Wednesday, January 27, 2016

CHRISTINE CHUBBUCK: THE SAGA CONTINUES

"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," 29-year-old broadcast journalist Christine Chubbuck told her television audience during her final on-air broadcast on Monday, July 15, 1974. "Attempted suicide."

The morning host of Sun Coast Digest on WXLT in Sarasota, Florida, then pulled a .38 caliber revolver from under her desk and shot herself in the head. She died 15 hours later and became the first on-air suicide in the United States.

"My grandparents lived across the street from my sister and she was extremely close to both of them," Chubbuck's brother Greg tells PEOPLE. "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."

Chubbuck's death made headlines around the country and helped inspire the 1976 film Network starring Faye Dunaway and Peter Finch.

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.

Christine, directed by Antonio Campos and starring British actress Rebecca Hall, chronicles the newswoman's final days. The second film, Kate Plays Christine, is a documentary by director Robert Greene that follows House of Cards actress Kate Lyn Sheil as she gets ready to play the role of the statuesque 5-foot, 11-inch brunette in a forthcoming movie.


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 Harbor 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. 


"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 – and was constantly doubting herself.

"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."

16 comments:

  1. Only the good die young.

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  2. Poor soul. Had alot to live for. If only others knew the pain she went through of depession and somebody could of been a good friend to her and maybe she would of found peace and still been alive now. RIP Christine Chubbuck

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  3. May she and her family have the peace that surpasses all understanding. Admirable how her parents never gave up on their beloved daughter. And heartwarming to hear how much her brothers love her to this day. RIP

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  4. Bullshit. I've seen hours of footage of her, this is CLEAR Aspergers.... depression is common among Aspies because they very often can't understand why they cannot experience the same kind of feelings other people have.... I've a 25 yo daughter with Aspergers and the similarities, after watching footage of her are so uncanny....it literally scared the shit outta me.
    One thing I commonly refer to is Aspies' obsession of horror flicks. I'm not talking everyday movie theater stuff, I'm referring to scary movies that are horrifically frightening.... Movies that would leave the average bear (myself included) unable to go outside alone after dark for a decade. It causes them to 'feel'.... To have what they believe is those 'feelings' that they saw everyone else experiencing but never experienced the themselves. Granted the feelings are totally different.... it's still feelings and for Aspies, that's HUGE....

    Also, post operative depression is EXTREMELY common after having a unilateral oophorectomy.... I'm an RN and have seen it multiple times.
    I'm beginning to think there's something hormonal/chemical involved.... There's simply too many women who have this acute onset of depression without ever having experienced depression before.

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    1. "Bullshit" really. Thank you Miss Know It All to reply in such an authoritative way to a families personal recount of a tragedy. If you have something to share that might be of benefit to others, you might consider your words. Maybe your daughter isn't the only one with Aspergers ?

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    2. Where have you seen this footage?

      As far as I know, there are only two tapes of her Suncoast Digest footage that exists (one being the suicide, the other being a normal morning show), and not much else.

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    3. As an autistic women it's quite obvious that Christine had aspergers. I struggled in life the same way she did. The confusion, misunderstandings, anxiety and depression are hallmark traits. What was once bi polar is now under the autism spectrum.

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    4. I agree. I have two teenage boys with Asperger's and I saw it immediately. Good eye.

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  5. It seems to me that all poor Christine needed was daily hugs and some love and affection but unfortunately, due to her personality disorder, she kept those acts of affection at arms length, i know, i have a 12 year old daughter who was very recently diagnosed with autism and i do worry about what the future holds for her.
    P.S, Not saying Christine had shown signs of autism or aspegers symptoms but she most likely suffered from bipolar. I ask the Almighty to forgive her.

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  6. A very sad ending to a beautiful women who had a lot to offer a world . If only someone could have recognized her pain and helped. May her life not be in vain even after all this time and her pain can save even one person . Bless her family .

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  7. Bless her the lady to my eye was on the autistic spectrum,extremely intelligent but struggling in a world she didnt get and didnt understand her...she so needed a hug but wouldnt let anyone close enough :(

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  8. Bipolar depression again doesn't get to the root cause of her struggles. Christine Chubbuck's life fits autism down to a T. She seems like a textbook, open and shut case of high functioning autism. I'm appalled that none of the $1 million spent on psychologists and psychiatrists figured that out. I believe a psychologist today could've conclusively diagnosed her in a single session. And what is so tragic is that an autism diagnosis could have saved her life. She was around the same age as Temple Grandin. The different trajectories that their lives took is a painful illustration of how tragic undiagnosed autism is (Chubbuck), as well as a heartwarming illustration of how powerfully positive an autism diagnosis can be for someone (Grandin).

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    1. in the 1970s they thought autism was only for boys, and they didn't have a concept of 'high functioning' in the same way we do (even though aspergers was known about, it wasn't used like now). no one would think that someone who was able to hold a full time job etc would have autism. that's a much more recent concept. someone like her would be considered 'odd' but neurotypical (besides the depression)

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  9. Enter the armchair psychologists who think they can diagnose autism from one written bio and an old blurry news reel, of which there's only one...

    I have autism. I'm not going to say that Christine's got it, because honestly, all her description really tells us is that she was socially troubled, a mentally ill spinster with a wealthy family, and that she suffered a traumatic loss as a teenager. I fail to see "autism" in this. Chalking up anybody socially awkward, introverted or unlucky in love as "autistic" seems a tad presumptuous.

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  10. Oh my goodness - the comments above are between those who want to label and diagnose a person they never met - aspergers (which basically covers just about everyone on the planet) seeming to fit or bipolar - or those religious maniacs who think God should forgive her! The sad truth is likely to be much less wishy-washy and simply the fact she was lonely, didn't have a boyfriend and felt her entire identity as a girl/woman/human being rested on being in a relationship. That idea is THE most common reason why people commit suicide including over 2000 on Mount Mihara in the 1930s. Those same people - desperately seeking a mental disorder for a very ordinary and boring human issue would most likely be the same people who think there's something wrong with anyone who chooses to be single. So one can't win. Truth is, the only emotions Christine herself expressed were ones of 'not fitting in' - a very common adolescent and early 20's expression caused - yes caused - not by depression but a social value that says people should 'fit in' to something in the first place. We are all unique individuals however and what we gain and get in life is largely determined by our own attitude; however tragic, Christine Chubbuck was driven to her death by her own ego and nothing else.

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