1981, year of my heart: 700 MILLION people tuned in to watch Princes Charles marry the Queen of puffy sleeves, Lady Diana; President Ronald Reagan nominates the first woman, Sandra Day O’Connor, to the Supreme Court of the United States; MTV, the first 24 hour music video channel, is launched with Video Killed The Radio Star by The Buggles; the Boeing 767 makes its first flight; the Dodgers won the World Series over the Yankees after a shortened baseball season due to striking players; Simon & Garfunkel perform their Concert in Central Park to half a million fans; the Edmonton Eskimos win their record 4th consecutive Grey Cup by the skin of their teeth; Donkey Kong makes its debut; Eli Manning, Britney Spears, Alicia Keys, Justin Timerberlake, Pitbull, Beyonce, Roger Federer and Georges St-Pierre are born; the first DeLorean rolls off the production line; the Raiders became the first
wild card playoff team to win a Super Bowl after defeating the Eagles; Walter Cronkite signed off the air; the first heart-lung transplant is performed at Stanford’s Medical Center; the original Model 5150 IBM PC with a 4.77 MHz Intel 8088 processor was released in the U.S. at a base price of $1,565; the Islanders took home the Stanley Cup; Luke and Laura got married on General Hospital. It was a banner year.
On the radio
1981 sounded super cool, of course. Disco was reluctantly loosening its grip on the mainstream, making way for radio hits like:
Rick Springfield’s Jessie’s Girl
The Rolling Stones’ Start Me Up
Queen ft David Bowie’s Under Pressure
Rick James’ Superfreak
Air Supply’s The One That You Love
Journey’s Don’t Stop Believin’
Kool & The Gang’s Celebration
Kim Carnes’ Bette Davis Eyes
Dynasty, Hill Street Blues, The Smurfs, and Entertainment Tonight made their debuts.
The Incredible Hulk was suddenly cancelled. Charlie’s Angels, The Waltons, and Eight is Enough also ended their series.
Chuck Woolery hosted his last episode of Wheel of Fortune after a salary dispute, and Pat Sajak took over.
Tom Baker made his final appearance as the Fourth Doctor on Doctor Who, and Peter Davison stepped in as the Fifth.
MASH, The Jeffersons, Dallas, The Dukes of Hazard, Taxi, Diff’rent Strokes, Laverne & Shirley, WKRP in Cincinnati, The Facts of Life, and Magnum P.I were the finest in television.
At the movies:
Oscar winners Jennifer Hudson and Natalie Portman were born in 1981, along with Chris Evans, Amy Schumer, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Bryce Dallas Howard, Elijah Wood, Jessica Alba, Hayden Christensen, Josh Gad, and Tim Hilddleston.
Indiana Jones and the Raiders of the Lost Ark debuted in 1981 and was the highest-grossing movie that year. Other popular films included:
Chariots of Fire
For Your Eyes Only
The Cannonball Run
My Dinner with Andre
Natalie Wood drowned in a boating accident. We also lost Beulah Bondi (actress, It’s A Wonderful Life), William Holden (actor, Sunset Boulevard), William Wyler (director, Ben-Hur) and Paddy Chayefsky (screenwriter, Network).
The Oscars in 1981 looked like this:
Best Picture: Chariots of Fire
Best Director: Warren Beaty for Reds
Best Actor: Henry Fonda for On Golden Pond
Best Actress: Katharine Hepburn, also for On Golden Pond
Several actors made their film debuts in 1981, including:
Ben Affleck – appeared in a local independent called The Dark End of the Street at the age of 7, directed by a family friend. He meet 10 year old Matt Damon later this year.
Jason Alexander & Holly Hunter – both appear in The Burning, a slasher film written by Bob Weinstein. This low-budget horror flick is about a summer camp caretaker, horribly disfigured from a prank-gone-wrong and newly released from the hospital with severe deformities, who seeks revenge on those he holds responsible, starting with the kids at a nearby summer camp. The film is notable for being Miramax’s first.
Kim Basinger – she makes her first appearance in a forgotten drama called Hard Country where she had a starring role as a young woman longing to escape small-town Texas to pursue her dreams, but held back by a factory-working boyfriend.
Tom Cruise – Brook Shields and Martin Hewitt star as star-crossed teenaged lovers torn apart when bad advice from his buddy Tom Cruise (age: 19) lands Martin in jail. Watch Endless Love carefully and you’ll spy some other soon-to-be-famous faces. You might also know the Oscar nominated song of the same name, performed by Lionel Richie and Diana Ross. Tom Cruise would have a larger supporting role this year, in Taps.
Sean Penn – speaking of which – Sean Penn makes his acting debut in Taps alongside him. Taps stars Timothy Hutton as a cadet in military school who is aided by fellow student cadets Sean Penn and Tom Cruise in taking over the school in order to save it.
Kathleen Turner – she stars with William Hurt as a cheating wife in this “erotic thriller” directed by the writer of Raiders of the Lost Ark and The Empire Strikes Back. It launched her career, established her as one of the sexiest stars in film history, and identified her as frankly sexual and…rather robust.
James Cameron – he got to sit behind the director’s chair for the first time, and his stunning debut: Piranha II: The Spawning, a shameless low-budget horror sequel. He was originally hired as the special effects director, but took over when the the original director, Drake Miller, was fired. But Cameron isn’t comfortable with this credit. He claims “I was replaced after 2 and a half weeks by the Italian producer. He just fired me and took over, which is what he wanted to do when he hired me. It wasn’t until much later that I even figured out what had happened. But when I saw what they were cutting together, it was horrible. And then the producer wouldn’t take my name off the picture because [contractually] they couldn’t deliver it with an Italian name. So they left me on, no matter what I did. In actual fact, I did some directing on the film, but I don’t feel it was my first movie.” Good thing James, since critics called it one of the world’s worst movies, belonging on “anyone’s list of all-time horror turkeys”, the piranhas resembling “haddock with dentures.” Cameron, however, maintains it’s “the best flying piranha film ever made.” So there.
So this is why 1981 will always be quite precious to my little heart. And it just so happens that on this day, back in 1981, one of the funnest Assholes I know, and one of my best friends in the world, was born. Happy Birthday.
Do you have any particular memories to share from 1981?