American Hostages are Released From Iran
more than 14 months, the nation had endured humiliation. But now, on January 20,
1981, it was finally
over. Fifty-two Americans, taken hostage when Iranian mobs stormed the U.S. embassy in Tehran—were coming home. After scornfully brushing off
ineffectual threats and offers to negotiate from the Carter administration, the
Iranians had suddenly seen fit to cut a deal. They were, after all, confronting
a new and perhaps tougher American president, and pressure was mounting in
their savage war against neighboring Iraq.
return for the hostages, the United States released an initial $2.8 billion of about $12
billion in frozen Iranian assets. That seemed a small enough price as an
overjoyed America greeted the hostage-heroes with pealing church
bells and blizzards of confetti. Despite having suffered brutal treatment, the
hostages were a tough bunch and swiftly set about rebuilding their lives.
The Assassination Attempt of Ronald Reagan
two months after President Reagan took office, on March 30, 1981, John W. Hinckley Jr. watched from a crowd as the
smiling president crossed a Washington sidewalk to his limousine. Then, the young man
fired six shots from a .22-caliber pistol. Instantly, Secret Service agent
Jerry Parr pulled down Reagan’s arm and shoved him into the car, which sped
away. At first, nobody knew the president had been hit. Reagan thought the
agony he soon experienced and the blood he spat resulted from Paar’s leaping
protectively on top of him in the limousine. In fact, a ricochet off the car
had entered Reagan’s body beneath his raised arm.
shooting had lasted only two seconds. But in that time, Hinckley had put not
only a bullet into Reagan’s lung but another into the brain of his press secretary,
a third into the abdomen of a Secret Service man trying to block the shots with
his body, and a fourth into the neck of a Washington policeman. No one died,
but the event was like a blow to the gut of assassination-weary America.
played the scene for laughs. His one-liners, passed on to the public from his
hospital bed, calmed the nation. He asked a female emergency-room nurse who gently
held his hand, “Does Nancy
know about us?” To surgeons about to operate: “Please tell me you’re
Republicans.” Reagan was back at work within a month, his support from the
country newly cemented by his courage and humor.
note from Hinckley showed his obsession with actress Jodie Foster,
who did not know him. In another not, written an hour before the shooting, he
said he planned “to get Reagan” and added, “At least give me the
chance with this historical deed to gain your respect and love.” Seized
immediately, Hinckley was later judged insane.
AIDS Epidemic is Officially Recognized by the CDC
first hint of a problem came from Los Angeles. On June 5, 1981, a physician advised the federal Centers for
Disease Control (CDC) that he had just treated five young homosexual males for
a rare type of pneumonia. By August, the CDC had received more than 100 such
reports, now on both coasts and involving a dozen diseases.
one realized it yet, but the awful scourge that would soon be labeled
AIDS—acquired immune deficiency syndrome—had arrived. In 1983, scientists
discovered that the deadly new malady was caused by something called the human
immunodeficiency virus (HIV). The virus was transmitted through unprotected sex
or other fluid exchange, and it rendered the body’s immune system helpless
against other diseases. HIV had originated in Africa, eventually reached the United States, and was now running rampant, particularly among
initial political and public reaction to this apparent “gay plague”
was one of wide-spread indifference, or even grim satisfaction. Then Hollywood he-man Rock Hudson, 59, announced that he was a
homosexual who had AIDS. The news jolted the national consciousness. The
epidemic had also reached heterosexuals. It began among needle sharing drug
addicts and prostitutes and spread to their customers, lovers, wives, and
children. When some cases were traced to blood transfusions, the public’s sense
of being safely distant from the threat was shattered.
sex” education dramatically reduced the incidence of AIDS among
homosexuals, but the overall rates of HIV infection kept climbing until by May
1989 nearly 100,000 cases of AIDS had been diagnosed, with 56,468 deaths. A few
drugs of very limited effectiveness appeared, but there was nothing else. The
terrible death toll just kept accelerating. “The word cure,” said one
immunologist, “is not yet in the vocabulary.”
is still no known cure, though medicine has evolved to treat the virus in a
more efficient manner that increases the quality of life and the life
expectancy of infected individuals.
The Royal Marriage of Diana and Prince Charles
it a fairy-tale wedding or a royal spectacle, the marriage of Lady Diana
Frances Spencer and Charles Philip Arthur George, the Prince of Wales and heir
to the British throne, was the kind of love story Hollywood no longer made, the
kind of grand costume pageant it could no longer afford to produce
was a “distinctively dishy commoner,” as Time magazine put it, the radiant 20-year-old bride who would
become the most photographed and gossiped-about personality of her time. He was
her Prince Charming. On July 29, 1981, before two million on-the-scene witnesses and an
avid television audience of three-quarters of a billion around the world,
reality seemed to outshine fantasy.
the time Charles began courting her, Diana captured and held the relentless and
fevered attention of the world press. “You didn’t know,” the royal
watcher at London’s Daily
Mirror once asked her, “you were marrying us too?” Not only her
marriage but her exercise routines, eating habits, hair styles, and wardrobe
became daily fodder for a hungry public.
acting the part of poised princess, doting mother, and good-will ambassador,
Diana struggled to maintain some semblance of a private life and keep the
spotlight away from her two sons—William (born June 1982) and Harry (born
September 1984), irreverently “dubbed an heir and a spare” by the papers.
