french guillotine

What Happened in 1981?

We are now well and officially into the 80s, and let’s face it, the hair is already wild, the clothes are very much neon, and the radio has some of the biggest hits of all time thumping out of the boombox. But, of course, the 80s brought more than just cultural phenomena. For example, here are some of the biggest things to have taken place in 1981!

In this year

hostage crisis Iran


After around 444 days in captivity, the 52 American hostages then held at the US Embassy in Tehran, Iran, were released following the signing of the Algiers Accords. The release took place moments after Ronald Reagan officially took office as the President of the US.

Pope John Paul II


On February 21st, 1981, Pope John Paul II made a landmark radio broadcast while visiting Manila in the Philippines – it’s here where the pontiff declared he wished to meet and discuss world matters with other faith leaders across the world. It’s said to be one of the biggest calls for interfaith discussions in history.

London Marathon


In an event that’s still held to this day, the London Marathon first took place on March 29th, 1981 – and it’s thought around 7,500 runners took part in the first event. That’s impressive enough – but it’s closer to 40,000 to 50,000 people who take part in the modern races!

coca cola logo


China embraced a Western icon, at least from an economic perspective, as of April 15th, 1981. It’s on this day that the country declared their first internal Coca-Cola bottling plant open!

François Mitterrand


In groundbreaking political news, the French Fifth Republic welcomed the election of its first-ever Socialist President, François Mitterrand. Mitterand would be one of the longest-enduring French Presidents, staying in charge of the country until 1995. He and his successor, Jacques Chirac, along with incumbent President Emmanuel Macron, are the only three Presidents of France to serve two full terms in office.

red ribbon


The world’s first-recognized cases of AIDS were revealed to the world as of June 5th, 1981. It’s on this date that the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported that a rare type of pneumonia had afflicted five homosexual men – a rarity seen only in weakened immune systems.

facts about Princess Diana


In one of the most-watched TV events of all time worldwide, more than 750 million people tuned in to watch Prince Charles and Lady Diana Spencer marry at London’s St. Paul’s Cathedral. Tragically, Diana’s funeral over a decade and a half later would become similarly well-watched across the globe.



Entertainment changed forever as of August 1st, 1981, when MTV, then known as Music Television, first played the music video – fittingly – "Video Killed The Radio Star," a huge hit for British synth pioneers The Buggles. MTV these days is barely known for music – but it's argued the art of the music video started right here.

French guillotine


In other French news in 1981, the country finally brought an end to its long-standing practice of capital punishment. Infamous for using the guillotine for centuries, this was a massive step forward in criminal justice across the country.

hosni mubarak


As of October 14th, 1981, then-Vice President Hosni Mubarak was elected as Egypt’s President. The week prior, previous Egyptian President Anwar Sadat was killed by Jihadists during a parade, led by Khalid Islambouli. Mubarak would go on to be the longest-serving President of the nation for over 150 years, though he would leave under a cloud of controversy following mass protests in 2011’s Egyptian Revolution.

Iran Contra Affair


One of the most controversial political moments of the 1980s – the Iran-Contra affair – reportedly began as of November 23rd, 1981 – when US President Ronald Reagan agreed to sign the National Security Directive NSDD-17, otherwise known as the NSDD-17. This directive, controversially, allowed the CIA to support rebels of the Contra cause in Nicaragua.



The first-ever test-tube baby in the US, Elizabeth Jordan Carr, was born on December 28th, 1981. She was born in Norfolk, Virginia – and her birth helped lead the way for artificial insemination for decades to come.

1981 was the year of the…

Chinese year of the Rooster


Like 1945, 1957, 1969, 1993, 2005, and 2017, 1981 celebrated Roosters everywhere, according to the Chinese Zodiac. People born in Rooster years are very careful about their own appearances. They tend to be performers, and actions definitely mean more than words to them. The next Rooster year won't be until 2029.

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