A 9.2 earthquake strikes Prince William Sound, Alaska. “Alaska’s been hit by a natural force equal to 10 million atomic bombs the size of Hiroshima,” declares a later documentary on the disaster, "Though the Earth Be Moved." Between the quake and the resulting tidal waves, 131 die in Alaska and along the coast of California.
About 3,200 people march out of Selma, Ala., bound for Montgomery under the protection of federal troops, to protest restrictions on voter registration. They walk about 12 miles a day and sleep in fields at night. The march, led by the Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr., is made possible only by the direct intervention by President Johnson.
Beatle John Lennon, in an interview with the London Evening Standard, says: “Christianity will go. It will vanish and shrink ... We’re more popular than Jesus now.” Several months later, Lennon’s sardonic comment makes it into an American teen magazine as, “We’re more popular than Jesus.” Bible Belt preachers call for a ban of all things Beatle.
Time magazine reports that President Lyndon B. Johnson has called Robert Kennedy to the Oval Office for a tongue lashing. Johnson is infuriated by a Newsweek report that Kennedy was trying to craft a peace with the North Vietnamese. If he kept talking like this, Johnson warned, “the blood of American boys will be on your hands.”
Johnny Cash marries June Carter in a private ceremony in Franklin, Tenn. They’d gotten engaged a week earlier during a live performance at a hockey arena. Cash stopped the show to propose to Carter. “Go on, sing another, sing another, ”Carter responded. But Cash wouldn’t sing until she gave him an answer.
New York Yankees center fielder Mickey Mantle announces his retirement from baseball. “I can’t hit anymore,” he tells reporters at a press conference at the Yankees’ spring training base in Ft. Lauderdale, Florida. “I can’t go from first to third when I need to. There’s no use trying.” He was 37 years old.
U.S. postal workers go on strike. It is, according to the Smithsonian Institution, the first and largest walkout ever against the federal government. Draft notices go unserved. Census questionnaires cannot be delivered. President Nixon calls out the National Guard in an effort to get mail moving in major cities.
It’s soft pop music’s heyday at the Grammy Awards. Song of the Year: “Bridge Over Troubled Waters.” Best New Artist: The Carpenters. Best Contemporary Female Vocal: Dionne Warwick for “I’ll Never Fall in Love Again.” When the show ends, Paul McCartney stays in town to record his first solo album.
The U.S. Senate ratifies the Equal Rights Amendment and sends it to the states for approval. Ultimately, the amendment will fall three states shy of the 38 needed for ratification. The amendment reads: “Equality of rights under the law shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or any State on account of sex.”
Yankee pitcher Fritz Peterson and his close friend, Yankee left-hander Mike Kekich, hold a press conference to announce that they are swapping — wives, kids, dogs, everything. More than 40 years later, the Petersons (v2) are still together; Kekich and Peterson’s former wife split after a few years.
Amid grand jury indictments of seven Nixon administration officials, First Daughter Tricia Nixon Cox speaks out on Watergate for the first time. The burglary was “stupid and dishonest,”she says, and President Nixon could not be involved in it “because we all know my father is not stupid or dishonest.”
The UCLA Bruins win their 10th NCAA basketball title under legendary coach John Wooden. Immediately following the victory over the University of Kentucky, Wooden announces his retirement. In his 27 years of coaching the team, he has amassed a record of 620-147. To date, no other coach has won as many NCAA titles.
Queen Elizabeth becomes the first head of state to send an email. She sends her first electronic missive while participating in a network technology demonstration at a research facility in Malvern, England. The message — whose contents and recipient have not been released — was transmitted over ARPANET, a forerunner of the Internet.
Jay Leno makes his first appearance on the Tonight Show. Fifteen years later, he would take over as host from Johnny Carson. Today, he riffs: “People always say the same thing about criminals. ‘Bob Johnson? Ah, yeah, kind of a loner. Seemed like a nice fellow. Always said hello!’”
Cheryl Tiegs makes the cover of Time magazine, which dubs her the “All-American Model.” Certainly, the poster of her in a swimsuit is gracing boys’ bedrooms all over America. She later says, “Before the Time magazine cover, people knew models by their faces ... After that, we had names and personalities. It was a different world.”
At 4 a.m., a pressure valve in the Unit-2 reactor at Pennsylvania’s Three Mile Island fails to close. This launches a cascading series of mistakes and near-catastrophes that results in the worst nuclear accident in U.S. history. In the end, no one outside the facility suffers injury — still, 100,000 people temporarily flee the area.
"Dallas" fans are stunned, breathless — then miserable. The primetime drama’s second season ends with a cliffhanger that has Americans asking the now-iconic question: "Who shot J.R.?" They have to wait eight months to find out; when the Season 3 opener airs, after a delay by a writer’s strike, 83 million people tune in.
