39 Ultimate Facts about the 1980s

The 1980s is known as the “greed decade” and made quite a mark in history. It was the decade of big hair, two-pound cell phones, neon colors, shoulder pads, the Cold War, Rubik’s cubes, Air Jordans, Pac Man… The list is endless!

It continues with the lifestyle cults from poppers to punks, from new-wave to the soundtracks of German Neue Deutsche Welle music, Michael Jackson, Madonna, and Prince. Feeling nostalgic already? Take a deep breath, relax, and let these fun facts about the 1980s take you down memory lane…

1. John Lennon was killed in December 1980.

On the evening of December 8th 1980, John Lennon was shot outside his New York apartment. His killer, Mark Chapman, remains behind bars to this day.

Lennon’s murder would, naturally, silence any rumors regarding future Beatles reunions, though the remaining members occasionally worked together in the time since.

2. The 1980 Olympics faced a major boycott.

The USA, along with 65 other countries, boycotted the 1980 Olympic Summer Games in Moscow to protest the late 1979 Soviet invasion of Afghanistan.

3. 24-hour news debuted in the 80s.

Ted Turner launched his 24-hour Cable News Network (CNN) on June 1st 1980, a move that would forever change news coverage, some might argue not always for the better.

Looking through the TV channels now, it’s easy to find a station or two offering 24-hour coverage – and you can easily find breaking news on your phone.

The 40th President of the USA - 1981 to 1989 - Ronald Reagan

The 40th President of the USA – 1981 to 1989 – Ronald Reagan

4. Ronald Reagan narrowly escaped a gunman.

Just two months into his presidency, President Reagan was the target of an assassination attempt by John Hinckley Jr. on March 30th 1981.

Hinckley Jr. was reportedly fixated on trying to impress Hollywood star Jodie Foster, and was sentenced to psychiatric care. He was released in 2016 and has since tried to rebuild his name as a musician.

5. The world first heard about AIDS in 1981.

On June 5th 1981, The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention released the first official report on what would come to be known as the AIDS epidemic.

Since this time, over 40 million people are thought to have died of AIDS, but research into a cure is turning some important corners.

6. The music video era launched in 1981.

MTV, Music Television, launched on August 1st, 1981, with the now iconic and ironic “Video Killed The Radio Star” by The Buggles.

MTV would become a pivotal pop culture lynchpin of the decade, with bold videos from Madonna, Michael Jackson, and Peter Gabriel all raising eyebrows and picking up industry awards.

7. Olivia Newton-John reinvented herself past the “Grease” age.

Olivia Newton-John’s hit song, “Physical”, the 1981 tune, was the year’s most popular song.

Across the globe, the song is thought to have sold over ten million copies!

8. It was the decade of Michael Jackson.

While Newton-John may have had the 1980s’ most popular song, her popularity was still trumped by Michael Jackson, the most popular artist of the entire decade.

His seminal “Off The Wall” album debuted toward the end of 1979 and continued pushing radio hits into 1980, while his “Thriller” album spawned some of the decade’s most defining songs – such as “Thriller” itself, “Billie Jean,” and “Beat It.”

9. Top Gun changed adventure movies forever.

The high-flying adventure movie, Top Gun, in addition to earning $176,786,701 in theaters, also won an Academy Award for its theme song, Berlin’s “Take My Breath Away.”

Its long-awaited sequel, “Top Gun: Maverick,” was the second-biggest-selling movie of 2022, making almost $1.5 billion worldwide!


the DeLorean DMC-12 - From the movie "Back to the Future"

the DeLorean DMC-12, made famous in the movie “Back to the Future”.

10. Marty McFly’s car actually debuted at the start of the 80s.

Made famous by Back to the Future, the DeLorean DMC-12 was an actual car produced in 1981 under the designs of former GM executive John DeLorean. It’s easily one of the most iconic vehicles of the decade in the West.

11. The PC first launched in the 1980s.

With the launch of IBM’s first PC in August 1981, a tech revolution that would change the world began.

Time Magazine knew what was going on, going off-piste to put the computer on its cover as “Machine of the Year” in 1982.

12. It was also a decade of pioneering surgery.

The year 1982 saw the first artificial heart transplant surgery when 61-year-old Barney Clark received a permanent artificial heart.

