April 17, 1964 - Ford introduces the Mustang (price: $2,368). It is the U.S. automaker’s answer to the European sports car craze, featuring American twists like back seats for the kids, a usable trunk and an optional V-8 engine. Ford forecasted sales of 100,000; dealers took orders for 22,000 on the first day.
April 5, 1965 - Bob Hope hosts the 37th Annual Academy Awards, at which Julie Andrews — having taken home the top prize at the Golden Globes two months before — wins again for Best Actress for "Mary Poppins." “I know you Americans are famous for your hospitality,” she says, “but this is really ridiculous.”
April 8, 1966 - In blood-red letters on a black background, Time magazine’s cover asks: “Is God Dead?” Time sees its biggest newsstand sales in more than 20 years, and 3,500 letters flood into the editor. Writes Norine McGuire of Chicago: “Sir: No.” Counters Richard L. Storatz of Notre Dame, Ind.: “Sir: Yes.”
April 28, 1967 - Boxer Muhammad Ali refuses induction into the U.S. Army. He is immediately stripped of his heavyweight title. Ali, a convert to Islam, cited his religious faith in his refusal to be drafted for the war in Vietnam. “I ain’t got no quarrel with those Vietcong,” he says.
April 9, 1968 - Downtown Atlanta empties out as the funeral procession for Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. winds through its streets. King was assassinated five days before as he stood on a hotel balcony in Memphis, Tennessee. In the white suburbs of Atlanta, however, the day of the funeral is business as usual, the New York Times reports: ladies lunch, shops stay open and the day seems entirely ordinary.
April 7, 1969 - Obscenity is now legal — at least, within an American’s own home. “The state has no business telling a man, sitting alone in his own house, what books he may read or what films he may watch,” Justice Thurgood Marshall says on this day, to a unanimous U.S. Supreme Court.
April 3, 1970 - Once upon a time, the U.S. government paid to clean up many oil spills. After President Nixon signs the Water Quality Improvement Act today, though, “absolute liability” for these spills rests with whoever caused them in the first place. One of the bill’s toughest opponents, a Florida congressman, came around after a tanker spilled oil on his district’s beaches.
April 7, 1971 - “Vietnamization has succeeded.” So says President Nixon in a speech announcing an increased rate of troop withdrawals. Later, in a phone call to Vice President Spiro Agnew, Nixon grouses, “The country is in sort of a neurotic state … and history will look back and say, did we crumble or did we measure up?”
April 10, 1972 - Actor Charlie Chaplin returns to the United States for the first time in 20 years to receive an honorary Oscar at the Academy Awards. He left under a storm of controversy involving accusations of subversion by McCarthy-era politicians, the owing of back taxes and marriage to a woman one third his age.
April 21, 1973 - “Tie a Yellow Ribbon Round the Old Oak Tree” tops U.S. pop charts today. The ballad by Tony Orlando and Dawn tells the story of a prisoner returning home and looking for a sign his woman still wants him. Eighteen years later, yellow ribbons popped up across the U.S. as the country welcomed home Americans held captive in Iran.
April 8, 1974 - Atlanta Braves outfielder Hank Aaron hits his 715th home run, breaking the record set by Babe Ruth 39 years before. The ball “kept carrying, carrying …” says pitcher Al Downing. The crowd of 53,775 people gives Aaron “a howling, standing ovation,” reports the New York Times, and amid all the commotion, the game is interrupted for 11 minutes.
April 30, 1975 - America’s war in Vietnam ends: Saigon falls to the North Vietnamese and the U.S. evacuates 1,000 Americans as well as 5,500 South Vietnamese. Says the U.S. Defense Secretary in a message to troops: “In this hour of pain and reflection, you may feel that your efforts and sacrifices have gone for naught. That is not the case.”
April 19, 1976 - “Welcome Back,” by former Lovin’ Spoonful member John Sebastian, is released as a single after TV viewers fall in love with the opening tune to the hit show "Welcome Back, Kotter." The producers originally commissioned a song for their show called, simply, "Kotter" but, said Sebastian, “the only word I could find to rhyme with Kotter was otter.”
