The Christine Chubbuck tape (lost on air suicide; 1974)


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The Christine Chubbuck tape
The late Christine Chubbuck hosting an episode of Suncoast Digest.
The late Christine Chubbuck hosting an episode of Suncoast Digest.
Status Lost

On the morning of July 15, 1974, at around 9:30, American talk show host Christine Chubbuck (then 29 years old) shot herself in the head on live television, following a fierce battle with depression; the now notoriously elusive broadcast stunned audiences, making headlines worldwide.[1][2]

Chubbuck originally worked at Channel 40 (ie. WXLT-TV, now WWSB, a small market channel and ABC affiliate in southwest Florida which, up until relatively recently, only aired over three counties) as an evening news reporter, later moving on to host a morning community affairs talk show titled Suncoast Digest; in the lead-up to her suicide, Chubbuck (who was known to detest what she referred to as "blood and guts" reporting, i.e., sensationalised violence over legitimate journalism) had volunteered to produce a feature on suicide for the station, during research for which she had asked a police officer how someone would go about taking their own life (the sheriff proceeding to reveal what kind of gun and bullets that he would use if ever put in that situation). One co-worker has since recalled that around the same time, Chubbuck had said to him (in what he assumed was a joking manner) something to the effect of "wouldn't it be wild if I blew myself away on the air?"; unbeknownst to her colleagues, Chubbuck had actually attempted to take her own life several years earlier, by overdosing on pills.

July 15 began much as any other day, until Chubbuck (who was noticeably more enthusiastic and cheerful than usual) declared, just before Suncoast Digest was due to go on air, that she needed to read a newscast beforehand, confusing co-workers (as this was something she had never done before). Oblivious to her real intentions, the audience casually watched her read the newscast for eight minutes, as she covered three national stories. When she got to the fourth story (ie. that of a shooting at a local restaurant), the reel jammed, prompting her to shrug, nonchalantly turn towards the camera and proclaim "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." Chubbuck then drew a revolver that she had hidden in her bag, placed it behind her right ear and fired, immediately slumping forward violently onto her desk, as the technical director scrambled to fade rapidly to black.

Many viewers who had witnessed the broadcast proceeded to phone both the police and the station itself, some of the belief that it was nothing more than a morbid joke (several WXLT-TV staff members have even recounted that they too initially doubted the legitimacy of what had happened, on first impression also believing it to be a prank of some kind). After being rushed to Sarasota Memorial Hospital, it was discovered by WXLT-TV news director Mike Simmons that Chubbuck had left behind both a follow-up news story describing her suicide attempt (in which she accurately predicted that she would be taken to Sarasota Memorial Hospital) and a suicide note (in which she said goodbye to her co-workers and loved ones, also expressing the chilling sentiment that she wanted "everybody" to see the broadcast). Chubbuck's pre-written newscast script was sent to other networks, the majority of whom presented it verbatim in reporting on her suicide attempt; she was pronounced dead the following day.

Shortly thereafter, an injunction was brought against Channel 40 (by Chubbuck's family) preventing them from ever releasing the footage of her death; the 2-inch quad master tape, plus a copy (both of which had previously been confiscated by the Sarasota Sheriff's Department as evidence following the incident) were then handed over to the family, who are said to have destroyed them. A rumoured third copy has been speculated to exist in the FCC Archives. However, this claim has never been proven (and was, in fact, denied by the FCC when queried by a Findadeath Forum user).[3] Interestingly, it was by Chubbuck's own will that the event was recorded in the first place (having requested that the episode is taped, something that was not normally done, due to the cost of tapes back then).

As the broadcast took place in 1974, it's possible (though highly unlikely) that the suicide could've been recorded by a home viewer, as several primitive VCRs had been made commercially available by that time (such as the U-matic, one of the first home video recorders; although due to the high cost of the unit, it was incredibly rare for a 1974 household to possess one). Until some form of hard evidence surfaces indicating that an additional copy still exists somewhere (or proof that the originals were not actually destroyed) the video is generally accepted as being impossible to obtain.

Notably, a significant number of people claim to have seen the footage via a number of sources other than the original live broadcast, including early websites, FBI training videos, and mondo films a la Faces of Death, though, given the circumstances, this seems unlikely.

Update: According to an article by Vulture on June 8, 2016, the video does still exist in the hands of Mollie Nelson, the widow of the former owner of WXLT-TV. Her husband, for reasons he never shared, kept a copy of the tape, and when he died it passed to her. However, when this was publicised, she started getting requests to see it, which made her uncomfortable. She says that the tape is now in the hands of "a very large law firm" for safe keeping, that she has no intention to ever let anyone see it, and that she only held onto the tape to honor her husband.[4] Unless someone else recorded the footage, then, it will remain lost.


