Photo Of The Day

Christine Chubbuck.

Christine Chubbuck.

Christine

Even if a person might look all right in the outside, we might never know what they may be dealing with on the inside.

29-year-old Christine Chubbuck didn’t leave behind a note. Instead, she staged a grand and memorable performance. Looking healthy, well-groomed, and in good spirits the morning of July 15, 1974, the newswoman geared up for a special presentation. “She was in a much better than normal mood. To this day, her enthusiasm puzzles me,” news director Gordan Galbraith said of her demeanor that morning.

Christine asked to change things up a bit for that morning’s broadcast of Sarasota, FL’s WXLT-TV’s Suncoast Digest. She wanted to start the normally unscripted talk show with some news reports, and spent the few minutes before air-time typing up what she was going to say on-air.

She started off with some standard news item, but when it came time to roll footage of a local shoot-out from the night before, a shot she specifically requested, the film stalled. The person operating the camera panicked a bit, but this was all a part of Christine’s plan. She looked into the camera with a determined eye.

“In keeping with Channel 40’s policy of bringing you the latest in blood and guts and in living colour, you are going to see another first — attempted suicide,” she read, inflicting a little sarcasm into her tone.

Then she pulled a gun out of a bag of puppets she had at her feet and shot herself on live television.

As she convulsed and slumped to the floor the rest of the news team froze, thinking it was some kind of morbid joke. The camera stayed on her for a while after the act as the reality of the situation sunk into everyone at the news station. When the news director rushed to the desk to yell at her for such a horrible stunt, he was confronted with the grim seriousness of her act. It was not a joke or a stunt, or even a cry for help. She used the word “attempted” in her announcement, but it seems she did that only to cover herself in case she failed. Christine aimed to be an accurate news reporter to the very end.

Among her typed report was a handwritten news item she wrote in third person about her suicide. It chillingly described shooting herself on-air, and even predicted the fact that she would be taken to the hospital in critical condition and later die there, which is exactly what happened.

Just three weeks before Christine had spoken at length to a police officer about the best way to kill yourself with a gun. She was officially researching a segment about suicide, but didn’t entirely cloak her true intentions. According to the police officer who spoke with her, she mused that it would be “wild” if she shot herself on air.

She also joked about killing herself live with the night news editor, who quickly changed the subject because he was jolted by the angle of her sense of humour.

Colleagues described her as funny and likeable, but also insulated; one of those lonely and sensitive people too constricted in their own ego to risk letting anyone get too close. Her mother said Christine was unsatisfied with her personal life.

She was distraught over turning 30 without having a romantic relationship. In recent weeks she’d been especially self-depreciatingly vocal about her lack of sex and romance.

Christine’s personal struggles were amplified by recent drama at work. Her closest pal at the station, Andrea Kirby, had just gotten a job in a bigger market, which sparked Christine’s jealousy. To make matters worse, Christine had a crush on co-worker George Peter Ryan, and showed her feelings by baking him a cake on his birthday. Not only did he reject her advances, but also she learned he was instead romantically involved with her friend Andrea Kirby.

Christine’s suicide is one of those factoids that snaps you into feeling something.

The aggressively public nature of her choice sets her apart from other suicide headlines. Although it was covered extensively at the time, including a thorough profile by journalist Sally Quinn where most of the known details about her life can be found, and even inspired the movie Network, her story soon quieted to a hush.

The morbidly curious often go looking for video footage of her suicide, which isn’t available anywhere, and then find that there’s virtually no footage at all of her.

Her suicide was a personal protest against what she saw as a detestable trend of sensationalism in television journalism. Her brother and others noted that Christine operated with very rigid thinking.

christine-chubbuck 2

“She had no greys in her life” her brother said. “Everything was black and white. Things were either wonderful or terrible. Chrissy just didn’t have a compromise button.” This type of thinking is a type of “cognitive distortion,” which can sully our chances at peace and happiness. Cognitive distortions are errors in thought and logic that are, insidiously, partially rooted in reality, and can either cause or enhance negative moods.

There is something a bit disturbing about certain media tactics, and often ethical lines are crossed, but our fascination with danger, with the morbid, with the fear and gawking is part of who we are. We like drama, thrillers, murder mysteries, real life stories with an edge. The media recognizes our hunger, and tries to deliver it any way possible.

Our draw to this kind of stuff has a lot of elements. We have an innate survival instinct, and our emotions and intellect are positively stimulated by these types of stories because we often learn something from them that may help keep us safe. We also often reinforce our own feelings of our own relative safety (or self-righteousness) by learning about the troubles of others.

We also have a drive to be empathetic and our attraction to the macabre, chilling, and disturbing is partially to fulfill this insatiable hunger to understand each other, to feel for each other, to be connected. Our boundary-pushing drive to suss out salacious details, for the vast majority of us, is partly because we want to feel something for another human. We want to know what it is like for them, to feel connected with them even though they are strangers.

When Christine turned the gun on herself she cynically delivered one of those terrible shocks that rattles us and focuses our attention. She’s still delivering those shocks every time someone learns of her story. The power of legend reverberates through time. Once our attention is drawn, however, it’s isn’t just her death we’re interested in. Yes, she was protesting something she saw as wrong with the world, but whether she was cognizant of it or not, she was also trying to show us how real and deep her pain was.

Her death, and the stories that were told of her life through remembrances remind us of our own pain and of how we can never really know the simmering desperation of others, of the real lives behind glossy surfaces. Her story reminds us to continue to try, though, to reach out to others, and to not be so self-enclosed. We cannot always help each other, but we can always be more compassionate, and more aware.

