From the moment TV sets began rolling into homes following World War II, it was inevitable that at some point, someone would get killed on air or die on live television. This inevitability indeed became a reality, and deaths have been sneaking their way into viewers’ homes around the world ever since—everything from suicides, assassinations, terrorist attacks and disasters. We’ve compiled some of the most infamous on this list, from the suicides of Christine Chubbuck and Jodon F. Romero, both of whom shot themselves on live TV, to the shooting deaths of reporter Alison Parker and cameraman Alan Wade, to horrific videos of the World Trade Center attacks.
Note: Each video linked to the list items contain instances of actual death footage. Viewer discretion is advised.
Christa McAuliffe was selected from a pool of more than 11,000 applicants for NASA’s Teacher in Space Project to become the first civilian sent into space. It would have been her task to communicate to students while in orbit.
Unfortunately, on January 28th, 1986, McAuliffe never even got the chance to exit Earth’s atmosphere. 73 seconds after the shuttle Challenger blasted off, it broke apart and exploded, killing McAuliffe and her six other crew members.
Due to the teacher’s presence on the ship and the general excitement over sending a non-professional astronaut into space, many school children watched the horrific accident on live television. McAuliffe was posthumously awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor in 2004.
Alison Parker and Adam Ward
In August of 2015, Roanoke, VA reporter Alison Parker and her cameraman Adam Ward were broadcasting from Smith Mountain Lake near Moneta, interviewing chamber of commerce director Vicki Gardner. Bryce Williams, a disgruntled, recently fired employee of Parker and Ward’s station WDBJ approached the pair with his cell phone in one hand and a pistol in the other.
Williams filmed himself on his phone aiming his gun at both Gardner and Parker, then opened fire. Eight gunshots were heard, followed by Ward’s camera falling to the ground. The station then cut back to the anchors at the studio. Gardner was also shot, but she survived her injuries.
More chilling than the on-air deaths of Parker and Ward is William’s cell phone footage of the shooting.
Perhaps the most famous on-air death in history, JFK assassin Lee Harvey Oswald was murdered by Jack Ruby in front of national news cameras broadcasting Oswald’s escort from the Dallas Police Headquarters to an armored car. Ruby shot Oswald in the gut, effectively killing him on the spot (he would not be officially pronounced dead until later that day).
As President John F. Kennedy had died only the day before, millions were watching their TV sets as Ruby pulled the trigger.
Jodon F. Romero
During a live airing of Studio B (now retitled Shepherd Smith Reporting) on Fox, news helicopters followed the high-speed chase between Arizona Highway Patrolmen and Jodon F. Romero, who had stolen a car. Romero swerved off onto a dirt road, exited his vehicle, ran a few paces into the brush, and then stopped. Romero then pulled a .45 caliber pistol from his waistband, pressed the barrel to his temple, and shot himself in the head.
Immediately after, Shepherd Smith screams, “Get off it, get off it, GET OFF IT!,” referring to live feed. The video, however, was on a delay, which is why Smith’s plea follow Romero’s suicide. After a commercial break, Smith apologized for the graphic imagery.
Reportedly frustrated with his HMO coverage, cancer and HIV patient Daniel Jones parked his pickup truck in the middle of an L.A. freeway, set his vehicle on fire (with his dog still inside) and then committed suicide by placing the barrel of a shotgun under his chin and firing.
The incident was apparently witnessed by several school children, whose afternoon cartoons had been interrupted to show what had begun as a high-speed chase. This led to several stations rethinking their minute-by-minute coverage of such events, which had gained in popularity since O.J. Simpson’s much-televised Bronco chase.
(Note that the above video is VERY graphic. Watch at your own risk.)
This British comedian’s death occurred during a broadcast of Live from Her Majesty’s, a variety show that aired Sunday nights on ITV. While performing one of his famous bits, Cooper suddenly collapsed into a sitting position. Seconds later, his entire body slumped over. Several more agonizing moments elapse before the station finally cuts to a commercial.
The reason for such a prolonged hold on Cooper’s body? Everyone seemed to think the fall was part of his act, including the audience. Perhaps the most disturbing part of this video is the laughter rippling through the crowd as Cooper slowly dies.
They had no way of knowing what was happening, of course, but in hindsight, the dichotomy of laughing and death is quite chilling.