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Christine Chubbuck was a Floridan news caster that worked with WTOG and WXLT that gained notoriety after becoming the first person to commit suicide on live television. The incident sent shock throughout the country and left many wondering how deep her struggles with depression went.
Chubbuck was born on August 24, 1944 in Hudson, Ohio to Margaretha D. "Peg" and George Fairbanks Chubbuck, she also has two brothers, Greg and Tim. She attended the Laurel School for Girls in a suburb of Cleveland known as Shaker Heights. During her years at Laurel, she jokingly formed a "Dateless Wonder Club" with other "rejected" girls who did not have dates (which would go on to become a major cause in her depression leading to her death) on Saturday night. Chubbuck attended Miami University in Ohio for one year before attending Endicott College in Massachusetts and earning a degree in broadcasting at Boston University in 1965.
Even though her parents were divorced, Chubbuck had a close relationship with her mother and brother Greg, and had spent her summers in a family cottage several years before her death in Siesta Key. She had two boyfriends, one as a teenager, who had died in a car accident, and another later on, who had to break up with her because her father did not approve of her dating a Jewish man.
The owner of WXLT-TV, Bob Nelson, had initially given her work as a reporter but eventually promoted her to be in charge of the talk show Suncoast Digest, where she would interview guests and discuss the growing communities around the area. Mike Keel, a forester who was originally scheduled to appear on her show on the day of her suicide, considered her to be a "strong contender" to the reporting world, and was nominated for a Forestry and Conservation Recognition Award after her death. She would occasionally incorporate homemade puppets she used to entertain children with disabilities at Sarasota Memorial Hospital.
Chubbuck struggled with depression and suicidal tendencies throughout most of her life and had previously tried overdosing on drugs in 1970. Her mother intentionally didn't tell WXLT management about this out of fear of her not being hired. The main cause of this was her inability to be in a romantic relationship, and she often lamented to coworkers that her 30th birthday was coming up and that she was still a virgin who had barely gone on any dates. She apparently had a crush on fellow co-worker George Peter Ryan, but he rejected her as he had been going out with sports reporter Andrea Kirby. Chubbuck had been close to her, but Kirby had received a new job in Baltimore, which only contributed to Chubbuck's depression. She has often been described as nice but also heavily self-deprecating and refusing to take any compliments.
A year before her death, she had an operation to have her right ovary removed and was told that if she did not conceive within a couple of years, she would never be able to. A week before the suicide, she had told night news editor Rob Smith that she had bought a gun and joked something along the lines of "Wouldn't it be wild if I blew myself away on the air?" Smith quickly changed the subject and simply thought it was an attempt at dark humor, not knowing what was to come.
On the morning of July 15, 1974, Chubbuck confused co-workers by claiming she had to read a newscast to open Suncoast Digest, something she had never done before. That morning's guest waited across the studio while Chubbuck sat at the news anchor's desk, who had been noticeably more cheerful than usual. During the first eight minutes of her program, Chubbuck covered three national news stories and then a shooting from the previous day at a 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 the... WXLT practice of presenting the most immediate and complete reports of local blood and guts news, TV 40 presents what is believed to be a television first. In living color, exclusive coverage of an attempted suicide." She drew the .38-caliber Smith & Wesson Model 36 revolver and shot herself behind her right ear. Chubbuck fell forward violently and the technical director faded the broadcast rapidly to black.
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.
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".
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". Fourteen hours later, she passed away. For a time, WXLT aired reruns of the TV series Gentle Ben in place of Suncoast Digest.
Chubbuck's body was cremated, and her funeral ceremony was held on the beach, where her ashes were scattered into the Gulf of Mexico. Around 120 attended, including local officials who had appeared on her show, and 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 ultimately unrelated to the station (although she did make satirical remarks about it in her final speech). "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.
The footage of Chubbuck's death has not been seen since its initial airing, and numerous theories on what happened to the footage have been advanced. One was that the station owner Robert Nelson kept it, and it was in the possession of his widow, Mollie. It was confirmed in June 2016 that the footage of Chubbuck's death exists and had indeed been in Robert Nelson's possession, but was handed over to a "very large law firm" for safekeeping by Mollie Nelson. She has no plans on making it available to the public.
On January 31st, 2017, a now-deleted/privated YouTube video entitled "Freaky 5 - Lost Footage" was uploaded by the user NationSquid, featuring five pieces of disturbing lost media. The incident is the very last piece in the video (around 8 minutes and 46 seconds), and is accompanied by a short "clip" of the suicide, which has since been reposted by many other users. While it was initially unknown where this footage surfaced from, and if it was legitimate or not, it has since been proven to be no more than a hoax by the channel, NationSquid himself never responded to any questions on whether if the footage was real or fake.
The supposed footage has been proven to be fake on February 13, 2017 by fellow news director Gordon Galbraith. The clip itself contains several inaccuracies, such as it being in black and white, Christine falling out of her chair, her voice sounding nothing alike, and the fact that the angle is too far away from her.
In early 2021, user Ataliste uploaded audio of her newscast before the tragic event (cutting off right before she said her final words out of respect), which was obtained by a private collector. As the recording details events that had happened around that time, and the voice matches that of Christine's in the few clips available of her, there is little doubt about its validity. This is most likely the close that will ever come to obtaining full footage of the incident.
Update more audio was found with audio of the actual suicide but caution though, the audio is quite unsettling.