Assassination of John F. Kennedy in popular culture

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The assassination of John F. Kennedy has been referenced or recreated in popular culture numerous times.

Fictional detectives investigating the assassination[edit]

The novel Gideon's March by J. J. Marric, was published in 1962 by Hodder and Stoughton in London, the year before the Kennedy assassination. Inspector George Gideon learns of a plot to assassinate President Kennedy during a state visit to London. The assassination is to take place during a parade, by means of a bomb; the assassin, called O'Hara, is a Southern bigot who hates the President for his Roman Catholic faith and his civil-rights initiatives.

Television and film portrayals[edit]

The assassination and the subsequent conspiracy theories surrounding his death have been the topic for many films, including:[citation needed]

In 1975, a San Francisco-based group of artists called Ant Farm reenacted the Kennedy assassination in Dealey Plaza, and documented it in a video called The Eternal Frame. Two years later, the assassination was re-enacted again as part of the ABC television movie The Trial of Lee Harvey Oswald, looking at what might have happened had Jack Ruby not prevented Oswald from going to court. The 1983 NBC TV mini series Kennedy showed the assassination from Jackie Kennedy's perspective.

Andy Warhol's 1966 film Since recreated the assassination from multiple perspectives with participants from The Factory.[2] Since is heavily improvised and explores the media portrayal of the assassination.[2]

In comedies[edit]

The 2002 film Interview With the Assassin presents the assassination and resultant conspiracy theories in mock documentary fashion, with a terminally ill former Marine named Walter Ohlinger who claims that he was the second gunman behind the fence on the grassy knoll. In the same year, in Bubba Ho-tep, Ossie Davis played an assassination-obsessed character with a scale model of Dealey Plaza, and photos of the various players on his wall.

The short film My Dinner With Oswald, directed by Paul Duane and written by Donald Clarke, focuses on a re-creation of the assassination at a Dublin dinner party.

In the "Tikka to Ride" episode of Red Dwarf, the characters accidentally knock Lee Harvey Oswald out of the sixth-floor window of the Book Depository, creating an alternate timeline where Kennedy is impeached in 1965 for sharing a mistress with a mafia boss. J. Edgar Hoover is blackmailed into running for President by the mob and allows Russia to establish nuclear missiles in Cuba. Fearing the repercussions of this timeline – but unwilling to kill Kennedy themselves – the characters convince the alternate John F. Kennedy to go back in time and shoot his past self from the grassy knoll, arguing that this action will restore his historical position as a liberal icon.

In drama[edit]

The 1967 satirical play MacBird! by Barbara Garson superimposes the events of the assassination on the general plot structure of Shakespeare's Macbeth, with Kennedy becoming murdered king "Ken O'Dunc" and Lyndon Johnson the treacherous title character. The mockery of the play's name is derived from Johnson's propensity to refer to his wife Claudia as "Lady Bird" and his elder daughter as "Lynda Bird." Garson insisted that her play was a satire and not intended to suggest seriously that Johnson had had a hand in the assassination.[3]

In 1986, the series The Twilight Zone was revived, and in the episode titled Profile in Silver (Season One, Episode 20), Kennedy is portrayed by Andrew Robinson.[4]

In the 1992 drama film Love Field, Lurene Hallett, a Dallas hairdresser attempts to travel to Washington to attend John F. Kennedy's funeral. Though the movie encompasses other issues besides the assassination, it portrays one facet of the public reaction to the event.[5]

The JFK assassination was featured in the 1993 thriller film In the Line of Fire, starring Clint Eastwood. Set in present day, the film is about a psychopath who plans to assassinate the current President of the United States. Eastwood's character is Secret Service agent Frank Horrigan, the last remaining active agent who was on duty in November 1963, guarding Kennedy in Dallas. Horrigan is consumed with guilt over his failure to react quickly enough to the first shot in Dallas.

