50 Fascinating Incidents and Facts From the 1980s

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1 Phyllis Penzo

Phyllis Penzo

After a waitress named Phyllis Penzo at a pizzeria helped a customer choose the numbers for a winning lottery ticket in 1984, he ‘tipped’ her $3,000,000, which was half of his $6,000,000 prize money.

2. In 1986, when a 5-year-old boy named Levan Merritt fell into a gorilla enclosure and lost consciousness, a male gorilla named Jambo stood between the boy and the other gorillas in a protective gesture. He even stroked the boy’s back. This incident helped create a positive public perception of gorillas.

3. In 1987, Corona sales plummeted when a rumor spread that their workers were peeing in their beer. The company traced its origins back to Heineken, whom Corona sued for $3 million in damages, but their reputation still suffered and their product was referred to as “Mexican piss water” for years.

4. In 1988, Mad Magazine drew attention to a cigarette manufacturer that owned a life insurance company. The cigarette manufacturer claimed cigarettes were harmless, while charging more to insure smokers.

5. In 1986, a nurse named Sandra Clarke could not stay with a patient who asked her to stay due to her busy schedule. When she returned, the patient had died alone. In 2001, she played a key role in starting a program called ‘No One Dies Alone’, in which volunteers sit with terminal patients who have no one else.

6 Reggie Miller

Reggie Miller

Reggie Miller, NBA Hall of Famer, couldn’t escape his older sister Cheryl’s shadow while in high school. On January 26, 1982, he scored a career high 40 points. He tried bragging about it on the car ride home, only to find out Cheryl scored 105 points and had broken 8 national records.

7. In 1987, in Brazil, a ship carrying 22 tons of weed in 3lb cans dumped all of it in the sea after being chased by Brazilian authorities. The cans were carried to the coastline by the tides, and most ended up being found (and used) by the locals. This event came to be known as “The Summer of the Cans.”

8. In 1984, a woman started hearing a voice in her head. The voice told her she had a brain tumor, where the tumor was, and how to treat it. Despite no other symptoms, doctors eventually ordered tests and found a tumor where the voice said it would be.

9. Ronald Reagan was 3,761 votes shy, in Minnesota, of winning every state in the 1984 Presidential Election.

10. In 1986, students at University of California, Santa Cruz voted to make the school’s official mascot the Banana Slug. The chancellor refused to honor the result, instead polling just student-athletes on the question, who also voted overwhelmingly in favor of the Banana Slug.

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11 Bill Gates

Bill Gates

In 1989, Bill Gates answered a Microsoft tech support call, and identified himself only as “William”, then solved the issue. The customer called back later specifically requesting him.

12. Technically, the longest war in recorded history lasted for 335 years and 19 days, between the Dutch and the Isles of Scilly. There were no casualties. The Dutch actually forgot about the conflict until a Scilly historian named Roy Duncan contacted them about it in 1985. A treaty was signed between them in 1986.

13. On April Fools Day in 1989, billionaire Richard Branson designed a hot air balloon to look like a UFO, and hired a dwarf in an E.T. costume to come out and scare whoever was near it when it landed.

14. In 1985, the Enoch Pratt Free Library in Baltimore held a youth rap contest. The winner was a 14-year-old boy named Tupac Shakur.

15. In 1984, the New Zealand Prime Minister Robert Muldoon got drunk and decided to spontaneously call a general election, which he lost.

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16 Ronald Reagan

Ronald Reagan

When President Ronald Reagan was admitted to a hospital in 1981 due to being shot by John Hinckley Jr., he joked “Please tell me you’re all Republicans,” to which a surgeon who was a liberal democrat himself replied, “We’re all Republicans today.”

17. During the AIDS epidemic of the 1980s, education about the disease was limited for political reasons. Surgeon General C. Everett Koop ended up infuriating members of both parties after he ordered that every home in America be mailed a letter explaining what AIDS was and how to protect themselves from it.

18. American photographer Robert Landsburg while filming Mount St. Helens volcano eruption in 1980 realized that he wouldn’t survive it, so he rewound the film back into its case, put his camera in his backpack, and then lay himself on top of the backpack to protect the film for future researchers.

19. In the 1980s, Domino’s Pizza ran a campaign centered around a cartoon character named “The Noid.” It was discontinued in 1989 after a mentally ill man named Kenneth Noid took employees of an Atlanta Domino’s restaurant hostage after he thought the ads were a personal attack on him.

20. In 1987, a man named Arthur Shawcross, who was convicted of raping and murdering both a 10-year-boy, and an 8-year-old girl, was released from prison after only 12 years served for “good behavior.” He went on to commit 12 more murders.

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21 Herb the Nerd’

Herb the Nerd'

In 1985, Burger King launched a viral ad campaign featuring ‘Herb the Nerd’, a mysterious man who had never eaten a Whopper in his life. People could get a 99 cent Whopper by saying “I’m Not Herb”, or if their name was Herb, “I’m not the Herb you’re looking for.”

22. In 1984, a young boy named Andy Smith wrote a letter to Ronald Reagan asking for federal funds to clean his bedroom after his mother called it a “disaster area.”

23. 1983 blockbuster movie WarGames (featuring Matthew Broderick) caused President Reagan to ask national security officials if this type of “hacking” was possible to which General Vessey replied “The problem is much worse than you think.” This influenced national security policy, ARPAnet, and ultimately the modern Internet.

24. In 1986, Scott Weiland met bassist Robert DeLeo at a Black Flag concert in Long Beach, California. Two of them were discussing their love interests, when they realized they were both dating the same girl. They developed a bond over the incident, and ended up forming their rock band ‘Stone Temple Pilots.’

25. In 1981, Harvard professor Roger Fisher proposed implanting nuclear launch codes in a volunteer so that the President would have to kill an innocent person before starting the impersonal killing of millions. The Pentagon rejected the idea fearing the President would not go through with it even if it was necessary.

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  1. Re #33: At least one of those ATCs happened to be in the military reservists. When the president ordered military ATCs to take over, one of those reservists was put to use as a replacement for the civilian ATC. He later changed his MOS and that’s how I ended up working with him.



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