At the time of her suicide Christine was under the care of a psychiatrist who didn’t think she was serious about her intent to die. She was getting “help,” but it wasn’t enough. Mental illness is such a tricky, horrible beast. It stalks and infiltrates a life to the core, colouring everything. Christine’s death and the mystery of her life remind us of the helplessness we can feel when we care about someone who’s going through mental and emotional turmoil.

“My grandparents lived across the street from my sister and she was extremely close to both of them,” Chubbuck’s brother Greg said. “They watched every one of her shows, except my grandfather had an appointment with his doctor and he didn’t feel like driving, so my grandmother drove him and they missed the only show they had ever missed my sister on – the show she killed herself. She knew they weren’t going to be watching that show.”

Now, 40-years later, Chubbuck’s tragic tale is the driving force behind two films selected to debut at the Sundance Film Festival, underway in Park City, Utah.

Chubbuck’s brother Greg says he doesn’t plan to watch either film. “Nobody wants to know who Christine Chubbuck was,” he says. “They want to sensationalize what happened at the end of her life. A public suicide is not a source of joy for a family.”

Christine Chubbuck grew up in the upscale Ohio suburb of Harbour with her parents, George and Peg, and two brothers, older brother Tim and younger brother Greg. The only daughter of a high-end automotive and manufacturing industry salesperson and a housewife, Christine was talented and smart. While in middle school, she was a flutist in the high school marching band. She later developed an interest in acting at private school and enrolled in the University of North Carolina summer acting program.
Christine was a bright, gifted student with a sharp wit and a nationally ranked kayaker, but since she was about 10 she never felt that she fit in. Greg recalls his older brother, Tim, taking him aside and telling him their time with “Chrissie” would be short-lived.

“We have to hug Chrissie extra hard because we aren’t going to have her very long,” Greg recalls. “He was 12 and I was 8 and in the back of our minds we always knew that our time with her was not going to be infinite.”

Greg says his parents spent over $1 million over 20 years with psychiatrists and psychologists to “help Chrissie find peace.”

Greg now believes his sister suffered from bipolar disorder, a mood disorder defined by periods of highs and periods of depression. At the time, Greg says she was only being treated for depression.

“If you are treating someone for general depression and they have bipolar depression they actually get worse,” he says. “So with that in mind, you can imagine my parents’ 20-year odyssey to try and help my sister understand why she didn’t look at the world the way everybody else did, while very expensive did not turn out to be fruitful. That never made my parents give up on my sister or quit loving her. Her two brothers adored her. My wife at the time and my little girl just worshipped my sister and none of that made any of the outcomes change.”

Christine’s emotional wellbeing was further tested at 16 when her 23-year-old boyfriend was killed in a car accident.

Christine Chubbuck.

Christine Chubbuck.

“I think truly that this fellow, Dave the kayaker, he was truly the love of her life,” says Greg.

Nonetheless, Christine went on to earn a degree in broadcasting at Boston University, worked at a Florida cable station, attended a summer film workshop at NYU, and then got a job at public television stations in Pittsburgh and Canton, Ohio. The 21-year-old began dating a man in his early 30s, but Greg says their father disapproved of his age and his religion – he was Jewish – and the relationship was short lived.

“She never really had another boyfriend after that,” Greg said.

Christine moved to Florida to live with her mother after her parents divorced. She worked as a hospital computer operator before landing a job as a reporter, then host at WXLT in Sarasota, Florida.

“It was her show,” says Greg. “It was one person doing all of it with very low pay.”

Everyone in the family went out of their way to help Christine with her television career. Her mother paid for designer dresses to make sure she looked good on air.

“In 1974 there weren’t too many local TV personalities wearing $2,000 designer dresses, and she did,” says Greg.

Despite having her own morning television show, Greg says his sister never felt she was good enough.

“She was very gifted and she never felt like she was good enough and she was constantly doubting herself, and I mean morosely doubting herself,” says Greg. “And she would come out of it and she would be better and we would think with all the outside help with the professionals maybe this would be the time she would get her wind and be fine. But it just never really happened completely for her. It is a really sad, tragic circumstance.”

The final Monday show started off normally. Then, Christine introduced a segment about an officer-involved shooting. The news footage jammed and that was when Christine – looking relaxed and determined – said the words that would make headline news, drew a revolver, pointed it at her head and shot herself behind her right ear. A few weeks before her suicide, Christine interviewed a deputy sheriff about suicide.

“She asked him if someone were to kill themselves where they would put the gun to make sure it was effective,” Greg recalls. “I learned this from the deputy sheriff. He was in tears.”

Christine’s family immediately got an injunction preventing the release of the tape of her suicide. After it was seized as evidence by authorities, it was turned over to their mother, Peg.
“I don’t know to this day where it is,” Greg says. “But I know no one knows where it is and no one ever will if I have anything to say about it.”

Perhaps, by the way she did it, this was what she was aiming for, an awareness for others that suicide is not a laughing matter and something that should not be ignored. We will never know why she did it, as she did not leave a note explaining her actions, but perhaps she planned it this way so we could deeply analyze what she wanted to say. Maybe she was just tired, did not know another way out, felt she was not being heard and just did it for an outcry, a reason to say “I existed. I was here.”

Lynn Cinnamon

The Christine Chubbuck Story

What are your thoughts on Sally Quinn’s story about …

 Scans of the original article by Sally Quinn


Do you want:

  • Ad-free access?
  • Access to our very popular daily crossword?
  • Access to daily sudoku?
  • Access to daily code cracker?
  • Access to Incite Politics magazine articles?
  • Access to podcasts?
  • Access to political polls?

Our subscribers’ financial support is the reason why we have been able to offer our latest service; Audio blogs. 

Click Here  to support us and watch the number of services grow.

38%