1981 Fun Facts, Trivia and History

1981 Fun Facts, Trivia and History

Quick Facts from 1981:

  • World-Changing Event: Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome (AIDS) was recognized in 1981, and the human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) was identified in 1984.
  • The Top Song was Physical by Olivia Newton-John
  • The Movies to Watch include Raiders of the Lost Ark, On Golden Pond, Superman II, The Cannonball Run, Time Bandits, Arthur, An American Werewolf in London and Clash of the Titans
  • The Most Famous Person in America was probably Diana, Princess of Wales
  • Notable books include The Hotel New Hampshire by John Irving and When Bad Things Happen to Good People by Harold Kushner
  • Price of a Rubick’s Cube: $3.99
    Sharp VHS Videocassette recorder: $599 to $950
    Minimum Wage in 1981: $3.35 per hour
  • The Funny Guy was Rodney Dangerfield
    The Funny Duo was: Cheech and Chong
  • The Conversation: What happened to cause the death of actress Natalie Wood while on a boating trip with then-husband Robert Wagner, actor Christopher Walken, and captain Dennis Davern?

Top Ten Baby Names of 1981:

Jennifer, Jessica, Amanda, Sarah, Melissa, Michael, Chris, Topher, Matthew, Jason, David

Fashion Icons and Sex Symbols:

Loni Anderson, Barbara Bach, Catherine Bach, Kim Basinger, Valerie Bertinelli, Jacqueline Bisset, Christie Brinkley, Charo, Joan Collins, Lydia Cornell, Bo Derek, Linda Evans, Morgan Fairchild, Farrah Fawcett, Jane Fonda, Erin Gray, Debbie Harry, Goldie Hawn, Marilu Henner, Lauren Hutton, Grace Jones, Nastassja Kinski, Jessica Lange, Olivia Newton-John, Stevie Nicks, Dolly Parton, Victoria Principal, Tanya Roberts, Diana Ross, Brooke Shields, Jacquelyn Smith, Suzanne Somers, Donna Summer, Heather Thomas, Cheryl Tiegs, Charlene Tilton, Mary Woronov

Leading Men and Hollywood Heartthrobs:

Harrison Ford, Mickey Rourke, Warren Beatty, Burt Reynolds, John Travolta

“The Quotes”

“You can tell a lot about a fellow’s character by his way of eating jellybeans. “
– President Ronald Reagan

“Betcha can’t eat just one”
-Lay’s Potato Chips

“No wire hangers, ever!”
– Faye Dunaway, in ‘Mommie Dearest’

“Listen to me, mister. You’re my knight in shining armor. Don’t you forget it. You’re going to get back on that horse, and I’m going to be right behind you, holding on tight, and away we’re gonna go, go, go!”
– Katharine Hepburn, in ‘On Golden Pond’

“We bring good things to life”
-General Electric (GE)

“Be all that you can be”
– United States Army ad

Time Magazine’s Man of the Year:

Lech Walesa

Miss America:

Susan Powell (Elk City, OK)

Miss USA:

Kim Seelbrede (Ohio)

The Scandals:

Pulitzer Prize-winning Washington Post reporter Janet Cooke cooked up a story about an 8-year-old heroin addict named Jimmy. He didn’t exist, but her pleas that he could have existed didn’t stop her from getting in trouble.

Jack Henry Abbott was a felon/murderer/bank robber who wrote In the Belly of the Beast while in prison. Norman Mailer and others vouched for him… he was released and soon stabbed an employee at a restaurant who told him he could not use the employee’s restroom. Back in prison, he killed himself in 2002.

Actress Drowning Death:

Actress Natalie Wood died, apparently falling overboard after a day/night sailing with hubby Robert Wagner and mutual friend Christopher Walken.

Actor Injury Death:

William Holden was drunk, fell and cut his head open. He didn’t realize how injured he was, didn’t call for help, and died from what should have been fairly easy stitching. He was also probably the actor Suzanne Vega “never heard of” mentioned in her hit Tom’s Diner.

Pop Star Automobile Death:

Harry Chapin

US Politics:

January 20, 1981 (Tuesday): First inauguration of Ronald Reagan

Pop Culture Facts & History:

MTV began on August 1st. The first video, all vidNerds know was ‘Video Killed The Radio Star’ by the Buggles. The second was Pat Benatar’s ‘You Better Run.’

Sandra Day O’Connor became the first female U.S. Supreme Court Justice.

“Bulimia” was the new word du jour.

The Smurfs, created in 1958, the Hanna-Barbera cartoon series brought them into American pop culture. Though many fans think Smurfette was the only female Smurf, there were actually two more – Nanny Smurf and Sassette Smurf. There was no Smurfina.

Prince Charles married Lady Diana on July 29, 1981. It was on TV and in all the newspapers.