The film Watchmen, based on the graphic novel, portrays The Comedian, one of the members of the Watchman, as Kennedy's assassin; he's shown firing the fatal headshot from the grassy knoll.

The X-Files episode "Musings of a Cigarette Smoking Man" (1996) places a young cigarette smoking man as the assassin, shooting from a sewer drain located near the grassy knoll after setting up Oswald as his patsy.

The Doctor Who spin-off novel Who Killed Kennedy features the Doctor's enemy the Master attempting to kill Oswald before the assassination as Kennedy's survival would trigger a chain reaction in history that could wipe the Doctor from existence.

JFK’s assassination was featured in an episode of Mad Men, from season three in 2009 entitled “The Grownups." The episode focused on the characters reaction to JFK’s assassination and the subsequent events in their personal lives.

In the 2014 movie X-Men: Days of Future Past, during the sections of the film set in 1973, it is revealed that Magneto has been in prison since 1963 for his apparent role in the assassination, with evidence suggesting that he made the bullet curve to hit Kennedy (Although Magneto himself states that he was actually trying to save Kennedy's life, realizing that he was a mutant, and the police who arrested Magneto disrupted his concentration by causing the bullet to hit Kennedy despite his own efforts to stop it). Xavier held Kennedy's assassination against Magneto due to a similar incident back in X-Men: First Class which he made the bullet curve and hit Xavier's spine that cost him, his ability to walk.

In books[edit]

In Robert A. Heinlein's The Number of the Beast, which takes place across numerous alternate universes, the protagonist is asked to identify his timeline, which he does by naming the U.S. Presidents during his lifetime: "Woodrow Wilson—I was named for him—Harding, Coolidge, Hoover, Roosevelt, Truman, Eisenhower, Kennedy, Kennedy, Kennedy, Kennedy, Kennedy, Kennedy." Upon which another character replies: "Which brings us to 1984, right?" This implies that in Wilson's timeline, the assassination didn't happen.

J. G. Ballard wrote a 1967 short-short story entitled "The assassination of John Fitzgerald Kennedy considered as a downhill motor race."

The Illuminatus! Trilogy by Robert Shea and Robert Anton Wilson depicts the assassination scene, with several would-be assassins trying to kill Kennedy simultaneously.

Stephen King's novel 11/22/63, published in 2011, tells about a time traveler trying to stop the assassination.

Jeff Golden's 2008 novel Unafraid: A Novel of the Possible speculates on what would have happened had the assassination attempt been unsuccessful, with Kennedy serving two full terms as President. (ISBN 0595471927)

"What if?" themes[edit]

The assassination has been the subject of several time travel stories in science fiction film, television and literature.

Profile in Silver, a 1985 episode of the second Twilight Zone series, features a time traveler (Dr. Joseph Fitzgerald) from 2172 who is sent to record the assassination, but ends up intentionally preventing it. The interference sets up a chain of events, beginning with the assassination of Nikita Khrushchev and predicted to culminate in a nuclear war that will destroy the human race. Fitzgerald realizes his folly in disrupting history and tries to reverse his disturbance. The timeline is ultimately restored when Fitzgerald takes Kennedy's place in the motorcade, while the president is transported to safety in 2172.

"Lee Harvey Oswald," the 1992 season opener for the TV series Quantum Leap, finds Scott Bakula's time-hopping character Sam Beckett leaping into Oswald's identity. At the critical moment, US Navy RADM Albert "Al" Calavicci (Dean Stockwell) breaks through to Sam, prompting him to leap into Secret Service Agent Clint Hill. Hill attempts to reach the car before the shots, but he fails to prevent Kennedy's death. In the final exchange, Calavicci reveals that he and Beckett have saved one life--that of Jackie Kennedy, whom Oswald had killed along with the President in the original timeline. This episode was written by series creator Donald P. Bellisario, in response to the Oliver Stone film JFK. Bellisario did not believe in conspiracy, and throughout the episode he interweaved supporting evidence from the Warren Commission Report and Volumes, while having Calavicci speculate that people find it comfortable to believe in a conspiracy, because the implication suggests that if any one person can kill the President of the United States, nobody is safe.

