If you were born in 1981, you're in good company. Here are 35 people, things, inventions, movies, and other great stuff turning 35 this year!
1. MTV (MUSIC TELEVISION)
On August 1, MTV premiered with the words: "Ladies and gentlemen, rock and roll." Along with NASA stock footage, MTV proceeded to show "Video Killed the Radio Star" by The Buggles. Less-known are the next videos they played: "You Better Run" by Pat Benatar, "She Won't Dance With Me" by Rod Stewart, and "You Better You Bet" by The Who.
2. THE FIRST WOMAN ON THE SUPREME COURT
Until September 25, 1981, the Supreme Court of the United States had been occupied only by men. Fulfilling a campaign promise, President Reagan appointed Sandra Day O'Connor and the Senate confirmed her appointment in a 99-0 vote, making her the first woman on the court.
3. THE IBM PC
On August 12, IBM released its first personal computer (the 5150 PC), featuring a 4.77 MHz Intel 8088 processor. It cost only $1565 for a basic configuration including "a system unit, a keyboard and a color/graphics capability." It was designed so you could use your TV as the display. If you wanted a monitor, a printer, a second floppy drive, or extra RAM, you had to pay extra.
4. MS-DOS/PC DOS
Along with the first IBM PC came a little operating system called PC DOS from Microsoft. It would go on to power PCs around the world, under the name MS-DOS. (When IBM's PC was cloned, MS-DOS took off.) The first version did not support hard drives and lacked support for subdirectories. These days, you can download early MS-DOS source code from the Computer History Museum.
5. THE SPACE SHUTTLE
On April 12, the Space Shuttle Columbia launched on the STS-1 mission, with just a two-person crew (commander John Young and pilot Bob Crippen) to test the system in orbit and its launching and landing procedures. It returned two days later, marking the first time a reusable crewed spacecraft returned from orbit.
6. "PAC-MAN FEVER"
The song "Pac-Man Fever" was released in December 1981, as U.S. gamers plunked endless quarters into Pac-Man cabinets (which had been released the year prior) and Buckner & Garcia documented the craze. In 1982, Ms. Pac-Man was released and the songwriting duo released a full-length album of songs devoted to games, including Frogger, Centipede, Donkey Kong, Asteroids, and Defender.
7. RAIDERS OF THE LOST ARK
On June 12, Raiders of the Lost Ark hit theaters, and Indiana Jones stunned us all with his quick wit, historical prowess, and handsome hat. In addition to being the top-grossing film of the year, Raiders won five Oscars and started a franchise that is still going today.
Some other notable movie releases from 1981:
Clash of the Titans
Escape from New York
For Your Eyes Only
History of the World: Part I
Mad Max 2: The Road Warrior
My Dinner With Andre
8. THE OAKLAND RAIDERS' WILDCARD SUPER BOWL WIN
Super Bowl XV was important not just for its cool Roman numeral; it was a storybook game in which the Oakland Raiders reached the game via a wild card and beat the Philadelphia Eagles, despite having lost to them earlier in the season. The Raiders became the first team to win the Super Bowl on a wild card. Adding to the media fervor, the game was played just five days after the Iran hostage crisis ended.
For more on the game, check out this NFL video.
9. SIMON & GARFUNKEL'S CONCERT IN CENTRAL PARK
On September 19, Simon & Garfunkel reunited for a landmark performance in Central Park.
The concert was free—the plan was to use TV and home video royalties from the performance to renovate Central Park itself, which was in bad shape at the time. New York mayor Ed Koch only came around to the idea of the concert after proposing that the park simply be closed. After playing "Homeward Bound," Simon ironically thanked Koch, garnering boos from the crowd and a smirk from Garfunkel. It became clear that Simon was joking when he proceeded to thank the guys selling "loose joints," suggesting that half of their proceeds would go to the park that night.
