  7. ^ interview with Greg Chubbuck for "Boulevard of Broken Dreams: Christine Chubbuck", 'E! Entertainment Television', February 26, 2007.
  8. ^ "Chubbuck Rites On Beach", The Hudson Hub, July 28, 1974.
  9. ^ Sarasota County Sheriff's Dept. file, case #74-15120, July 15, 1974.
  10. ^ Rubin, Valerie. "Tragic TV drama unfolds before unbelieving eyes," Sarasota Herald-Tribune, July 16, 1974.
  11. ^ a b c Wire reports. "Newswoman shoots self on live TV," The Dallas Morning News, July 16, 1974, page 1A.
  12. ^ a b "Florida TV talk show host dies after shooting herself during broadcast", Associated Press, July 16, 1974.
  13. ^ "Special Memorial Service Held On Public Beach For TV Personality Christine Chubbuck", Sarasota Herald-Tribune, July 19, 1974.
  14. ^ "Suicide TV Host Gets Beach Funeral", "Associated Press", July 19, 1974.
  15. ^ "Timothy Chubbuck Eulogizes Sister in Beach Service", Sarasota Herald-Tribune, July 18, 1974.
  16. ^ "Chris Chubbuck is Eulogized", Sarasota Herald-Tribune, July 18, 1974.
  17. ^ "Boulevard of Broken Dreams: Christine Chubbuck", 'E! Entertainment Television', which aired February 24-25, March 1, March 3, March 6, 2007 in the evening.

[edit] Further reading

[edit] External links

NAME Chubbuck, Christine
SHORT DESCRIPTION Television news reporter
DATE OF BIRTH 1944-8-24
PLACE OF BIRTH Hudson, Ohio, United States
DATE OF DEATH 1974-7-15
PLACE OF DEATH Sarasota, Florida, United States
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