By 1988, too, we’d developed laser cataract surgery – and before that, the MRI scanner had debuted in 1980!

The 'floppy disk'

Remember these?

13. CD Walkmans changed portable music for decades.

In 1982, the original consumer CD player, the Sony CDP-101, hit the market. It wouldn’t be until the late 90s that MP3 players made portable music more convenient, meaning until then, everyone had to walk around with CD players on their person!

14. Emoticons were invented in the 80s.

Smiley emoticons were first used by computer scientist Scott Fahlman in 1982. And, look how far they’ve come – Emoji is positively a language all of its own, even spawning a movie.

15. Diana and Charles were married.

While royal and celebrity weddings are still big ratings hits to this day, they pale in comparison to Diana and Charles’ wedding in 1981, when over a billion people around the globe tuned in.


facts about the 80s

16. Canada was tied to the UK until the early 80s.

Canada did not have official independence from the United Kingdom until 1982, when the Canada Act was authorized by Elizabeth II.

17. Conflict broke out with the UK elsewhere.

Argentina invaded and occupied the Falkland Islands in 1982 but was subsequently defeated by the United Kingdom.

To this day, there’s still dispute over who owns the Falklands – they’re self-governed but are technically part of UK territory.

18. One of the biggest albums of all time landed in 1982.

As mentioned, Michael Jackson’s “Thriller” debuted in the 1980s – but we rather understated its cultural reach. The album, released in 1982, sold more than 32 million copies by the end of 1983 alone. It’s since gone on to be one of the biggest-selling LPs ever, racking up more than 70 million sales across the world.

The Super Nintendo - 'SNES'

The Super Nintendo – ‘SNES’

19. Crack cocaine “debuted” in 1983.

Crack cocaine was first synthesized and produced in the Bahamas in 1983 and didn’t take too long to spread north into the US.

20. There was a landmark beauty pageant.

The first African-American to win the Miss America pageant was Vanessa Williams in 1983.

Williams would go on to major musical and acting success, both on film and on television. Many will recognize her for recurring roles on “Desperate Housewives” and “Ugly Betty,” and for her smash hit “Save The Best For Last.”

21. Word’s been around for four decades and counting.

Microsoft released “Word”, their word processing program, in 1983. It was the first-ever word-processing program of its kind to allow for italic and bold fonts, and even appeared on Macs! It’s said to be running on more than a billion devices around the globe.

The Sony Walkman

The Sony Walkman

22. The 1980s kick-started the Swiss swatch craze.

The mid-80s saw the rise of the hugely popular Swatch watch, marketed as a stylish new way to tell the time!

The success of the brand is easy to measure – Swatch made $3 million in 1984, and thanks to some marketing genius, the company generated $105 million in 1985! That’s more than $300 million in modern money.

23. The 1984 Olympics were just as tense as the 1980 Games.

The 1984 Olympics were held in Los Angeles, and, take a wild guess at who boycotted these games. You’ve got it right – the Soviet Union!

This was just another side-effect of the Cold War that plagued the 1980s, where the possibility of nuclear war between the US and the USSR remained a very real prospect.

24. Fingerprints have only been used in genetics since 1984.

A pivotal moment for genetic science occurred in 1984 when British genetic scientist Alec Jeffreys invented the genetic fingerprint, a key in modern gene analysis.

Fingerprint biometrics

25. The 80s played host to some big disasters.

One of the largest chemical disasters in history occurred in Bhopal, India in 1984, as toxic gases leaked from the Union Carbide plant resulting in around 15,000 deaths.

India’s Prime Minister Indira Gandhi was assassinated in 1984 by her bodyguards.

1984 also saw a devastating famine ravage through the country of Ethiopia, resulting in over 1 million lives lost.

26. The US and Vatican made up in ’84.

The US and the Vatican didn’t have diplomatic relations for over 100 years. It took until 1984 for them to reinstate their diplomatic ties.

27. We finally found the Titanic in the mid-80s.

In 1985, the wreck of the famous Titanic was discovered, some 70-plus years since the vessel had originally sank due to colliding with a rogue iceberg.

