This list of public suicides includes some of the most tragic, controversial, and perplexing tragedies caught on tape. Many of these were politically motivated suicides that took place as the world watched in horror. These 14 men and women each chose to end their lives in the public eye and have been remembered ever since for those decisions.
Many of these public suicides were not committed out of depression or mental illness, but rather to make a very serious statement against a political position. Thich Quang Duc is perhaps the best known for his public suicide. The Buddhist monk set himself ablaze in Saigon and sat silently as he burned to death while a crowd - journalists included - stood and watched. But Duc is just one who sacrificed his own life for a political agenda, as others like Romas Kalanta, Malachi Ritscher, and Ryszard Siwiec performed the same form of self-immolation in political protest.
Others who chose to end their lives in a very public way were believed to be suffering from personal struggles, which led them to a place of desperation and eventually death. Pennsylvania Treasurer R. Budd Dwyer famously shot himself as television cameras rolled during a press conference he called after his conviction on bribery charges. Dimitris Christoulas felt he had no other option when he committed suicide in Greece after his pension was slashed by the government. Jodon F. Romero was being chased by police in Florida when he chose to end his own life on live national television.
Whatever the reason or the manner, each of these men and women will always be connected for their choice to commit suicide with the world watching. They may not be the most famous suicide deaths, but all occurred with many eyes, and sometimes even live television cameras, watching.
Romas Kalanta committed one of the most high-profile self-immolation protests in modern history. The young Lithuanian man committed suicide on May 14, 1972, in front of the Kaunas State Musical Theatre near Laisves Aleja. Kalanta covered himself in gasoline and set himself ablaze, succumbing to his burn injuries several hours later.
His death provoked a number of post-war riots, as well as at least 13 other self-immolation suicides. While Soviet propaganda described Kalanta as mentally ill, Lithuania saw his suicide as a statement of solidarity and posthumously awarded Kalanta the Order of the Cross of Vytis, an honor for those who have heroically defended Lithuania’s freedom and independence, in 2000.
- Age: Dec. at 19 (1953-1972)
- Birthplace: Alytus, Lithuania
Dimitris Christoulas, a 77-year-old retired pharmacist, committed public suicide by shooting himself in the head at Syntagma Square in Athens, Greece, just outside of parliament, on April 4, 2012. Christoulas, whose last words were "I am not committing suicide, they are killing me," shot himself in protest of the Greek government's austerity measures that slashed his pension.
In his suicide note, Christoulas wrote that he'd rather die than scavenge for food. He wrote, "The occupation government... has literally wiped out my ability to survive, based on a respectable pension which I had paid for during a 35-year period... I find no other solution for a dignified end before I start sifting through garbage to feed myself."
- Video: YouTube
Christine Chubbuck first worked as a television news reporter for ABC Channel 40 in Sarasota, Florida, before later receiving her own local community affairs talk show, Suncoast Digest. Chubbuck was dedicated to the series, often tackling serious issues like alcoholism, drug addiction, and even suicide. Chubbuck, however, also dealt with serious issues of her own, including depression and low self-esteem.
On July 15, 1974, Chubbuck opened her show with an odd claim that she was required to read local news to start the program. After reading some news stories, Chubbuck stated, "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 then pulled a revolver and shot herself in the head.
- Age: Dec. at 29 (1944-1974)
- Birthplace: Hudson, Ohio
Emily Wilding Davison
Emily Wilding Davison devoted her life to working as a women's suffrage activist and was widely known for her militant, confrontational, and often violent tactics. Many times, she was arrested and imprisoned for her campaigns, which included arson and assault.
On June 4, 1913, Davison attended the Epson Derby in England - though her exact motive for the visit, either for pleasure or protest, is disputed. Just as the stable of horses, including one belonging to King George V, reached her position on the track, Davison stepped out on the course and lunged herself in their path. She was trampled nearly to death in the incident, suffering internal injuries and a fractured skull. She died four days later.