The presence and ownership of the Christine Chubbuck video, portraying the newsreader’s on-air suicide in 1974, has captivated the public and media in a morbid way for many years
The newscast of her suicide was believed to be lost, but it has been disclosed that the video has been maintained by Mollie Nelson, the widow of Chubbuck’s news station, who obtained it from her late husband Robert Nelson.
After receiving numerous inquiries about the tape, Mollie Nelson supposedly entrusted it to a large law firm for safekeeping.
On July 15, 1974, Chubbuck arrived to work at WXLT Channel 40, a station known for reporting horrific news stories, which she apparently “detested.”
She began her Suncoast Digest show with a news bulletin that covered three national news stories and a shooting at a local bar.
When the film reel for the latter jammed, the camera cut back to Chubbuck, who looked into the lens and said: “In keeping with Channel 40’s policy of bringing you the latest in blood and guts and in living colour, you are going to see another first – an attempted suicide.”
According to the Sarasota Herald-Tribune, Christine promptly drew a .38 caliber Smith and Wesson revolver from a shopping bag behind her desk and shot herself behind her right ear, falling forward and striking her head on the desk before falling to the floor.
WXLT’s technical director quickly faded to black, and a standard public service announcement was broadcast, followed by a movie.
She reportedly said she “attempted suicide” to cover herself in case she was not successful, and this was not the only premeditated element of her death.
News director Mike Simmons later found a complete script for the day’s show among her papers, which included a report of her death to be read out by whichever reporter took her seat.
“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,’” he was quoted as saying by The Dallas Morning News, and indeed ‘critical’ was how her condition was reported at the nearby hospital, where she died in the evening.
Chubbuck, who is thought to have killed herself due to personal rather than professional problems, purchased a pistol eight days before the broadcast.
Fellow Channel 40 news reporter Rob Smith recalled asking her why she thought she needed a gun.
“She replied: ‘Well Rob, I had this really nifty idea, I thought I’d bring it to work and blow myself away during my talk show.’”
The broadcast was taped as per Chubbuck’s request, according to the Tribune, but the only copy of the tape was seized by Sarasota County Sheriff’s Office as evidence before being passed onto Chubbuck’s family.
Chubbuck had been suffering from depression and suicidal tendencies for a long time, with her mother later summarising her death as “simply because her personal life was not enough.”
Chubbuck’s story has been made into two films, with Rebecca Hall playing her in a straight-forward biopic called Christine, while Kate Plays Christine charts actor Kaye Lyn Sheil’s preparation for playing Chubbuck in the movie.
Her story has also inspired other films, including the 1976 movie Network about a news anchor’s meltdown.