The ship was finally spotted after years of grueling searchers when its colossal boilers were eventually spotted under the water.

facts about the Titanic

28. “Windows” was officially open for business!

The first version of Microsoft Windows was released in 1985, some years on from the company’s first founding. The company would help to make personal computing everyday essentials – and would make computer productivity more user-friendly.

This was ten years before the company launched arguably its most influential and important operating system, Windows 95.

29. One of the biggest nuclear disasters of all time took place in 1986.

In 1986, the Soviet Union had the Chernobyl disaster, which spread radioactive material across Europe.

30. Tragedy struck on the way to space.

Wonder soon turned to horror on January 28th, 1986, when NASA’s Challenger Mission was tragically snuffed out when the shuttle combusted just 73 seconds after take-off, killing all seven astronauts on board.

Strange facts 1980s

The Challenger Space Shuttle Disaster, 1986

31. We spotted Halley’s Comet for the first time in centuries.

Halley’s Comet was first observed via spacecraft in 1986 – centuries on from when the comet had been spotted the first time around! We won’t see it pass Earth again until 2061.

32. Personal photography became much more convenient.

The first widely-used disposable camera hit the market in 1986, meaning millions of shutterbugs didn’t have to worry about fiddling around with film.

Naturally, the digital camera era wasn’t too far away – and nowadays, we can take photos and videos from our phones!

33. More countries became independent towards the end of the 80s.

For example, Australia and New Zealand both gained their full independence from Britain in 1986.

Earlier in the decade, Vanuatu, Saint Kitts and Nevis, Brunei, Belize, and Antigua and Barbuda all gained independence, too.

negative film roll

You needed these before the digital camera came along

34. Reagan got serious about the Cold War.

“Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall”! This was the iconic entreaty to Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev delivered by Reagan in Berlin in 1987.
The wall would eventually fall – more on that shortly.

35. Thatcher continued to oversee the UK.

In 1987, Margaret Thatcher was elected as the British Prime Minister for the third time. However, she would only remain in power for another three years, as she was ousted by her peers at the start of the 90s.

36. GM production debuted in ’88.

The first genetically modified crops were a product of the 1980s when China grew modified tobacco plants in 1988.

GM crops have proven to be controversial across the globe, inspiring the birth of the organic food movement toward the end of the 1990s. More and more people started to move toward non-chemical food production in an effort to protect the environment and their health.

Margaret Thatcher - UK prime minister 1979 to 1990

Margaret Thatcher – UK prime minister 1979 to 1990

37. Optical cables stretched across the sea.

In 1988, the first transatlantic optical cable was laid under the Atlantic Ocean, connecting France, England, and the United States.

It was just the latest in a long line of connectivity strides bringing nations together. We were only a few years away from the World Wide Web at this stage, too.

38. The ecological disasters kept on coming.

The Earth is still dealing with the after-effects of the Exxon Valdez oil spill on Alaska’s Bligh Reef in 1989, one of the worst ecological disasters in human history.

Most of the oil is said to have been recovered from the area, but even over 30 years later, the reef is still struggling with the devastating effects of the artificial product. It’s used as a case study to argue against the continued drilling of oil.

39. The Berlin Wall finally fell.

The fall of the Berlin Wall happened on November 9th 1989. What do you think, the end of a decade or the end of an era?

Amazing facts about the 1980s

The Berlin Wall, Germany

FAQs about the 1980s

What were some of the most popular perfumes of the 1980s?

Chanel No. 5 was amongst the top-selling perfumes of the decade. Other popular fragrances included Opium by Yves Saint Laurent, and Eternity by Calvin Klein.

What was the 1980s mainly known for?

Fashion changed massively in the 1980s, with ‘New Romantic’ styles coming into Vogue, and with the rise of people known as ‘yuppies’ - as materialism became a big factor. Madonna’s ‘Material Girl’ is a fitting tribute to the era!

What nickname does the 1980s receive?

Many people refer to the 80s as the ‘Reagan’ or ‘Thatcher’ decade, as both the US and UK leaders remained in power across the years. However, some people call it ‘the decade of greed’!

Do you know any fun facts about the 1980s?  Share them in the comments below!

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This page was last modified on March 9, 2024. Suggest an edit

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