Diana’s media stardom, perceived by many to have been achieved at her husband’s
expense, opened up fault lines in their picture-perfect marriage. “With
the media attention came a lot of jealousy,” she once confessed, “and
a great deal of complicated situations arose because of that.” On one
embarrassingly public occasion, a grimy, sweaty Charles kissed her after a 1986
polo match, and Diana was photographed wiping her lips with the back of her
the end of the decade, it was clear that the prince and princess were not
living happily ever after. And although the public’s fascination with Diana,
who began the decade as a shy country girl and ended it as an international
celebrity, was still growing, her fame would soon be tinctured with disfavor.
All of this was followed by her untimely death at the age of 36 after a car
crash in a Paris tunnel on August 31, 1997, almost one year to the day after her divorce
from Prince Charles.
I Want My MTV
want my MTV” was the slogan of the world’s first rock video TV network and
the salvation of the recording industry. By 1979, pop music had fragmented, and
record sales were plummeting. Programming on radio, the medium that brought
rock to the masses, had splintered into a variety of narrow formats, each
tightly bound by its playlists. Musically, MTV started out on August 1, 1981 in the same mode, with a mainstream format that,
among its other effects, virtually excluded black performers. Within two years,
however, the 24-hour cable network, by now reaching 17.5 million homes
nationwide, had diversified its content.
considering its virtually white-only beginnings, MTV got an immense boost from
the talent and creativity of an African American performer. Michael Jackson brilliantly
reinvented the music video—until then, little more than a promotional tool for
selling records—converting it into a dazzling visual performance medium. Others
who might have languished in musical niches—new-wave artists, heavy-metal
holdovers, country music traditionalists, timeless balladeers, and innovative
rappers—were also able to broaden their appeal after finding a place on MTV or
one of the other video music networks it spawned. As Keith Richards of the
Rolling Stones put it, rock and roll and TV had “gotten married and can’t
leave each other alone.”
Merger Mania and Junk-Bond Frenzy
business phenomenon that owned the 1980s was the merger. In the latter half of
the decade there were thousands of mergers and buyouts, costing well over one
trillion dollars. The fuel for this merger boom? High-yield, high-risk bonds—in
common parlance, junk bonds. Traditionally, small companies could not earn bond
ratings high enough to tempt investors. To raise money they had to pay high
bank interest for short-term loans. But then a few investment houses began
underwriting bonds for them. With Wall Street endorsement, these high-interest
junk bonds could be sold even to such usually cautious investors as insurance
companies and savings and loan associations (S).
this time, Wall Street also was noticing that the true value of some big companies
was greater than their total share value. Investment firms began using junk
bonds to finance raiders attempting to take over undervalued companies through
deals called leveraged buyouts. The winner saddled their prize with the huge
debt they had incurred to buy it, then paid the debt off gradually, from
earnings, or quickly, by selling parts of the company.
original shareholders were usually delighted with the rise in value of their
holdings. Employees who lost their jobs, however, were less pleased. So were
those who saw peril for the nation in the rapid growth of corporate debt.
“Profitable companies are being driven into debt and American jobs lost
. . . all so that a few enormously wealthy individuals can add to their
personal fortunes,” said Representative Mary Rose Oakar of Ohio.
conglomerate Du Pont shareholders finalized the first huge merger of the decade
on August 17, 1891,
when they took over oil company Conoco for $7.6 billion. In the biggest merger
of the decade, global investment firm Kohlberg Kravis Roberts won conglomerate RJR
Nabisco for $25.1 billion in a particularly fierce battle. Such contests often
seemed to owe as much to machismo as to high finance.
The Release of the IBM Personal Computer
seeing the success of Steve Jobs in the late 1970s with his Apple II computer,
the first successful mass-marketed all-in-computer, Big Blue took a big leap
into the game. They set their designers free to create something worthy to
compete, and they flourished by using open source technology. The most critical
piece of software was the operating system, a set of instructions that
orchestrated the computer’s internal workings. After a year of design, the only
things that was miss the most critical piece of software, that being the
operating system, a set of instructions that orchestrated the computer’s
1980, IBM acquired a system from Bill Gates and Paul Allen’s Seattle-based
Microsoft. As part of the deal, Microsoft retained the right to license the
system—called MS-DOS, for Microsoft Disk Operating System—to any other computer
maker. That clause would prove staggeringly profitable to Microsoft.
IBM PC, which came with a keyboard, a monitor, two disk drives, and a
then-impressive 256 kilobytes of memory, uncorked a gusher of profits after its
introduction on August 12, 1981. To Big Blue’s dismay, however, a large chunk of
the bonanza soon began going elsewhere. Competitors found ways to get around
IBM’s flimsy copyright protection, and the market became flooded with “IBM
clones,” which sold for considerably less than the original and could use
all the thousands of software programs written for it.