10. BEYONCÉ KNOWLES
On September 4, Beyoncé Knowles was born in Houston, Texas. She went on to become the lead singer in Destiny's Child. In 2003, when Destiny’s Child was on hiatus, she decided to release Dangerously in Love, which debuted at number one and established her as a successful solo artist.
Other members of Destiny's Child born that year: Kelly Rowland, on February 11; and LaTavia Roberson, on November 1.
11. ELI MANNING, ROGER FEDERER, AND SERENA WILLIAMS
On January 3, American football player Eli Manning entered the world. On August 8, Roger Federer, Swiss tennis star, joined him. On September 26, Serena Williams came along, and quickly set about winning tennis titles. (Her sister Venus was born on June 17, 1980.)
12. THE SCANNING TUNNELING MICROSCOPE
In 1981, the Scanning Tunneling Microscope, an instrument capable of showing surfaces at the atomic level, was invented by Gerd Binnig and Heinrich Rohrer. The duo received the Nobel Prize in Physics in 1986 for their invention. (They shared that prize with Ernst Ruska, who invented the first electron microscope.)
13. ASPARTAME SWEETENER APPROVED BY FDA
Although aspartame was first synthesized in the mid-1960s, it wasn't approved by the FDA as an artificial sweetener until 1981. Sold under the brand name NutraSweet, aspartame quickly found its way into many products, most notably diet soft drinks. If you're curious about the history of the sweetener, Wikipedia has a suitably epic entry on it.
14. LADY DIANA AND PRINCE CHARLES'S WEDDING
On July 29, 750 million people around the world watched the wedding of Charles, Prince of Wales, and Lady Diana Spencer. Billed as the "Wedding of the Century," it was enormous, so much so that there's an entire Wikipedia article on the guest list alone.
15. THE EVIL DEAD
On October 15, Sam Raimi's cult horror masterpiece The Evil Dead was released on an unsuspecting public. Shot on a shoestring budget in Tennessee, the film carried an X rating for its extreme violence. Author Stephen King loved it, and the film become a sleeper hit at the box office, earning millions and leading to the campy sequels Evil Dead II and Army of Darkness.
16. THE REAGAN PRESIDENCY
Starting January 20, 1981 and running through January 20, 1989, Ronald Reagan's presidency shaped the United States throughout the 1980s. As 40th president, Reagan was almost immediately subject to an assassination attempt: On March 30, 1981, Reagan and three others were shot and wounded. (The most severely wounded person was White House Press Secretary James Brady, who went on to champion gun control legislation.) Reagan recovered, and went on to spend the decade increasing defense spending and telling Mikhail Gorbachev to "Tear down this wall!" (The Berlin Wall fell in late 1989.)
17. CHARIOTS OF FIRE
On March 30, the film Chariots of Fire had its world premiere and would soon become a hit. Winning Oscars for Best Picture, Best Screenplay, Best Music, and Best Costume Design, the film tells the story of two athletes in the 1924 Olympics. It's also extremely notable for its epic theme by Vangelis.
In Roger Ebert's four-star review of the film, he wrote:
“'Chariots of Fire' is one of the best films of recent years, a memory of a time when men still believed you could win a race if only you wanted to badly enough."
18. THE LONDON MARATHON
On March 29, the first London Marathon was run. Despite it being a rainy day, over 6000 people finished the run at Constitution Hill, after running along the River Thames. (Today more than 30,000 run each year.) In the 35 years since it started, countless world records have been set during the London Marathon, including fastest marathon by someone dressed as a superhero (2:30:12 for Spider-man) and fastest marathon while dribbling two basketballs (4:10:44). And a competitor this year is hoping to get the record for fastest marathon carrying a household appliance (a 50 pound tumble dryer, and he needs to get under five hours for the record).
19. FIRST OFFICIAL REPORT OF AIDS
Although it didn't have an official name yet, the first clinical observation of AIDS occurred in the United States in 1981. Doctors found a set of cases of gay men who developed a rare form of pneumonia, indicating that the patients had a compromised immune system. Shortly after, a similar cluster of the rare cancer Kaposi's Sarcoma appeared, confirming that something was very wrong. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control assembled a task force to monitor the outbreak, which developed the name "AIDS" in late 1982.