April 18, 1977 - President Jimmy Carter tells Americans, in a nationally televised address, that the country must face its “energy crisis.” The United States, Carter says, is the “most wasteful nation on Earth.” He calls for sharply higher energy prices and taxes on natural gas, oil and gas-guzzling cars. Sure, it may be painful, he says, “but so is any meaningful sacrifice.”
April 21, 1978 - Former First Lady Betty Ford announces she is an addict. “I am not only addicted to the medication I have been taking for arthritis, but also to alcohol,” says Ford. She hopes to inspire others with similar problems to face up to their issues. She will go on to found the non-profit Betty Ford Center.
April 22, 1979 - It’s three hours long. It’s serious. It’s even depressing. But ABC-TV’s “Friendly Fire” movie attracts 42 percent of the viewing audience on this Sunday night. The drama, which stars Carol Burnett, is based on the true story of parents of a Vietnam vet who learn their son was killed accidentally by American artillery fire.
April 29, 1980 – Alfred Hitchcock dies at his home in Los Angeles. He was 80 years old. “Some films are slices of life,” he once said about his moviemaking. “Mine are slices of cake.” The New York Times describes the "Psycho" director as “the master manipulator of menace and the macabre, and the leading specialist in suspense and shock.”
April 12, 1981 – The New York Giants select University of North Carolina linebacker Lawrence Taylor as their first-round pick in the NFL draft. Taylor will revolutionize the game as the first of many outside linebackers. “He changed the way defense is played, the way pass-rushing is played, the way line backers play,” says former Raiders coach John Madden.
April 2, 1982 – Argentina invades the Falkland Islands, a British territory since 1833. The 1,800 British subjects — mostly sheep farmers — wait for a response from England. And they are not disappointed — Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher sends 30 naval warships across the seas. The Argentines are vanquished by June, and Thatcher sails to reelection on the strength of the victory.
April 15, 1983 – "Flashdance" premieres. The film was based on the life of construction worker/welder turned dancer Maureen Marder. But star Jennifer Beals’ trendsetting torn sweatshirt had an origin of its own — the garment, which Beals brought from home, had shrunk in the wash, and she had to take scissors to it to get it over her head.
April 23, 1984 – Federal researchers believe they’ve found the virus that causes Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome, or AIDS. This will turn out to be the same virus pinpointed by French researchers in 1983. Perhaps in two years, the New York Times speculates, there will be a vaccine to “conquer the mysterious disease that has afflicted more than 4,000 Americans.”
April 25, 1985 – After marketing research, and lab work, and hundreds of blind taste tests, Coca-Cola unveils the “New Coke” — a sweeter version of the original formula. But the 99-year-old company underestimates Americans’ nostalgic attachment to the brand. Three months later, amid a storm of criticism, the company announces the return to the shelves of “Classic Coke.”
April 26, 1986 – The world’s worst nuclear accident occurs at the Chernobyl nuclear power station in the Soviet Union. However, there will be no news of the disaster for two days, until Scandinavian countries report unnaturally high levels of radiation in their skies. The Soviet government then issues a four-sentence statement saying, in part: “Measures are being taken to eliminate the consequences of the accident.”
April 22, 1987 – President Reagan, in a speech at the White House Correspondents Association Annual Dinner, pokes fun at his much-maligned Star Wars defense system. “We have a spinoff from our Star Wars research,” he says. “It’s a helmet for me to wear at press conferences. All I do is push a button and it shoots down incoming questions.”
April 18, 1988 – Ibrahim Hussein of Kenya wins the Boston Marathon, becoming the first African to win the iconic race. He turns out, however, to be the first of many — 24 of the next 25 winners of the Boston Marathon will be from East Africa. Hussein’s time of 2:08:43 is more than three minutes shorter than last year’s Portuguese winner.
