1981 was an interesting year. I don’t have much recollection of this year because I was only 4 years old at this time. I do remember bits and pieces though. I decided to do a little bit of digging into this year and I found some notable events.
Here are 20 Notable Events in 1981
1. The town of Laingsburg was flooded in South Africa
On 25 January 1981, in the town’s centennial year, the larger part of the town was swept away within minutes by one of the strongest floods ever experienced in the Great Karoo region. After a cloud burst, a massive wall of water rushed down the Buffels River and swept away everything it encountered in its way.
Animals, humans and their possessions were swept along and later dumped under meters of silt. Hydrologists estimate that a flood of this magnitude has a recurrence interval of once every 100 years. 104 people were killed and only 21 houses in the town survived the flood.
2. TuksFM 107.2 started broadcasting in Pretoria
The station had its first transmission on 9 February 1981. It only broadcast to the University of Pretoria Cafeteria and launched with a live performance from David Kramer. Tuks FM’s signal was later extended to all university residences as well as the Onderstepoort and Medical Campuses. The station was one of the first community broadcasters to be granted a FM licence in the 1990s in South Africa.
3. Anti-Apartheid protesters disrupted the “Flour Bomb” test
A low-flying Cessna 172 piloted by Marx Jones and Grant Cole disrupted test match between the Springboks and the All Blacks at Eden Park (in Auckland, New Zealand) on the 12th of September 1981. The duo dropped flour bombs and other items onto the pitch to stop the game, but despite this the game between two of rugby’s biggest rivals continued.
4. Two countries gained independence in 1981
Belize gained independence on the 21st of September and Antigua & Barbuda gained indepence on the 1st of November 1981. Both countries gained independence from the United Kingdom. It was also the year that Palau adapted a constitution and became a country and that Ciskei was granted independence by the South African government. Ciskei was not recognized as an independent country outside South Africa though.
5. Some legendary bands / groups were formed in 1981
10,000 Maniacs, Anthrax, Bananarama, The Bangles, Beastie Boys, Big Country, Butthole Surfers, Culture Club, Dead Can Dance, Gigolo Aunts, Green Jelly, Katrina and the Waves, Metallica, Ministry, Mötley Crüe, Napalm Death, Pantera, Pet Shop Boys, Run-DMC, Scream, Sonic Youth, Soul Asylum, Tears For Fears, Tesla, Throwing Muses, Wham! and Yazoo are bands / groups that formed in 1981.
6. Lady Diana Spencer married Charles, the Prince of Wales
The Royal Wedding took place in July of 1981. The wedding, (which was held at St. Paul’s Cathedral in London), attracted crowds of more than 600,000 people. 3,500 guests (many of them royalty or celebrities) attended the ceremony and an estimated 750 million people around the globe watched it on television.
7. NASA launched the first Space Shuttle Mission
In April 1981, NASA successfully launched the Space Shuttle Columbia. The spacecraft carried two astronauts, Robert Crippen and John Young. The purpose of the mission was to test the stability of the new spacecraft and to safely launch the vehicle into space and return it to Earth so that the craft was reusable. The total length of the mission was 2 days, six hours, twenty minutes, fifty-three seconds.
8. Sandra Day O’Connor was appointed as a US Supreme Court Justice
US President Ronald Reagan appointed O’Connor in July 1981. She became the first female justice on the United States Supreme Court in September 1981. She eventually retired in 2005.
9. Pope John Paul II was almost assassinated
In May 1981 the then head of the Catholic church was shot by would-be assassin Mehment Ali Agca in St. Peter’s Square (in the Vatican City). He survived the attack but sustained gunshot wounds to his left hand, right arm, and abdomen. In July of 1981 Agca was sentenced to prison for life in Italy.
10. Iran released 52 American hostages
The hostages (who were American diplomats) were held for 444 days (from November 1979 to January 1981). Patient diplomacy conducted by Deputy Secretary Warren Christopher eventually resolved the crisis (which had started during the Islamic Revolution in Iran).
11. The Yorkshire Ripper was caught by the British Police
Peter Sutcliffe (now known as the serial killer dubbed the Yorkshire Ripper) was arrested on the 2nd of January 1981. He was eventually convicted and imprisoned for life for 13 counts of murder. 11 of the murders occured in West Yorkshire and 2 occured in Manchester between 1975 and 1980. The Ripper (a Netflix Documentary about The Yorkshire Ripper) was released in December 2020.