20. DAS BOOT
What's the best German-language submarine movie? Das Boot, of course. The story of a U-Boat crew during World War II, it's extremely long and at times painfully claustrophobic, as we spend time underwater, reading English subtitles, and hoping nothing bad will happen. (Everything bad happens.)
21. THE FIRST AMERICAN TEST TUBE BABY
Born December 28, Elizabeth Jordan Carr was like any other American baby—except she was America's first in-vitro fertilization ("test tube") baby. The birth in Norfolk, Virginia spawned tons of media coverage, and when Carr got married, part of the reason she changed her name to Comeau was to avoid the spotlight. She gave birth to her first child in 2010.
(Note: Comeau was the first American IVF baby. Louise Brown was the world's first, born in Britain in 1978.)
22. DONKEY KONG
On July 9, Nintendo released Donkey Kong, an early platformer in which Mario attempts to rescue Pauline, who has been kidnapped by the giant ape Donkey Kong. The game was a hit, in part because it featured different action on its four stages (then considered an innovation), along with occasional animated cutscenes. At a time when arcade games were dominated by mazes and shooting, Donkey Kong was a refreshing change. (Running, jumping, climbing, and smashing were the main things Mario could do.)
23. THE ROLLING STONES' TATTOO YOU TOUR
On September 25 in Philadelphia, the Rolling Stones started a 50-date American tour supporting their album Tattoo You. That concert featured openers Journey (who had just released their album Escape featuring "Don't Stop Believin'") as well as George Thorogood and the Destroyers, and the tour went on to set records for ticket sales and audience sizes, despite some organizational problems with the tour itself. (When it began, the tour's dates weren't all figured out—but it hardly mattered.) In 1982, a series of live performances from that tour were released as the concert album Still Life.
On October 28, Metallica formed in Los Angeles. Drummer Lars Ulrich posted an ad looking for musicians, and guitarist/vocalist James Hetfield responded. They added Ron McGovney on bass and Dave Mustaine on lead guitar. By 1983, a revamped lineup featuring Cliff Burton on bass and Kirk Hammett on lead guitar released Kill 'Em All, and the rest is heavy metal history.
Other notable metal bands founded in 1981: Anthrax and Mötley Crüe.
25. PHIL COLLINS' SOLO CAREER
Until 1981, Phil Collins was mostly known as the drummer for Genesis. On February 13, he released the album Face Value featuring the single "In the Air Tonight," and immediately broke through as a solo act (though he would perform with Genesis in various forms through the mid-1990s and again for a tour in 2007).
26. BEASTIE BOYS
The first Beastie Boys concert happened in 1981, at MCA's 17th birthday party. Although ADROCK hadn't joined the band yet, the initial lineup of the band did include MCA and Mike D, plus the drummer and guitarist from Young Aborigines (one of whom would go on to join Luscious Jackson).
The band's first EP in 1982 included a song called "Beastie Boys." Mike D later said the "BEASTIE" was an acronym: "Boys Entering Anarchistic States Towards Internal Excellence." Sounds like a backronym to us. The band shifted from hardcore music to incorporate hip-hop after ADROCK joined the group in 1983, and the rest is music history.
27. "COMPUTER LOVE" BY KRAFTWERK
German electronic band Kraftwerk released "Computer Love" (in German, "Computerliebe") in July. Part of the album Computer World, "Computer Love" went on to top the UK Singles chart, and remains an extremely dated (albeit wonderful) reminder of what the band was up to in the early 1980s. (Note: Kraftwerk formed way back in 1970, and would go on to become famous not just for their music but for their intense seclusion.)