Cost of a Superbowl ad in 1981: $275,000

Doomsday Clock:

4 minutes to midnight, according to the Bulletin of Atomic Scientists.
1981: “The Soviet invasion of Afghanistan hardens the U.S. nuclear posture. Before he leaves office, President Jimmy Carter pulls the United States from the Olympic Games in Moscow and considers ways in which the United States could win a nuclear war. The rhetoric only intensifies with the election of Ronald Reagan as president. Reagan scraps any talk of arms control and proposes that the best way to end the Cold War is for the United States to win it.”

The Habits:

Working on the Rubik’s Cube, Donkey Kong, Frogger (arcade), playing with He-Man and the Masters of the Universe action figures.

Popular and Best-selling Books From 1981:

A Light in the Attic by Shel Silverstein
An Indecent Obsession by Colleen McCullough
The Covenant by James Michener
Cujo by Stephen King
The Glitter Dome by Joseph Wambaugh
The Going to Bed Book by Sandra Boynton
Goodbye, Janette by Harold Robbins
Gorky Park by Martin Cruz Smith
The Hotel New Hampshire by John Irving
Housekeeping by Marilynne Robinson
The Indian in the Cupboard by Lynne Reid Banks
Lanark by Alasdair Gray
Masquerade by Kit Williams
Noble House by James Clavell
Outside Over There by Maurice Sendak
Sixty Stories by Donald Barthelme
The Third Deadly Sin by Lawrence Sanders
No Time for Tears by Cynthia Freeman
What We Talk About When We Talk About Love by Raymond Carver
When Bad Things Happen to Good People by Harold Kushner

East End Show – Cats (Musical) Opened on May 11, 1981 and closed on May 11, 2002

Broadway Show – Dreamgirls (Musical) Opened on December 20, 1981 and closed on August 11, 1985

Best Film Oscar Winner:

Ordinary People (presented in 1981)

The Big Movies: (according to boxofficemojo)

1. Raiders of the Lost Ark
2. On Golden Pond
3. Superman II
4. Arthur
5. Stripes
6. The Cannonball Run
7. Chariots Of Fire
8. For Your Eyes Only
9. The Four Seasons
10. Time Bandits

1981 Most Popular TV Shows:

1. Dallas (CBS)
2. 60 Minutes (CBS)
3. The Jeffersons (CBS)
4. Three’s Company (ABC)
5. Alice (CBS)
6. The Dukes of Hazzard (CBS)
7. Too Close For Comfort (ABC)
8. ABC Monday Night Movie (ABC)
9. M*A*S*H (CBS)
10. One Day at a Time (CBS)

1981 Billboard Number One Songs:

December 27, 1980January 30, 1981:
(Just Like) Starting Over – John Lennon

January 31February 6:
The Tide Is High – Blondie

February 7February 20:
Celebration Kool & The Gang

February 21March 6:
9 to 5 – Dolly Parton

March 7March 20:
I Love A Rainy Night – Eddie Rabbitt

March 21March 27:
Keep On Loving You – REO Speedwagon

March 28 – April 10:
Rapture – Blondie

April 11May 1:
Kiss On My List – Hall & Oates

May 2May 15:
Morning Train (Nine To Five) – Sheena Easton

May 16July 17:
Bette Davis Eyes – Kim Carnes

July 18July 24:
Medley – Stars on 45

July 25July 31:
The One That You Love – Air Supply

August 1August 14:
Jessie’s Girl – Rick Springfield

August 15October 16:
Endless Love – Diana Ross & Lionel Richie

October 17November 6:
Arthur’s Theme (Best That You Can Do) – Christopher Cross

November 7November 20:
Private Eyes – Hall & Oates

November 21, 1981 – January 29, 1982:
Physical – Olivia Newton-John


World Series Champions: Los Angeles Dodgers
Superbowl XV Champions: Oakland Raiders
NBA Champions: Boston Celtics
Stanley Cup Champs: New York Islanders
U.S. Open Golf David Graham
U.S. Tennis: (Men/Ladies) John McEnroe/Tracy Austin
Wimbledon (Men/Women): John McEnroe/Chris Evert
NCAA Football Champions: Clemson
NCAA Basketball Champions: Indiana
Kentucky Derby: Pleasant Colony

More 1981 Facts and History Resources:

Most Popular Baby Names (BabyCenter.com)
Popular and Notable Books (popculture.us)
Broadway Shows that Opened in 1981X
1981 Calendar, courtesy of Time and Date.com
Everything 80s Podcast 1981
Fact Monster
Back In Time 1980s Timeline Thoughtco.com
1980s, Infoplease.com World History
Millennial Generation (1981-1996)
1981 in Movies (according to IMDB)
1981 Top Movies (according to BoxOfficeMojo)
Princess Diana and Prince Charles’ Wedding
Retrowaste Vintage Culture
President Ronald Reagan
The 80s(History.com)
1980s Slang
1980 US Census Fast Facts
Wikipedia 1981