August 24, 1944|
|Died||July 15, 1974
|Cause of death||suicide|
|Occupation||Television news reporter|
|Television||WVIZ, WTOG, WXLT-TV|
Christine Chubbuck[a] (August 24, 1944 – July 15, 1974) was an American television news reporter who worked for WTOG and WXLT-TV in Florida during her career. She is noted for committing suicide during a live television broadcast.
Born in Hudson, Ohio, Chubbuck attended the Laurel School for Girls in Shaker Heights, a suburb of Cleveland. During her years at Laurel, she started a small tongue-in-cheek group called the "Dateless Wonder Club". She attended Miami University in Oxford, 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 for a year in 1966–1967, and attended a summer workshop in radio and television at New York University in 1967. In 1968, Chubbuck worked for a few months for public television stations in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania 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 ABC affiliate WXLT-TV (now WWSB), she worked in the traffic department of WTOG in St. Petersburg, Florida.
Several years before her death, Chubbuck had moved into the family's summer cottage on Siesta Key, Florida. The Washington Post later reported that her painted bedroom and canopied bed looked like that of a young teenager. After the divorce of her parents, her 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.
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 at 9 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 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 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.
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 Chubbuck would be fired as a result.
Her focus on her lack of 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.
She had her right ovary removed in an operation the year before, 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.
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 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 she was given.
Three weeks before her death, she had asked the station's news director if she could do a news piece on suicide. After her suggestion was approved, she visited the local sheriff's department to discuss methods of suicide with an officer. In the interview, an officer told her 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.
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 he did not respond to what he thought was Chubbuck's "sick" attempt at humor. “I just changed the subject," Smith said. "That was just too sick a joke for me.”
On the morning of July 15, 1974, Chubbuck confused co-workers by claiming 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 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 — attempted suicide." She drew the revolver and shot herself behind her right ear. Chubbuck fell forward violently and the technical director faded rapidly to black.
Camera operator Jean Reed later recalled she thought it had been an elaborate prank and did not realize Chubbuck had actually shot herself until she saw Chubbuck's twitching body.
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.
|“||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
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".
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.
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.
Chubbuck's family brought an injunction against WXLT to prevent the release of the 2" quad videotape of her suicide. The Sarasota County Sheriff's Office file lists a copy of the tape seized as evidence and later released it to Christine's family along with her possessions.
In popular culture
Chubbuck's suicide provided part of the inspiration for Paddy Chayefsky's script for the 1976 satirical film on the television industry, Network. In that film, laid-off news anchor Howard Beale (played by Peter Finch) announced plans to commit suicide on the air, before backing down on his request and starting a diatribe that would revitalize his career and the network.
In Frank Miller's 4-part miniseries comic book (later graphic novel) Give Me Liberty, newscaster Loni Hirohito commits suicide on air after her husband leaves her, she's fired from her job, and the U.S. president Howard Nissen is assassinated and the White House is blown up (she shoots a co-anchor who's relaying what happens before doing so.)
- R. Budd Dwyer, a Pennsylvania politician who fatally shot himself in front of TV news cameras
- Mistakenly reported as "Hubbock" by some sources.
- Dietz, Jon. "On-Air Shot Kills TV Personality", Sarasota Herald-Tribune, July 16, 1974.
- "Chris Chubbuck Memorial Services Thursday", Sarasota Herald-Tribune, July 17, 1974.
- Wesson, Helen. "WXLT-TV Adds A.M. Talk Show", Siesta Key Pelican, August 30, 1973.
- "Chris Chubbuck is Posthumous Award Candidate", Sarasota Herald-Tribune, July 20, 1974.
- 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.
- 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.
- Rubin, Valerie. "Tragic TV drama unfolds before unbelieving eyes," Sarasota Herald-Tribune, July 16, 1974.
- Wire reports. "Newswoman shoots self on live TV," The Dallas Morning News, July 16, 1974, page 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.
- "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 January 10, 2015.
- Boulevard of Broken Dreams: Christine Chubbuck, E! Television, first aired February 24–25, March 1, March 3, March 6, 2007 in the evening.
- Empire: "Television will eat itself in Sidney Lumet's searing satire", October 1, 2008; via allbusiness.com. Source mistakenly mentioned Chubbock as an anchor for a Cleveland television station.
- Encyclopedia of Television News edited by Michael D. Murray (page 252)
- Quinn, Sally (1974-08-04). "Christine Chubbuck: 29, Good-Looking, Educated. A Television Personality. Dead. Live and in Color (PDF)" (PDF). Washington Post.
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