References

  1. Scan of a Sarasota Herald-Tribune article on the incident; 16 Jul 1974. Last retrieved 08 Oct 2014.
  2. Scan of an Ocala Star-Banner follow-up article on the incident; 01 Aug 1977. Last retrieved 08 Oct 2014.
  3. Ongoing Findadeath Forum Christine Chubbuck thread; 29 Dec 2007. Last retrieved 08 Oct 2014.
  4. The Existence of Christine Chubbuck’s Suicide Video Has Been Confirmed; 08 Jun 2016. Last retrieved 25 Oct 2016.

External links

Comments


avatar

AntiHero

9 months ago
Score 2++
No new news about the whereabouts of the clip, but I'm hoping we'll be able to find ANY clip that pertains to Christine (since they're so rare).
avatar

Anonymous user #1

7 months ago
Score 0++
Antihero, apparently only one 21 minute clip of her "Suncoast Digest" show survives, and I believe it's in the new movie, a part of it anyway, "Kate Plays Christine."
avatar

Anonymous user #2

6 months ago
Score 1++
In all honesty, I don't believe that the suicide video should ever be released. It was returned to the family out of respect for their loss and should remain unseen by the general public. And while I'm aware that plenty of other high-profile suicide videos exist online (R. Budd Dwyer and Ricardo Lopez come to mind, both of which I've seen), those are different cases. A tape pertaining to a criminal investigation is in a different context than a tape of a regular person dying.
avatar

Anonymous user #9

1 months ago
Score 0++
It's what she wanted. The woman got nothing out of her life that she wanted, and now people make it so she can't get anything out of her death, either.
avatar

ChubbuckTape

5 months ago
Score 1++

It was just confirmed today that it exists.

http://www.v...tter_vulture
avatar

Anonymous user #3

5 months ago
Score -1++

Christine Chubbuck killed herself on the air. She wanted as many people as possible to see it. If you want to honor her memory, release the tape!!

Release it!
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Anonymous user #4

5 months ago
Score 0++
Even if the owner of the tape does release it to the public. It will most likely be taken into custody by the authorities for it's disturbing nature and in respect.
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Anonymous user #5

5 months ago
Score 0++

impossible if it is uploaded online their fucked, you cant stop the internet once it's uploaded if they could there wouldn't be 3 guys 1 hammer or 1 lunatic 1 icepick

they had families too, but it's out of the authorities control because once its archived (and i know for a fact people will do this the second it would be uploaded) its out there forever
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Anonymous user #4

5 months ago
Score 0++
It's them against the Internet. That crap will stay forever.
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Anonymous user #6

5 months ago
Score 0++
That's really weird!! I'm glad that people saw it and told police
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Anonymous user #6

5 months ago
Score 0++
If the tape is on YouTube WE MUST SEE IT
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ParadoxBox

5 months ago
Score 0++
I hope they don't release this, I'm afraid curiosity will get the better of me.
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Anonymous user #7

5 months ago
Score 0++
Well TOO BAD
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Psychic squidward

4 months ago
Score 0++
I've been into this piece for a while. And I would feel bad for the family. They would probably be very upset, but the view of others would differ as many would like to see this.
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W1ND0WS-95

4 months ago
Score 1++

I admit, I want to see the tape out of morbid curiosity. But we're doing exactly what she hated; wanting to see "blood and guts".

May she rest in peace.
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Kobochat

4 months ago
Score 1++
At the same time, though, we're also doing what she wanted - she wanted as many people to see her death as possible so the message could be spread.
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Thedanr

2 months ago
Score -1++
It as proof is it happened is important, it being viewable is the point of the archive
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Anonymous user #8

2 months ago
Score 0++
We need to see the tape in order fulfill Christine Chubbuck's memory, that is what she would have wanted, for millions to see the gore, please if anyone of her family members or lawyers are reading this , release the tape for historical value , this is something that i have been dying to see
avatar

Commanderraf

1 months ago
Score 0++

Hi,

I love this page and, by some strange coincidence, I was reading this news story about two different movies that have Christine Chubbuck's suicide as a plotpoint. According to the director of one of them, the tape of her suicide DOES exist, it was kept by the owner of WXLT-TV until his dead, and then his wife gave it to a "law firm", according to the closing paragraphs of that news report, which is available at http://www.t...-suicide-li/ .

Keep up the good work.
avatar

Anonymous user #10

7 days ago
Score 0++
I feel like a sick and twisted person for wanting to see this.
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