A Year In History: 1980

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This Year in History:


Discover what happened in this year with HISTORY’s summaries of major events, anniversaries, famous births and notable deaths.

January 2

Sherry Lansing named first female studio production head

“Former Model Named Head of Fox Productions” ran the headline in the January 2, 1980, issue of the New York Times, over an article announcing that Sherry Lansing had been selected to lead the production department at 20th Century Fox. After signing a three-year contract at a minimum of $300,000 per year (plus the possibility […]

January 5

The Sugarhill Gang’s “Rapper’s Delight” becomes hip-hop’s first Top 40 hit

Hip hop’s roots as a musical phenomenon are subject to debate, but its roots as a commercial phenomenon are much clearer. They trace back directly to January 5, 1980, when the song “Rapper’s Delight” became the first hip hop single ever to reach the Billboard top 40. Prior to the success of “Rapper’s Delight,” hip […]

January 14

Gold prices soar

After being released from government control, gold reaches a new record price on January 14, 1980, exceeding $800 an ounce. Gold is scattered sparsely throughout the earth’s crust and since ancient times has been treasured for both its scarcity and metallurgic properties. Before the 19th century, most nations maintained a bimetallic monetary system, which often […]

January 22

Soviet dissident Andrei Sakharov arrested in Moscow

In Moscow, Andrei Dmitriyevich Sakharov, the Soviet physicist who helped build the USSR’s first hydrogen bomb, is arrested after criticizing the Soviet military intervention in Afghanistan. He was subsequently stripped of his numerous scientific honors and banished to remote Gorky. Born in Moscow in 1921, Sakharov studied physics at Moscow University and in June 1948 […]

January 25

Paul McCartney is released from a Tokyo jail and deported from Japan

Paul McCartney’s arrival at Tokyo’s Narita International Airport on January 16, 1980, marks his first visit to Japan since the Beatles tour of 1966. The occasion was a planned 11-city concert tour by his band Wings. Instead, Paul’s visit was limited to a nine-day stint in the Tokyo Narcotics Detention Center, which ended on January […]

February 2

ABSCAM operation revealed

On February 2, 1980, details of ABSCAM, an FBI operation to uncover political corruption in the government, are released to the public. Thirty-one public officials were targeted for investigation, including Representative John Murphy of New York, five other representatives, and Harrison Williams, a senator from New Jersey. In the operation, FBI agents posed as representatives […]

February 14

Lillian Hellman sues Mary McCarthy for libel

In one of the most caustic literary feuds of the 20th century, playwright Lillian Hellman sues novelist and critic Mary McCarthy for libel, demanding $2.25 million in damages. The case poses the question of where the legal line stands between a critic’s free speech and malicious libel. The two writers didn’t personally know each other […]

February 27

“I Will Survive” wins the first—and last—Grammy ever awarded for Best Disco Recording

On February 27, 1980, the first—and final—Grammy for Best Disco Recording is awarded to Gloria Gaynor’s “I Will Survive.” After watching disco music utterly dominate the musical landscape of the late 1970s, the National Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences had finally decided to give it their stamp of approval, with the category Best Disco […]

February 27

Buddy Holly’s glasses, lost since his death in 1959, are found in Mason City, Iowa

On February 27, 1980, the long-lost glasses of rocker Buddy Holly, who died in the deadly plane crash in 1959, were found—filed away in an envelope in a court clerk’s office. When the Beechcraft Bonanza carrying Buddy Holly, Ritchie Valens and the Big Bopper crashed outside Clear Lake, Iowa, in the early morning hours of […]

March 21

Famous “Dallas” cliffhanger airs

On March 21, 1980, J.R. Ewing, the character millions love to hate on television’s popular prime-time drama “Dallas,” is shot by an unknown assailant. The shooting made the season-ending episode one of TV’s most famous cliffhangers, inspired widespread media coverage and left America wondering “Who shot J.R.?” for the next eight months. On November 21, […]

April 20

Fidel Castro announces Mariel Boatlift, allowing Cubans to emigrate to U.S.

On April 20, 1980, the Castro regime announces that all Cubans wishing to emigrate to the U.S. are free to board boats at the port of Mariel west of Havana, launching the Mariel Boatlift. The first of 125,000 Cuban refugees from Mariel reached Florida the next day. The boatlift was precipitated by housing and job […]