In the 2002 film Timequest, a time-traveler prevents Kennedy's assassination and history takes an alternate course, including the birth of a second son, James Kennedy, who was conceived on the night of November 22, 1963, when Kennedy and his wife return from Dallas.

In Stephen Baxter's novel Voyage (1996), the Dallas assassination attempt only succeeds in crippling Kennedy, but kills Jacqueline Bouvier Kennedy, the First Lady, instead. Kennedy is re-elected in 1964, however, and commits the United States to landing a crewed vessel on Mars, which occurs in 1986. However, this novel does not deal primarily with the assassination attempt, except as a backdrop to the crewed Mars mission that it makes possible and an alternate-universe US space program that results from Kennedy's longevity in this world.

In a recent Space 1999 graphic novel, Aftershock and Awe (2013), the aforementioned SF television series from the seventies is posited to have occurred within an alternate history to our own. The key event that resulted in the divergence of this timeline to our own is that the assassination of Kennedy did not take place--Kennedy decides to visit Cape Canaveral instead, but also that his survival led to an accelerated space race and diminished Cold War tensions, although a limited nuclear exchange (World War III) did occur between the United States and North Korea in 1987[6]

In the 2010 book, TimeRiders, the training course for Liam O'Connor involves going back to November 22, 1963 with Foster to stop Lee Harvey Oswald from killing JFK. This results in the entire timeline changing so that a large space program is in operation with a mission to Mars as of September 10, 2001 in the new timeline. However, Foster points out that history corrects itself because Oswald was not alone when he shot the President and there were others, as part of one of the conspiracy theories.

In music[edit]

"Abraham, Martin, and John" is a song written by Dick Holler, recorded by Dion DiMucci in 1968, which refers to John Kennedy, Abraham Lincoln, and Martin Luther King.

The Broadway musical Assassins, written by Stephen Sondheim and John Weidman, climaxes as the ghosts of John Wilkes Booth, Leon Czolgosz, Charles Guiteau, and other "would be" assassins including John Hinckley, appear before a suicidally depressed Lee Harvey Oswald, and convince him that the only way for him to truly connect with his country is to share his pain and disillusionment with it.[7]

The Kennedy assassination has been the subject of two music videos, Ministry's "Reload" and Marilyn Manson's "Coma White" (with Manson as JFK), as well as the album cover for The Misfits' album Bullet (depicting an image of the president with his head blown apart).

The Rolling Stones song "Sympathy for the Devil" references both John and brother Robert's assassinations with the lyric, "I shouted out/Who killed the Kennedys?/When after all/It was you and me."

Phil Ochs's song "The Crucifixion" (1966) paints Kennedy as a Christ-like figure and draws parallels between their lives and deaths.

The Was (Not Was) song "11 MPH" is about the Kennedy assassination and the conspiracy theories surrounding it.

The Human League song "Seconds" from the 1981 Dare album deals directly with the Kennedy assassination and is directed at Lee Harvey Oswald. When playing live, the group regularly projected slides onto the background of the stage, and would play this song in front of images of Kennedy and the assassination in Dallas.

"Sleeping In" by The Postal Service has the lyrics "Where there was never any mystery of who shot John F. Kennedy/It was just a man with something to prove/Slightly bored and severely confused/He steadied his rifle with his target in the center/And became famous on that day in November."

"Tomorrow, Wendy" by Concrete Blonde has the lyrics "Underneath the chilly gray November sky/We can make believe that Kennedy is still alive and/We're shooting for the moon and smiling Jackie driving by..."

Saxon described the assassination from the viewpoint of Lee Harvey Oswald in their song "Dallas 1 PM", released on the album Strong Arm of the Law in 1980.

