A Year In History: 1981

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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 15

“Hill Street Blues” begins run

On January 15, 1981, Hill Street Blues, television’s landmark cops-and-robbers drama, debuts on NBC. When the series first appeared, the police show had largely been given up for dead. Critics savaged stodgy and moralistic melodramas, and scoffed at lighter fare like Starsky and Hutch. Created by Steven Bochco and Michael Kozoll, Hill Street Blues invigorated […]

January 22

Final portrait of John and Yoko appears on the cover of “Rolling Stone”

A month and a half after the shocking assassination of John Lennon, on January 22, 1981, Rolling Stone magazine’s John Lennon tribute issue hits newsstands, featuring a cover photograph of a naked Lennon curled up in a fetal embrace of his fully-clothed wife Yoko Ono. The iconic Annie Leibovitz portrait would become the definitive image […]

February 19

United States calls situation in El Salvador “a communist plot”

The U.S. government releases a report detailing how the “insurgency in El Salvador has been progressively transformed into a textbook case of indirect armed aggression by communist powers.” The report was another step indicating that the new administration of Ronald Reagan was prepared to take strong measures against what it perceived to be the communist […]

February 21

Dolly Parton cements her crossover success as “9 to 5” hits #1

On February 21, 1981, Dolly Parton notches the biggest hit of her career, when the song “9 to 5” reaches #1 on the Billboard Hot 100 chart. The song, a soundtrack to the movie of the same name, would cement her crossover from country music to mainstream superstardom. Parton brought the full range of her […]

March 6

Walter Cronkite signs off as anchorman of “CBS Evening News”

On March 6, 1981, CBS Evening News anchor Walter Cronkite signs off with his trademark valediction, “And that’s the way it is,” for the final time. Over the previous 19 years, Cronkite had established himself not only as the nation’s leading newsman but as “the most trusted man in America,” a steady presence during two […]

April 12

The space shuttle Columbia is launched for the first time

The space shuttle Columbia is launched from Cape Canaveral, Florida, becoming the first reusable manned spacecraft to travel into space. Piloted by astronauts Robert L. Crippen and John W. Young, the Columbia undertook a 54-hour space flight of 36 orbits before successfully touching down at California’s Edwards Air Force Base on April 14. On September […]

May 13

Pope John Paul II shot

Near the start of his weekly general audience in Rome’s St. Peter’s Square, Pope John Paul II is shot and seriously wounded while passing through the square in an open car. The assailant, 23-year-old escaped Turkish murderer Mehmet Ali Agca, fired four shots, one of which hit the pontiff in the abdomen, narrowly missing vital […]