Trigger warning: Suicide/death
About as disturbing as the story of Christine Chubbuck is that of R. Budd Dwyer, Pennsylvania’s state treasurer from 1981 to 1987.
On January 22, 1987, the day before he was scheduled to be sentenced on a bribery conviction, Dwyer called a press conference. Things proceeded normally—Dwyer read from a script, reaffirming his claims of innocence. And then he broke from his written statement and said:
I’ve repeatedly said that I’m not going to resign as State Treasurer. After many hours of thought and meditation I’ve made a decision that should not be an example to anyone because it is unique to my situation. Last May I told you that after the trial, I would give you the story of the decade. To those of you who are shallow, the events of this morning will be that story. But to those of you with depth and concern the real story will be what I hope and pray results from this morning—in the coming months and years, the development of a true Justice System here in the United States. I am going to die in office in an effort to …see if the shame[ful] facts, spread out in all their shame, will not burn through our civic shamelessness and set fire to American pride. Please tell my story on every radio and television station and in every newspaper and magazine in the U.S. Please leave immediately if you have a weak stomach or mind since I don’t want to cause physical or mental distress. Joanne, Rob, DeeDee: I love you. Thank you for making my life so happy. Goodbye to you all on the count of 3. Please make sure that the sacrifice of my life is not in vain.
Dwyer then handed a series of envelopes to his staffers (one of which contained a suicide note addressed to his wife). He produced a final envelope, pulled a revolver from it and said, ”Please leave the room if this will offend you.” From Wikipedia:
Attendees pleaded with Dwyer to put the gun down, while some ran to get help. Others tried to approach him. Dwyer advised everyone not to come near him, saying, “Don’t, don’t, don’t, this will hurt someone.” With people still trying to persuade him to reconsider, Dwyer turned the gun toward his body, opened his mouth wide, and pulled the trigger.
Only a handful of stations ended up airing the full unedited footage of the suicide; many edited it down to cut out just before things got graphic. Of course, clips of the footage are available on the internet. To be honest, I’ve never been able to watch it. Despite my fascination with death, there is something too disturbing about watching someone in their final moments.
Also, I’m in my pajamas right now, and I definitely want to sleep tonight.
One of the more interesting things to come out of the aftermath of this very public suicide was something I read about years ago, but which I can’t find any references to now, after doing a quick (and lazy) Google search. Back in the 1980s, the Associated Press and other news agencies tended to load their cameras with black-and-white film when they attended events and press conferences they predicted not to be worthy of front-page coverage. Under normal circumstances, coverage of a press conference called by a U.S. state treasurer would likely end up in the inner (and non-color) pages of a newspaper. However, when what promised to be a minor press event turned into a shocking national story, the Associated Press was left with only black-and-white stills of the event (as you can see above). This proved a tipping point, from what I remember reading: at some point soon after this, major news photographers began bringing color film to all events.
Folks who know this story better than I do: Please correct me if I remember any of this wrong! Photojournalism is not my bailiwick.
Image source: Wikipedia.
“Hey Man, Nice Shot” by Filter was written about Dwyer.