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1981 - An Overview

1981 was a memorable year in so many respects. Major political events happened, iconic movies were released, milestones in music occurred, and big changes in technology took place. Also, the economy and culture where a lot different forty years ago. 


Some high points:

Politics.  Ronald Reagan took office on January 20, 1981 and was promptly shot 69 days later by John Hinckley Jr. (FYI, he was released in 2016). 1981 was the start of the Reagan revolution, as the country pivoted to the right. The Republicans took control of the Senate, which was the first time they had controlled either house since 1953.

That summer, Reagan fired 11,345 air traffic controllers and banned them from


federal service for life (later lifted by Clinton). Remember that?


Big wigs in the Senate at the time were Howard Baker and Ted Stevens. In the House, Tip O’Neill, Jim Wright, and Tom Foley dominated the news. 


On the judicial front, Sandra Day O’Connor joined the Supreme Court. The only major opposition to her nomination came from Reagan conservatives, who distrusted her stance on abortion. In the end, though, the Senate confirmed her 99-0. The unanimous confirmation of a Supreme Court nominee is virtually unthinkable today.


Music.  MTV launched in August. And the answer to the oft asked trivia question, what was the first music video? Why, Video Killed the Radio Star, by the Buggles, of course. Alas, the Buggles crashed and burned later that year.

Hi Fidelity, REO Speedwagon, was the

top album, followed by Double Fantasy, John Lennon & Yoko Ono. The number 1 hit of the year was "Bette Davis Eyes" by Kim Carnes.

Technology. IBM released the first IBM PC in August and the dawn of the personal computer era had truly begun. The IBM PC was a revolutionary event. Okay, the price was a whopping $1,565 (a huge sum at the time). Still, IBM was flooded with orders. A cash poor student at the time, sadly it would be years before I could afford my first desktop computer.


Economy. The economy kind of sucked in 1981. Inflation was an astronomical 10.32% (compared to 1.4% in 2020). Unemployment averaged 7.4% (compared to 3.5% for pre-COVID 2019). 


If you wanted to buy a house in 1981, you could expect a mortgage rate of 16.63%. My god, how could anyone afford to borrow at that rate?


Not surprisingly, 1981 was the start of a truly nasty recession that lasted almost two years. And you thought 2008 was bad? 

Culture. The wedding of the century: Charles marries Diana. It was carried live on US TV, provided you got up at four in the morning. Now you can relive Charles and Diana on the The Crown--What goes around, comes around.


The other big wedding in 1981? Luke and Laura on General Hospital—c’mon, who can forget that?


Bob Marley dies


Donkey Kong is released . . . and so the legend begins




Big toys that Christmas? Star Wars action items; gulp, the Dukes of Hazzard cars; Strawberry Shortcake; the Smurfs; Atari video games; Rubik’s Cube;


The Raiders won the Super Bowl, the Dodgers the World Series, The Islanders the Stanley Cup, and the Celtics the NBA title.


On the food front, Lean Cuisine frozen dinners debut . . . dieting would never be the same


Births: How about Beyonce, Serena Williams, Britney Spears, to name just a few


Deaths: RIP—Bill Haley (“Rock Around the Clock”), Joe Louis, Natalie Wood, William Holden.

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