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:

In comedies[edit]

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 fifth-floor window of the Book Depository when they travel back in time to 1963 by mistake, 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- and with their attempt to redirect Oswald up to the sixth floor before their past selves arrive failing because his trajectory is now too steep for him to do more than wound Kennedy- 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 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.[4]

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 Watchmen, 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 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.

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, requiring journalist James Stevens to go back in time and kill Kennedy himself (acting as both gunmen at different points in his life, as Oswald's rifle had a misaligned targeting scope).

JFK’s assassination was featured in an episode of Mad Men, from season three in 2009 titled “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. Magneto maintains his innocence by claiming he was trying to save Kennedy's life because he claims that Kennedy was one of them (mutants) but his efforts were interrupted by the police who arrested him.

In books[edit]

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

Don DeLillo's 1988 novel Libra is a fictional imagining of the assassination, with Lee Harvey Oswald as the protagonist.

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

In the Ultimate Marvel universe, Kennedy's true assassin is the Ultimate version of the Red Skull; here the son of Captain America, conceived shortly before his 'death', the Skull was raised and trained on a military base for eighteen years until he escaped in 1963, with Nick Fury musing that the assassination of Kennedy was the Skull's way of showing that he would no longer take orders from America.

James Ellroy's Underworld USA Trilogy, particularly the novel American Tabloid, constructs a fictional narrative involving several characters who have part in the Kennedy assassination.

"What if?" themes[edit]

A pair of alternate history films with the same name have Lee Harvey Oswald not being killed by Jack Ruby and standing trial for the murder of President Kennedy: the 1964 film The Trial of Lee Harvey Oswald, and the 1977 ABC television movie The Trial of Lee Harvey Oswald. Neither film ends with a verdict: The earlier one ends after jury instructions, imploring viewers to debate amongst themselves, while the later film has Oswald being shot and killed while being escorted from his jail cell to the courtroom just after the jury came back from deliberating.

The assassination has been the subject of many time travel and alternate history stories in science fiction film, television and literature, many with Kennedy surviving.

In the 1980 novel Timescape by Gregory Benford, Kennedy's assassination was averted by a high school student who interrupted Lee Harvey Oswald at the Texas School Book Depository, attacking the shooter and sending the would-be fatal third shot awry. Although seriously injured, Kennedy survived. This interference created an alternate timeline in which William Scranton was the US President in 1974, having defeated Robert F. Kennedy due to a telephone tapping scandal.

"Profile in Silver", a segment of a 1985 episode of The Twilight Zone, features a time traveler (Dr. Joseph Fitzgerald) from 2172 who is sent to record the assassination, but who intentionally prevents it. The interference sets up a chain of events beginning with the assassination of Nikita Khrushchev that may 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 Sam Beckett leaping into Oswald's body. At a critical moment, Al Calavicci prompts him to leap into Secret Service Agent Clint Hill. Hill attempts to reach the President's car before the shots are fired, but he fails to prevent Kennedy's death. Calavicci later 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 (who served with Oswald in the Marine Corps) doesn't believe in a conspiracy; he used supporting evidence from the Warren Commission Report, and had Calavicci speculate that people find it comfortable to believe in a conspiracy, reasoning that if any one person can kill the President of the United States then 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 Jacqueline Bouvier Kennedy is killed. Kennedy is re-elected in 1964 and commits the United States to landing a manned vessel on Mars, which occurs in 1986. The novel uses the assassination attempt only as the impetus for an alternate history US space program.

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)

In the Space: 1999 graphic novel, Aftershock and Awe (2013), the events of the television series are set within an alternate history. That history diverged from our own when Kennedy escaped assassination by visiting Cape Canaveral instead of Dallas. His survival led to an accelerated space race and diminished Cold War tensions, although a limited nuclear exchange occurred between the United States and North Korea in 1987.[5]

In the 2010 book, TimeRiders, a training mission involves going back to November 22, 1963, to stop Lee Harvey Oswald from killing JFK. This results in a new timeline in which a large space program sends a mission to Mars on September 10, 2001. The trainees learn that history corrects itself, and Oswald, who was originally a lone gunman, was no longer alone when he shot the President but was part of a conspiracy, thanks to their interference with the timestream.

Stephen King's novel 11/22/63, published in 2011, tells about a time traveler trying to stop the assassination. It is currently being made into a TV series.

In music[edit]

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.[6]

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."

The Human League song "Seconds" from the 1981 Dare album deals directly with the Kennedy assassination and is directed at Lee Harvey Oswald.[7] 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.[7]

The music video for "The Ballad of Peter Pumpkinhead" by Alternative Rock group XTC reenacts some events of the day of Kennedy's assassination, 1992.

The Steve Gillette song "Two Men in the Building" is mostly about the assassination, in fact presenting Steve's own theory about it.[8] Steve is a well-known songwriter, best known as the co-writer of the song Darcy Farrow.

The music video "National Anthem" by singer-songwriter Lana Del Rey shows re-enactments of home videos of John F. Kennedy and his wife Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis, also re-enacting the assassination of the president.

The music video "Coma White" by American gothic rock band Marilyn Manson shows a representation of the Assassination of John F. Kennedy, including Rose McGowan dressed as, and playing the part of, Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis. Furthermore, the album Holy Wood by Marilyn Manson contains numerous references to the Kennedy assassination.


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 Martin Luther King, Jr. (1968), the Apollo 11 moon landing (1969), and Richard Nixon's resignation (1974).

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

The 2010 video game Call of Duty: Black Ops gives hints that the main player character Alex Mason (Sam Worthington) is brainwashed by the Soviet Union into assassinating Kennedy within the context of the video game. An ending cutscene shows Mason was in the crowd of onlookers who watched Kennedy disembark from Air Force One in Lovefield.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ 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. 
  2. ^ 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.
  3. ^ Horwitz, Jane (5 September 2006). "She Hopes 'MacBird' Flies in a New Era". The Washington Post. 
  4. ^ Maslin, Janet (11 December 1992). "Review/Film; Michelle Pfeiffer in a Tale of a 1960's Interracial Friendship". The New York Times. 
  5. ^ Andrew Gasska et al: Space 1999: Aftershock and Awe: Fort Lee, NJ: Archaia: 2013: ISBN 1936393883
  6. ^ "Theater: Sondheim's 'Assassins': Insane Realities of History". The New York Times. 
  7. ^ a b Pemberton, Pat (November 19, 2013). "16 Inspiring Songs That Honor JFK: The Human League, 'Seconds'". Rolling Stone. Retrieved December 15, 2014. 
  8. ^ "Two Men in the Building". Retrieved 22 November 2014.