Mob Rules have recorded an 18-minute song about the assassination, called "The Oswald File (Ethnolution Part II - A Matter Of Unnecessary Doubt)". It was released on their 2009 album Radical Peace.

In 1993, Manchester band Inspiral Carpets had a Top 20 hit with the song "Saturn 5". The lyrics refer to the space race as well as the JFK assassination: "Laying down the lifeless corpse of / President thirty-five / The lady crying by his side is / The most beautiful woman alive."

In 1979, Adam & The Ants' debut album Dirk Wears White Sox featured the song "Catholic Day", which begins with a recording of "Hail To The Chief" and includes the lines: "Kennedy died in 63, poor John F / Kennedy's wife with his brain on her knee, poor Jackie" and contained references to Kennedy's alleged affair with Marilyn Monroe as well as an excerpt from the State of the Union address from January 14, 1963.

The song Life in a Northern Town by the Dream Academy contains the lines, "In winter 1963, I felt that the world would freeze, with John F Kennedy and the Beatles."


The card game Chrononauts, which simulates the cause-and-effects of changing history through time-travel, features Kennedy's assassination as a Linchpin card. When flipped (and Kennedy is injured rather than killed), it affects three later Ripple Points: the assassinations of Robert F. Kennedy and MLK (1968), the Apollo 11 moon landing (1969), and Richard Nixon's resignation (1974).

In the free MMORPG Kingdom of Loathing video game there is a location called "Degrassi Knoll"; the "Knoll Gnolls" who inhabit it are led by a "Mayor Zapruder".

In DC Comics' 100 Bullets, a theory is put forward that the shooter on the grassy knoll used the eponymous untraceable bullets to kill the president. While no names are mentioned, there is a clear implication that the shooter was baseball player Joe DiMaggio, taking revenge for the murder of DiMaggio's ex-wife, Marilyn Monroe, who had wanted to go public about her love affair with the President. In the story, it appears DiMaggio was not part of any conspiracy plans; it was sheer chance he chose that day and place to kill Kennedy.

In 2004, the video game JFK Reloaded was released, which puts the player in the Texas Book Depository, where he or she attempts to assassinate the president. The game was made in an effort to prove that it was entirely possible for Oswald to have done the shooting by himself.

Kennedy appears as a character in Call of Duty: Black Ops. In a cinematic cutscene he assigns the player character, Alex Mason, to undertake a sabotage mission at the Baikonur Cosmodrome. During this sequence Mason has a hallucination of pointing a pistol at Kennedy's head. Later in the game it's revealed that Mason was brainwashed by the KGB to assassinate Kennedy (it's also implied that Lee Harvey Oswald, who Mason mentions as being "compromised", was also a sleeper agent) and it's heavily implied that Mason did carry out his assignment and killed Kennedy, becoming the legendary second gunman on the grassy knoll.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Nicholas Cullather has discussed "The Movie Version" of John F. Kennedy's assassination in Nicholas Cullather, "History, Conspiracy, and the Kennedy Assassination," Retrieving the American Past, ed. Marc Horger (New York: Pearson Custom Publishing, 2005), 301-330.
  2. ^ a b J.J. Murphy (4 March 2012). The Black Hole of the Camera: The Films of Andy Warhol. University of California Press. pp. 141–. ISBN 978-0-520-27187-6. 
  3. ^ Horwitz, Jane (5 September 2006). "She Hopes 'MacBird' Flies in a New Era". The Washington Post. 
  4. ^
  5. ^ Maslin, Janet (11 December 1992). "Review/Film; Michelle Pfeiffer in a Tale of a 1960's Interracial Friendship". The New York Times. 
  6. ^ Andrew Gasska et al: Space 1999: Aftershock and Awe: Fort Lee, NJ: Archaia: 2013: ISBN 1936393883
  7. ^ The New York Times |url= missing title (help).