The Tragic Story Of Christine Chubbuck, The News Reporter Who Shot Herself Live On Air

Published November 27, 2023
Updated November 28, 2023

Just before fatally shooting herself in the head during a live news broadcast on July 15, 1974, Christine Chubbuck told viewers, "TV 40 presents what is believed to be a television first: in living color, an exclusive coverage of an attempted suicide."

Christine Chubbuck

Wikimedia CommonsChristine Chubbuck was the first person to die by suicide on live television.

On July 15, 1974, 29-year-old Christine Chubbuck arrived at WXLT-TV, the local Florida news station where she worked as a reporter. Around 9:30 a.m., her daily broadcast, Suncoast Digest, began like any other. But shortly after, a technical hiccup led to a brief moment of dead air before Chubbuck launched back into her script.

“In keeping with the WXLT practice of presenting the most immediate and complete reports of local blood and guts news,” she said, “TV 40 presents what is believed to be a television first: in living color, an exclusive coverage of an attempted suicide.”

Christine Chubbuck then pulled a pistol from her bag and fired a bullet into her head while the cameras were still rolling. Thousands of viewers at home watched her kill herself live on air.

This is the story of Christine Chubbuck and the circumstances that led to her taking her own life.

Inside Christine Chubbuck’s Struggles With Her Social Life

Born in Hudson, Ohio, on August 24, 1944, Christine “Chris” Chubbuck was a well-educated and charismatic journalist who had serious struggles with her mental health.

Christine Chubbuck Baby Photo

XChristine Chubbuck as an infant.

Many of Chubbuck’s problems could be traced back to her love life — or rather, her lack thereof. In high school, she’d formed a “Dateless Wonder Club” for her “rejected” peers who couldn’t get a date. These sort of self-critical jokes would become a common fixture of Chubbuck’s life and relationships.

After high school, Chubbuck earned a degree in broadcasting at Boston University before returning to Ohio to work for a local television station. Unfortunately, her romantic situation didn’t improve once she started her career.

When she was 21, Chubbuck began dating a man who was in his 30s. However, her father disapproved of the relationship, and the young woman ended things. She would never have another boyfriend.

In 2016, Chubbuck’s brother Greg told PEOPLE, “Chrissie then literally quickly came to Florida and sort of restarted her life.”

Greg noted that his sister was “emotionally flawed in many ways” and had been ever since she was a child. He said that she suffered from bipolar disorder, and despite their parents spending nearly $1 million over the course of 20 years, they could never find a treatment that would “help Chrissie find peace.”

Reporter Christine Chubbuck

XChristine Chubbuck suffered from bipolar disorder, but treatment attempts proved unsuccessful.

Per a 1974 report in The Washington Post, Chubbuck’s mother told local reporters soon after her daughter’s death, “She was terribly, terribly depressed. She had a job that she loved… But she had nothing else in her social life. No romantic attachments or prospects of any. She was a spinster at 29 and it bothered her.”

Christine Chubbuck spoke often about her struggles with depression and suicidal thoughts, but no one in her family thought she would go as far as to take her own life on live television.

Christine Chubbuck’s Shocking On-Air Suicide

At work, Chubbuck was known for both her excellent journalism skills and her quirky personality. Her former news director Gordon Galbraith described her sense of humor as “bizarre,” recalling that she once referred to herself as “Pristine Buttocks” as a way of poking fun at her virginity.

Despite her clear success, however, she “never felt like she was good enough and she was constantly doubting herself,” according to her brother. “And I mean morosely doubting herself.”

Chubbuck was also known for the puppets she carried around in her bag. In fact, the day before she died, she had been visiting her brother and playing with the puppets with his young daughter.

Sadly, Chubbuck’s co-workers would soon discover that puppets were not the only thing in her bag.

Christine Chubbuck On Television

Facebook/MorbidologyCo-workers described Christine Chubbuck as an “ambitious reporter.”

On Monday, July 15, 1974, Christine Chubbuck arrived for work around 9 a.m., half an hour before Suncoast Digest was set to go live. According to The Washington Post, “she was in extraordinarily good spirits” that morning.

At the studio, she greeted her co-workers and then excused herself so that she could write her script for the morning’s newscast. This was unusual. Chubbuck’s typical routine was much more relaxed and consisted of a relatively informal talk segment with her guests. Up until that day, she had never started the program with a newscast.

Despite this irregularity, though, no one doubted her decision. She was, after all, a well-respected professional. She informed the control room that she wanted to use pre-taped footage of a shootout that had occurred over the weekend, wrote out a 10-minute script on a typewriter, sat down at the anchor desk, and prepared for her segment.

At 9:30 a.m., the show went live. However, when Chubbuck asked for the control room to play the footage of the shootout, something went wrong. Instead of the video, viewers were greeted with dead air.

After a beat, the cameras returned to Chubbuck. It was then that she spoke her final words:

“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, an exclusive coverage of an attempted suicide.”

Before anyone could react, she pulled a .38 caliber pistol from her bag beneath the desk. She placed the gun against her head, just behind her ear, and pulled the trigger. A sharp crack rang out, and Christine Chubbuck slumped over.

She was immediately rushed to the hospital, where she was pronounced dead from the self-inflicted gunshot wound 14 hours later.

The Aftermath Of Christine Chubbuck’s Death

The immediate response to Christine Chubbuck’s on-air suicide was one of shock, dismay, and confusion: What could have driven her to such a horrific act?

Mike Simmons, the news director at WXLT at the time of Chubbuck’s death, recalled that she had asked him if she could write a news segment about suicide just weeks before she took her own life. He agreed, and she reached out to a local police department to discuss various methods in which people attempt suicide. Tragically, Chubbuck seemingly used the officers’ words as advice.

What’s more, just a week before she died, she’d made what night news editor Rob Smith believed was a morbid joke. Chubbuck informed Smith that she’d recently purchased a gun, and when he asked why, she said, “Well, I thought it would be a nifty idea if I went on the air live and just blew myself away.”

The Pistol Christine Chubbuck Used

XThe .38 caliber Smith & Wesson pistol that Christine Chubbuck used in her suicide.

Unfortunately, Chubbuck hadn’t been joking.

As police entered the studio to investigate the incident after Chubbuck was rushed to the hospital, they discovered that the script she’d written that morning didn’t end with her final words. Instead, she’d left a report of her own suicide attempt.

The script noted that she’d shot herself and had been transported to Sarasota Memorial Hospital in critical condition. It mentioned nothing about her death — but her co-workers believe that’s because she wanted to be as accurate as possible in her reporting in case the attempt was unsuccessful.

Instead, Christine Chubbuck became the first person to die by suicide on live television.

As Smith stated, “Chris and I talked once about the fact that Andy Warhol said that everyone will be famous for 15 minutes in their lives. This was her 15 minutes.”

After reading the tragic story of Christine Chubbuck, learn all about Alison Parker, the promising young reporter shot dead by a co-worker on live TV. Then, read about Jody Plauché, the boy whose father shot his rapist on live television.

If you or someone you know is contemplating suicide, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255 or use their 24/7 Lifeline Crisis Chat.

Austin Harvey
A staff writer for All That's Interesting, Austin Harvey has also had work published with Discover Magazine, Giddy, and Lucid covering topics on mental health, sexual health, history, and sociology. He holds a Bachelor's degree from Point Park University.
Cara Johnson
A writer and editor based in Charleston, South Carolina and an assistant editor at All That's Interesting, Cara Johnson holds a B.A. in English and Creative Writing from Washington & Lee University and an M.A. in English from College of Charleston and has written for various publications in her six-year career.