Christine Chubbuck was a 29-year-old broadcast journalist working at a Sarasota, Florida TV news station back in 1974. On Monday, July 15 of that year, she committed suicide while live on the air.
“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,” Chubbuck told her television audience during what was to become her last broadcast ever. “Attempted suicide.”
Christine Chubbuck then pulled a .38 caliber revolver out from underneath her desk, and shot herself in the head. She died 15 hours later.
“My grandparents lived across the street from my sister and she was extremely close to both of them,” Chubbuck’s brother Greg says in an interview with People magazine. “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.”
— People Magazine (@people) January 27, 2016
Christine Chubbuck became the first person to commit suicide on the air in the United States on that fateful day. In 1976, Network, a film starring Faye Dunaway and Peter Finch was based on Chubbuck’s actions.
Forty years later, two films based upon Christine Chubbuck’s on-air suicide are set to premiere at the Sundance Film Festival in Park City, Utah. Greg Chubbuck has no plans to see either of them.
Christine stars British actress Rebecca Hall, and tells the story of Christine Chubbuck’s last days.
Kate Plays Christine stars Kate Lyn Sheil of House of Cards fame. It is a documentary about the actress as she prepares to play Christine Chubbuck in an upcoming film.
“Nobody wants to know who Christine Chubbuck was,” her brother 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.”
Greg Chubbuck said many within their family long believed Christine wouldn’t be with them throughout a normal life span. He even recalls his older brother telling him their time with “Chrissie,” as she was called, would be short-lived.
“We have to hug Chrissie extra hard because we aren’t going to have her very long,” Greg recalls his brother saying. “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.”
Christine Chubbuck was talented. She was very smart. She was a nationally renown kayaker. Since about age 10, however, she never felt like she fit in.
Greg Chubbuck says his parents spent more than $1 million over a 20-year span in their attempt to “help Chrissie find peace.”
Here's my interview with Rebecca Hall about playing Christine Chubbuck, the newscaster who committed suicide on air. https://t.co/PdlhqF4fO6
— Mike Ryan (@mikeryan) January 26, 2016
He now believes she suffered from bipolar disorder. She only received treatment 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.”
At the tender age of just 16, Christine Chubbuck lost the love of her life–her 23-year-old boyfriend.
“I think truly that this fellow, Dave the kayaker, he was truly the love of her life,” says Greg.
She didn’t date again until she was 21, but the man was Jewish and her father didn’t approve.
“She never really had another boyfriend after that,” Greg said.
Christine seemed excited when she landed her job at Sarasota’s WXLT–first as reporter and then as show host.
“It was her show,” says Greg. “It was one person doing all of it with very low pay.”
Greg adds that even then their mother was doing all she could to help Chrissie succeed–even buying her expensive dresses so she looked good on air.
“In 1974 there weren’t too many local TV personalities wearing $2,000 designer dresses, and she did,” he says.
Despite the job–that would have been a huge boost to most anyone’s ego–even at a low rate of pay, Christine Chubbuck still felt like she didn’t fit in. She felt like she wasn’t good enough–for anyone or anything.
— Jason Guerrasio (@JasonGuerrasio) January 25, 2016
Just a few weeks prior to her suicide, Christine Chubbuck interviewed a local 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 explains. “I learned this from the deputy sheriff. He was in tears.”
Following Christine Chubbuck’s suicide, her family got an injunction preventing the release of the tape that showed her killing herself. After it was seized as evidence, it was turned over to her mother.
“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.”
— Indy Film (@TheIndyFilm) January 26, 2016
That hasn’t stopped the film world from sensationalizing the tragedy. It will be interesting to see if either of these films premiering at Sundance will be more sensitive about Christine Chubbuck’s death.
It’s surely no wonder Greg Chubbuck has no plans of viewing either of them.