Considering the level of violence on TV today, it's no wonder that most people hardly even pause when they hear about murder and mayhem on the local news. The Hollywood version of dying has desensitized most of society to the degree that it shouldn't even be a surprise when videos of the real thing become so popular. From the video Faces of Death to people who took their own lives on TV, there are always those who want to witness the genuine article.
Such was definitely not the case back in the mid-'70s when just cartoon violence and mild profanity were thought to be a bit too much. It was during this time that the first on-air suicide occurred, and the shock was absolute. The questions were endless. But unlike the ones who would follow in the digital age, the video of Christine Chubbuck taking her life was viewed only by the TV audience and her colleagues at the station, leaving everyone else to wonder what happened. Almost 50 years later and nearly all the questions have yet to be answered, and the video footage itself remains a mystery.
Twenty-nine-year-old Christine Chubbuck, the morning host of Sun Coast Digest on WXLT in Sarasota, FL, arrived to work at 9 AM on July 15, 1974. Chubbuck's co-workers stated she was in an unusually good mood that day. Instead of starting the show with an interview like Chubbuck usually did, she decided to begin the program with a report of a local shooting. There were a few issues with the pre-recorded video footage and a moment of dead air before Chubbuck returned to her script and began reading.
She 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: an attempted suicide.” Chubbuck then reached into a bag, took out a .38 caliber Smith & Wesson revolver, and shot herself behind her right ear.
Chubbuck was taken to the hospital and pronounced dead approximately 14 hours after the shooting.
After Chubbuck carried out her plan, the studio's technical director immediately played a public service announcement from the station followed by a movie. After Chubbuck was taken to the hospital, the news director, Mike Simmons, looked over a blood-splattered stack of papers, which was Chubbuck's script from that morning, and it detailed her plans. It is assumed that Chubbuck wrote the piece and left it to be read by a news reporter.
Throughout her life, Chubbuck had suffered from depression and had seen several different psychiatrists for treatment. Her brother Greg noted that their parents had spent a great deal of money trying to figure out what was wrong with their daughter. In the '70s, depression wasn't treated as it is today, and it was viewed as a character flaw rather than a medical illness. During an interview, Greg stated he believed that Chubbuck suffered from bipolar disorder, although that was not a known condition when she was still living.
��On July 15, 1974, Sarasota news anchor Christine Chubbuck fatally shot herself during a live broadcast of her talk-show 'Suncoast Digest' pic.twitter.com/s3JIsT1kpQ— RetroNewsNow (@RetroNewsNow) July 15, 2017
Peg Chubbuck gave an interview to a local newspaper while at the hospital shortly before her daughter's passing. In it, she talks about her daughter saying: "She was terribly, terribly, terribly depressed. She had a job that she loved. She said constantly that if it ended tomorrow, she would still be glad she had had it. But she had nothing else in her social life. No close friends, no romantic attachments or prospects of any. She was a spinster at 29, and it bothered her. She couldn’t register with people."
Her family explained that Chubbuck often complained about still being a virgin and not being married. She had also had an ovary removed, and doctors told her if she wanted to have children, she would need to try to do so quickly. While all of these things may have led to sadness in her life, it's highly doubtful they were the core reason for her depressive state. Rather, it's likely to have been caused by untreated mental illness.