President Ronald Reagan is shot after addressing a labor meeting at the Washington Hilton Hotel. “Please tell me you’re Republicans,” he quips to the surgeons about to operate on his lung. The assailant is John Hinckley, Jr., a deranged man who believed that the shooting would impress the object of his obsession, actress Jody Foster.
Actor John Belushi dies in a bungalow at the Chateau Marmont hotel in Hollywood. A drug overdose killed the 33-year-old comic — specifically, an intravenous “speedball” of heroin and cocaine. Dan Aykroyd, his fellow Blues Brother, says he will miss “how hard we used to laugh. We used to be immobile with laughter.”
Michael Jackson’s “Billie Jean” becomes the first video by a black artist ever to play on MTV. The cable network initially said no, but then relented after the president of Jackson’s record label, CBS, threatened to pull all his product and “go public and f___ing tell them … you don’t want to play music by a black guy.”
Comedy cult classic "This Is Spinal Tap" premieres. The mockumentary of a stumbling rock band is ranked one of the top 10 cult movies of all times by Entertainment Weekly. Rob Reiner planned to be one of the band members, but ended up directing the film after Harry Shearer commented that “he didn’t look good in Spandex.”
The U.S. will start screening the nation’s blood supply for AIDS. So says the Secretary of Health and Human Services, promising the new test will be widely available within two to six weeks. AIDS can be transmitted by blood infusions, but up to this point, there’s been no way to tell which donors harbor the virus.
Chile suffocates in the grip of dictator Gen. Augusto Pinochet. Human rights abuses, official kidnappings and murder — these are all facts of daily life for Chileans. In 1986, with the Reagan Administration’s blessing, the United Nations calls on the South American nation to halt torture and other abuses.
The first drug to extend the lives of AIDS patients receives federal approval. AZT (azidothymidine) is not a cure, but it is the first beacon of hope for sufferers of a disease that up until now has been characterized by a swift, steady decline and certain death. The drug will cost patients $10,000 annually.
The Iran-Contra scandal dogs the Reagan Administration. President Reagan’s former national security adviser Robert McFarlane pleaded guilty last week to four misdemeanor counts of withholding information from Congress. “He just pleaded guilty to not telling Congress everything it wanted to know,” Reagan quips to reporters. “I’ve done that myself.”
Junk bond king Michael Milken is indicted by a federal grand jury on charges that include racketeering, securities fraud and mail fraud. At 42 years old, Milken has constructed an empire that earned him more than $1 billion from 1983 to 1987. Prosecutors say he cheated clients and stockholders and manipulated the marketplace and at least one corporation.
"Pretty Woman" premieres. Richard Gere started off much more active in his role of the businessman who hires a prostitute (Julia Roberts) to be his girlfriend for the week. But director Garry Marshall told him, “No, no, no, Richard. In this movie, one of you moves. And one of you doesn’t. Guess which one you are?”
At 12:45 a.m., robbery parolee Rodney King stops his car after leading police on a nearly 8-mile pursuit through Los Angeles. The intoxicated King is slow to follow police orders; officers descend on him with batons. The beating is captured in an 89-second home video that will soon play, repeatedly, on cable networks around the world.
There’s a new, fresh, Democratic candidate for president, and he’s all about one thing: change. Says Bill Clinton’s top strategist, James Carville: “[President] George Bush wouldn’t know change if it ran him over.” Bush is also battling an economy in the doldrums. Plus Republican opponents shame him for reversing his no-new-taxes pledge.
MTV airs the first episode of "Beavis and Butthead." It would become the network’s highest rated series to that point. Creator Mike Judge says he based Beavis’ laugh on that of a “nerdy straight-A student” he knew in high school. The kid used to laugh with a grunt while biting his lip.
The Internet is just taking off as a phenomenon, but Vice President Al Gore has big hopes for it. Speaking in Argentina, he urges construction of a “global information infrastructure” that will “transmit messages and images with the speed of light from the largest city to the smallest village on every continent.”
More than a century after the Civil War ended, Mississippi legislators approve the 13th Amendment abolishing slavery. But the paperwork doesn’t get sent to Washington until 2013. That’s when, after seeing the movie "Lincoln," a University of Mississippi professor starts asking questions, and discovers his state never officially ratified the constitutional amendment.
George Burns dies at his home in Beverly Hills. He is 100 years old. Initially famous as the straight man to wife Gracie Allen’s ditz, he refashioned himself after her death as a comedian in his own right, albeit an aging one. “When I was a boy,” he said, “the Dead Sea was only sick.”
Cuba Gooding, Jr. wins the Oscar for Best Supporting Actor for "Jerry Maguire" — and no amount of transition music can shoo him off stage. “Tom Cruise!” he shouts as the music plays. “I love you, brother! … Cameron Crowe! James L. Brooks! … I love you! I love you! I love you! … Everybody involved!”
