The morning of her death, WXLT-TV talk show host Christine Chubbuck appeared in good spirits.
The stylishly dressed 29-year-old arrived early for her morning talk show, Suncoast Digest, in Sarasota, Florida, and asked that her live broadcast be recorded. Although the request was unusual, technical director Linford Rickard didn’t think much of it.
“She was very upbeat and very friendly,” Rickard recalls to PEOPLE about the morning of July 15, 1974. “Everything seemed to be going fine.”
News director Gordon Galbraith says that Chubbuck that morning “was in a better mood than any of the other times when she came in.”
Galbraith recalls that Chubbuck told him she planned to open her 30-minute community affairs show with a short newscast – something that she never normally did before her program – during which she would play a clip of a shooting.
Chubbuck, an accomplished puppeteer in her spare time, placed a brown bag with two puppets she made under her desk. Concealed inside the bag was a .38 caliber pistol. Rickard says he noticed the bag when he checked the set but didn’t think anything of it. “I didn’t see the gun,” he recalls.
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At the anchor desk, Chubbuck read three news items before she introduced the clip of the shooting. But the film jammed, at which point Chubbuck looked at he camera and calmly and clearly: “In keeping with Channel 40’s policy of bringing you the latest in blood and guts and in living color, we bring you another firstâ€¦Attempted suicide.”
She then drew the revolver and shot herself in the head. As she slumped forward, Rickard scrambled to fade the broadcast to black. At first, Rickard thought it was a morbid joke. “I went flying out to the studio thinking it was a
very uncouth joke and I was going to give her a mouthful,” he says.
Instead, he saw her bleeding on the studio floor. Chubbuck was rushed to the hospital and died 15 hours later. Her colleagues were left to wonder why a promising young reporter would take her life in such a public and gruesome way.
“It was the most unexpected thing in the world,” says former WXLT chief engineer Dan Lunin. “None of us had any idea there was any real problem there. What was in her heart or mind we will never know.”
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 being explored in two films that debuted at the Sundance Film Festival last month: Christine, which delves into the up-and-coming reporter’s final days, and Kate Plays Christine, a pseudo documentary on Chubbuck’s life.