28. THE LONGEST PRO BASEBALL GAME IN HISTORY
On April 18, a Minor League Baseball game between the Pawtucket Red Sox and the Rochester Red Wings began in Pawtucket, Rhode Island. It didn't end until June 23. The famous game ran until 4:09 a.m. on its first day, tied at 2-2 after 32 agonizing innings. On June 23, the 33rd inning started and the Pawtucket Red Sox took the game, winning 3-2. In all, the game ran for 8 hours and 25 minutes, making it the longest pro baseball game ever played.
Fun fact: Both Cal Ripken, Jr. and Wade Boggs played in the so-called "endless game."
Twelve people gathered to play the first game of Paintball in June. They sought to emulate the feeling of outdoor hunting and survival, but without the lethal consequences. Starting with paint pellet guns used to tag livestock, the group developed the game of paintball, then called the "National Survival Game." Manufacturers created more complex paint guns, and the first paintball tournament was held in 1983.
Who were the 12? According to The Official Survival Game Manual (1983), in addition to the main creators Bob Gurnsey, Hayes Noel, and Charles Gaines, the roster included:
"Bob Jones, a novelist, staff writer for Sports Illustrated and an experienced hunter; Ronnie Simpkins, a farmer from Alabama and a master turkey hunter; Jerome Gary, a New York film producer; Carl Sandquist, a New Hampshire contracting estimator; Ritchie White, the New Hampshire forester who had told Hayes he could cut his neck in the woods; Ken Barrett, a New York venture capitalist with lots of hunting experience; Joe Drinon, a stock-broker from New Hampshire and a former Golden Gloves boxer; Bob Carlson, a trauma surgeon from Alabama and a hunter; and myself [Lionel Atwill], a writer for Sports Afield, a hunter and a Vietnam vet, who had had the unpleasurable experience of leading reconnaissance missions in Vietnam in 1968, a decidedly poor year."
By October, the sport had been written up in Sports Illustrated, and by May of the following year, it was featured in TIME magazine.
30. RIC FLAIR'S FIRST WORLD HEAVYWEIGHT WRESTLING CHAMPIONSHIP
31. MUHAMMAD ALI'S LAST FIGHT
32. OZZY OSBOURNE'S DOVE-BITING INCIDENT
Ozzy Osbourne went off the rails just a bit in 1981. At a meeting with Columbia Records executives, Osbourne's future wife Sharon had three doves handy, hoping to release them as a stunt. Instead, Ozzy picked one up and bit its head off. Then he did it again with a second, letting blood drip from his mouth. A year later, Osbourne bit the head off a bat, though it was dead at the time, and he claimed he thought it was a rubber toy. He did go for rabies shots afterward.
33. BRITNEY SPEARS, JUSTIN TIMBERLAKE, PITBULL, MORE MUSICIANS
1981 was a surprisingly big year for musicians. Here are some notable additions (see also: the entry above on Beyoncé Knowles and her Destiny's Child bandmates):
January 5: Deadmau5 (Joel Zimmerman)
January 15: Pitbull
January 25: Alicia Keys
January 31: Justin Timberlake
February 27: Josh Groban
June 21: Brandon Flowers (lead singer for The Killers)
September 12: Jennifer Hudson
December 2: Britney Spears
34. ELIJAH WOOD, JOSEPH GORDON-LEVITT, CHRIS EVANS, AMY SCHUMER ...
Actors galore born in 1981:
January 28: Elijah Wood
February 17: Joseph Gordon-Levitt
March 2: Bryce Dallas Howard
March 28: Julia Stiles
April 10: Michael Pitt
April 28: Jessica Alba
June 1: Amy Schumer
June 9: Natalie Portman
June 13: Chris Evans
September 8: Jonathan Taylor Thomas
October 1: Rupert Friend
December 27: Emilie de Ravin
35. THE DELOREAN DMC-12
Although John DeLorean had been making prototypes of his signature stainless steel gull-wing car for years, the first factory-assembled DeLorean DMC-12 was produced on January 21 in Dunmurry, Northern Ireland. Despite its model number, it was the first and only model produced by the company, and only about 9000 cars were made before production stopped in 1982. In 1985, Back to the Future made the DMC-12 a legend.