Viagra, the first pill for male impotence, wins approval from the Food and Drug Administration. The stock market is already abuzz — the stock of drug company Pfizer, which manufactures Viagra, has leaped 21 percent in two months in anticipation of the FDA’s move. Marvels one participant in the clinical trial: “It’s the most natural thing in the world.”
"The Matrix," a sci-fi blockbuster, premieres. The Wachowski brothers approached Warner with the film’s concept and a budget — more than $80 million. Warner gave them $10 million instead, which they used to film the first ten minutes of the movie. When the studio execs saw it, they were so impressed they green-lit the original budget.
The NASDAQ composite index hits an all-time high of 5,132.52, marking the peak of the dot-com bubble. From there, it is downhill. Internet company Yahoo! sees its stock plunge from $115 to $5 a share. The NASDAQ itself plummets by 80 percent. Nearly 14 years later, the index would still be nearly 1,000 points shy of that mark.
The Taliban confirm they are systematically destroying relics from Afghanistan’s pre-Islamic past. Their latest attack is on the Great Buddhas of Banyamin, 800-year-old statuaries that survived the invasion of Genghis Khan. “They will come down soon,” says the minister of information and culture. “It is easier to destroy than to build.”
The Israelis call it the “Passover Massacre” — a Palestinian suicide bomber blows himself up inside a crowded Jerusalem ballroom where more than 200 people are celebrating one of Judaism’s highest holidays. Nineteen people die and more than 100, many of them children, are injured. Hamas claims responsibility and peace talks are thrown into jeopardy.
“Elizabeth Smart Found Alive!” blare the headlines. The 15-year-old Mormon girl, kidnapped from her bedroom nine months before, is discovered with her abductors in a suburb near her family’s Salt Lake City home. “I don’t know what she’s gone through and I’m sure she’s been through hell,” her father says.
Media magnate Martha Stewart is found guilty of lying about the reasons she sold her shares in a biotechnology company. When the verdict is read, her daughter Alexis begins to weep. Stewart leaves the courtroom stony-faced, in a black coat and fur around her neck. “I am obviously distressed,” she says in a statement.
Martha Stewart is released from prison. She stays up all night to watch the sunrise, then serves hot chocolate to shivering reporters. Inmates who served with her rave about their new friend: how she started a yoga class, lobbied to have yogurt added to the vending machine and signed pictures of herself for their relatives.
Slobodan Milosevic is found dead of a heart attack in his prison cell. The Serbian dictator created and directed a war that claimed more than 200,000 lives and that tore apart his country, the former Yugoslavia. Milosevic’s death ensures he will never be convicted for the war crimes for which he’d been on trial.
Senator John Edwards will continue his presidential campaign, even though his wife, Elizabeth, has just learned that her breast cancer is back, has spread and is incurable. “You can go cower in the corner and hide, or you can be tough,” says the senator, who also ran in 2004.
New York Governor Eliot Spitzer addresses the news that he’s been caught on a federal wiretap arranging a rendezvous with a high-priced prostitute. “I have disappointed and failed to live up to the standard that I expected of myself,” he says, his glassy-eyed wife by his side. He will resign two days later.
The Red River crests and begins to recede, relieving the citizens of Fargo, N.D., who nearly saw their town immersed by rising waters. Other, smaller communities in Minnesota and North Dakota were not so fortunate. “The river’s doing things it’s never done before,” says resident Ginger Williams, whose entire backyard has turned into a lake.
President Obama signs healthcare reform into law. “The bill … will set in motion reforms that generations of Americans have fought for and marched for and hungered to see,” Obama says. Republicans are not so exuberant. “This is a somber day for the American people,” says House Speaker John Boehner.
Charlie Sheen may be suspended from his hit series, “Two and a Half Men,” but he tells ABC News that he loves life with his twin boys and his two 24-year-old “goddesses.” Says the 45-year-old actor: "We win soradically in our underwear before our first cup of coffee, it's scary.”
Here’s one way to make ground beef cheaper: pad it with “pink slime” — beef trimmings sprayed with ammonia. ABC News reports today that the sludge is in 70 percent of ground beef found in America’s supermarkets. The product, says a USDA scientist, is not really beef but “a salvage product.”
Twenty-four hours after his election, Pope Francis “has dramatically shifted the tone of the papacy,” the New York Times reports. He paid his own hotel bill a day after becoming pope. He eschews fancy clothing. And he doesn’t ride elevators in stately solitude. “No, no, no, we can all get in,” he tells surprised cardinals.
Intimate moments in the brief life of an iconic actor
From the chance encounter in 'Taxi' to the struggles of 'A Boy Named Sue'
Close-ups on a very special bond
Rare photos of Hollywood icons and other luminaries looking fresh, natural and free of cosmetics
Delightful cartoons and witty verse from a comedic renaissance man
From 'The Hustler' and 'Hud' to 'The Verdict' and 'The Color of Money,' an admiring look at one of our all-time favorite actors