12. Anwar Sadat was assassinated in Cairo
The Egyptian President was assassinated during the annual victory parade for Operation Badr (an operation during which the Egyptian Army had crossed the Suez Canal to take back part of the Sinai Peninsula from Israel during the Yom Kippur War).
He was killed in a co-ordinated attack by the Egyptian Islamic Jihad. This assassination happened in October 1981. Sadat was eventually succeeded by his vice president Hosni Mubarak (who eventually resigned after nearly 30 years in power in February 2011 during the Egyptian Revolution).
13. Nintendo Released Donkey Kong
This popular arcade game was released by Nintendo in July 1981 and featured an unnamed character who was later called Jumpman and eventually called Mario. To date the franchise has sold over 82.88 million games worldwide (according to June 2020 statistics).
14. The IBM Personal Computer was released
The IBM PC was released on the 12th of August 1981. It was created by a team of engineers and designers directed by Don Estridge in Boca Raton, Florida in the United States. It was sold for $1,585 (equivalent to $4,401 in 2019). The CPU clocked 4.77 MHz and the computer could accomodate up to 64 kb of memory. It was supported MDA and CGA graphics cards. It made use of the Microsoft Disk Operating System (MS-DOS) and variants thereof.
15. The first Million Dollar World Challenge was held at Sun City
The first tournament was held from 31 December 1981 to 4 January 1982. Seve Ballesteros, Johnny Miller (who won the tournament), Jack Nicklaus, Gary Player and Lee Trevino took part. The tournament is now known as the Nedbank Golf Challenge.
16. Some legendary shows made their debut on Television
Hill Street Blues, Only Fools and Horses, Dynasty, Cagney & Lacey, Falcon Crest, Simon & Simon, The Smurfs, Danger Mouse, Postman Pat and The People’s Court aired for the first time on TV screens in 1981.
17. Some legendary films were also released in 1981
Chariots of Fire, Indiana Jones and the Raiders of the Lost Ark, Porky’s, The Evil Dead, The Howling, An American Werewolf in London, Excalibur, Max Max 2: The Road Warrior, Das Boot, Escape From New York, Stripes, Time Bandits, The Cannonball Run, Body Heat, For Your Eyes Only, Clash Of The Titans, Heavy Metal, On Golden Pond, Quest For Fire, The Fox And The Hound, Friday The 13th Part 2, Outland, Arthur, Taps, Halloween II, Reds and The Postman Always Rings Twice was released in this year.
18. This year saw some epic song releases
1981 brought us “Bette Davis Eyes” by Kim Carnes, “Endless Love” by Diana Ross & Lionel Ritchie, “Jessie’s Girl” by Rick Springfield, “Start Me Up” by The Rolling Stones, “Radio Free Europe” by R.E.M., “Every Little Thing She Does is Magic” by The Police, “Don’t Stop Believing” by Jouney, “Tom Sawyer” by Rush, “Golden Brown” by The Stranglers, “For Those About To Rock (We Salute You) by AC/DC, “Edge of Seventeen” by Stevie Nicks, “Let It Go” by Def Leppard, “Live Wire” by Mötley Crüe, “The Waiting” – Tom Petty & The Heartbreakers, “Bad Repitutation” by Joan Jett & The Blackhearts, “Pretty In Pink” by The Psychedlic Furs, “Centerfold” by The J. Geils Band and “Urgent” by Foreigner.
This video features the biggest songs of 1981. Take note that some of the songs (like Kenny Rogers’ song “Lady” and Dolly Parton’s “9 to 5”) were actually released in 1980, but charted in 1981.
19. Bob Marley died
In July 1977 Jamaican singer, songwriter and musician Bob Marley was found to have a type of malignant melanoma under the nail of a toe. He had to see two doctors before a biopsy was made, which confirmed the deadliest kind of skin cancer: acral lentiginous melanoma. The cancer spread over the next few years. He played his final show in September 1980 and eventually died in Miami, Florida on the 11th of May 1981. He was given a state funeral in Jamaica, 10 days after his death.
20. President Ronald Reagan was shot in March 1981
Reagan was shot in the lung by John Hinckley, Jr. as he was leaving a speaking engagement in Washington D.C. He survived after undergoing emergency surgery and several people were injured. Press Secretary Jim Brady was wheelchair bound for the rest of his life after this. Hinckley tried to kill the US president to impress actress Jodie Foster (who he was obsessed with after seeing the 1976 film Taxi Driver). Hinckley was found not guilty (by reason of insanity) and committed to psychiatric care until he was released in September 2016.
Well, there you have it, 20 Notable Events in 1981. If I left out something important, feel free to comment in the space provided below and let me know.
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