April 19, 1989 – A 28-year-old woman goes for a solo jog in New York’s Central Park at 9 p.m. Hours later, a passerby finds her bloodied and near death. Though she eventually recovers, she remembers nothing of the attack. Five young men are convicted of the crime, but in 2002, DNA tests reveal the real culprit — an already imprisoned serial rapist and murderer.
April 15, 1990 – "In Living Color," a sketch comedy series modeled on "Saturday Night Live," premieres on Fox. The show created by Keenen Ivory Wayans launched many careers, including those of Jamie Foxx, Jim Carrey and Jennifer Lopez. ”We would have done it for free,” Wayans recalled years later. “We were just looking for a chance to express ourselves creatively.”
April 4, 1991 – Katie Couric, who’s been subbing as "Today" co-anchor while Deborah Norville is on maternity leave, will become the show’s permanent co-host, NBC announces. Show insiders say they’d known from the minute she arrived on the set and smiled into the camera. “Everybody knew we had seen the future and it was Katie,” an NBC exec says.
April 29, 1992 - “April 29, 1992, was one of the saddest days of my life.” So writes L.A. politician Wendy Greul of the day rioters tore up Los Angeles neighborhoods following a not-guilty verdict in the Rodney King trial. “We could see palm trees on fire outside our office … I remember thinking ‘This is not the Los Angeles I grew up in.’”
April 19, 1993 – After a 51-day standoff, FBI agents launch a tear gas assault on the Branch Davidian compound in Waco, Texas. Nearly ninety people are inside, many of them children. The compound soon bursts into flames — at the alleged directive of cult leader David Koresh, who seems to be creating his own, prophesied Armageddon. All but nine people inside die.
April 8, 1994 – Kurt Cobain, lead singer of the grunge band Nirvana, is found dead outside his home in Seattle. He had apparently shot himself in the head with a 20-gauge shotgun. In a suicide note found nearby, Cobain wrote, in part: “I don’t have the passion anymore, and so remember, it’s better to burn out than to fade away.”
April 19, 1995 – Two years to the day after the Branch Davidian massacre, homegrown terrorists park a rental truck containing a fertilizer bomb outside the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City. When the bomb detonates, 168 people die and hundreds more are injured. Locals are stunned. “You don’t have terrorism in Middle America,” says one firefighter.
April 3, 1996 – Theodore J. Kaczynski, a former U.C. Berkeley math professor, is living alone in his cabin in the Montana wilderness when federal agents raid his home and find explosive chemicals and other bomb-making material. They arrest Kaczynski on suspicion of being the Unabomber, the elusive terrorist who mailed 16 bombs that killed three people and maimed 23 others.
April 16, 1997 – Wall Street buzzes with rumors of the sale of Apple Computer, Inc., which reports a net loss of $708 million for its second fiscal quarter. The chairman of Oracle Corp. and a Saudi prince are reportedly among the prospective buyers. But in August, the company will bring back its deposed, idiosyncratic founder Steve Jobs to helm a rebirth.
April 8, 1998 – The last episode of "Seinfeld" is taped before a live studio audience. It’s also a very select audience — 250 people, all of them connected to the show or its stars. But some outsiders just won’t take no for an answer. “Shameless?” says producer Alan Horn. “Yes, people are shameless about trying to get in.”
April 19, 1999 – At approximately 11:19 a.m., Dylan Klebold, 18, and Eric Harris, 17, approach Columbine High outside Denver, Colo., and open fire on their fellow students. Dressed in trench coats and armed with semiautomatic weapons, Klebold and Harris kill 13 people and wound 23 more, before turning their guns on themselves shortly after noon in the school library.
April 22, 2000 – “What’s happening? What’s happening? Help me. Help me,” says six-year-old Elian Gonzales in Spanish this morning, as federal agents burst into his great-uncle’s home in Miami and whisk Elian away for a reunion with his father in Washington, D.C. His father wants to bring him home to Cuba; Miami’s Cuban exile community wants Elian to stay.
April 9, 2001 – Quarterback Troy Aikman announces his retirement from the NFL. Aikman, who took his Dallas Cowboys to three Super Bowl championships, choked back tears as he said: "I know it's the right thing. I know it's the right thing for me because of my health, concussions, the back problems I've had. It took its toll.”
April 19, 2002 – "My Big Fat Greek Wedding" premieres. Actress Nia Vardalos wrote, directed and starred in the film, which took wing after actress Rita Wilson saw Vardalos’ one-woman show in L.A. Wilson and her husband, Tom Hanks, ultimately signed on as producers of "Wedding," which became one of the most profitable movies of all times (based on its budget-earnings ratio).
April 11, 2003 – TV reports show looting and other signs of lawlessness in Baghdad following the American invasion. Reporters ask Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld if Iraq is descending into chaos. “Stuff happens!” he says. “Freedom’s untidy. And free people are free to make mistakes and commit crimes and do bad things. They’re also free … to do wonderful things.”
April 1, 2004 – April Fools'? Google today launches an invite-only, beta version of a new service called Gmail. Consumers think they spy a joke. C’mon — a whole gigabyte of storage space for free? Unheard of. Ads targeted to email content? Wacky, even creepy. But Google’s serious. By 2012, Gmail will have become the nation’s largest email service.
April 2, 2005 – Pope John Paul II dies. After 26 years at the helm of the Catholic Church, the socially conservative pontiff has seeded the institution with like-minded prelates. He has also dazzled millions with his charm and compassion. Writes the New York Times: “For more than 10 minutes, not long after his death was announced, the largely Roman crowd simply applauded him.”
April 26, 2006 – President Bush’s approval ratings have slid to a new low. A CNN poll out today shows only one third of Americans think he’s doing a good job. Asked if Bush could be considered “honest and trustworthy,” 40 percent said yes, a drop from the 56 percent who felt that way a year ago, CNN reports.
April 16, 2007 – A lone gunman mows down 27 of his fellow students and five faculty members in a shooting rampage at Virginia Tech. Seung Hui Cho is armed with a 9mm handgun, a 22-caliber handgun and hundreds of rounds of ammunition when he enters a classroom building, chains and locks several main doors, and begins shooting people.
April 22, 2008 – Former President Bill Clinton scrambles to distance himself from his own comments of the day before, when he accused the Obama campaign of “playing the race card” to beat his wife, Hillary, in the Democratic presidential primaries. Today, though, Clinton tells a reporter: “That’s not what I said … I’m not going to play your games today.”
April 14, 2009 – Finally, the Obama family is complete — they’ve adopted a puppy. The girls name him Bo because their cousins have a cat with the same name, and Michelle Obama’s father was nicknamed Diddley. The six-month-old Portuguese water dog is a gift from Senator Ted Kennedy, himself a long-time “Portie” owner.
April 14, 2010 – The Icelandic volcano with the unpronounceable name — Eyjafjallajökull — erupts, sending up a plume of ash that closes airports from Ireland to Ukraine for as long as six days. On Saturday, April 17, alone, airlines canceled 17,000 flights. Said a British economist, stuck in Tokyo: “We don’t understand how interconnected we are until you can’t do it anymore.”
April 29, 2011 – Prince William marries Kate Middleton before 1,900 guests, with one million spectators crowding the streets of London and an estimated 2 billion more watching worldwide on TV. The couple, both 29 years old, met while students at St. Andrew’s University in Scotland. They’ve been dating for eight years and got officially engaged the previous fall.
April 18, 2012 – Dick Clark, the perennially youthful looking host of "American Bandstand," dies in Santa Monica at age 82. Clark’s face and peppy attitude blanketed TV during his prime, as he hosted not only "Bandstand" but "New Year’s Rockin’ Eve," game shows, specials and more. Clark “made us feel … as young and vibrant and optimistic as he was,” says President Obama.
April 15, 2013 – Two powerful bombs explode near the finish line of the Boston Marathon, killing three people and injuring 264 runners and bystanders. The scene resembles a war zone. “Those runners just finished and they don’t have legs now,” witness Roupen Bastajian, a Rhode Island state trooper, tells the New York Times. “It’s all blood. There’s blood everywhere.”
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