It’s been forty trips around the sun since 1984—a year that saw Michael Jackson literally set on fire and Donald Duck celebrate fifty years of existence. It was a year that marked the end of the line for some folks like American actor Jack La Rue and welcomed others like Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg. disneJoin us as we stroll down memory lane and pay tribute to all the unforgettable things that happened in 1984.
1. Van Halen Release “1984” Album
Van Halen kicked off the year with the release of their sixth and most successful studio album, appropriately dubbed 1984. Rolling Stone would rank the album at number 81 on their Greatest 100 Albums of the 1980s list. The rock n’ roll masterpiece would ultimately be the last full-length studio album to feature all four original band members, as David Lee Roth left in 1985, citing creative differences.
2. Apple Computer Inc. Debuts Its Revolutionary Macintosh Personal Computer
After the very first of his famous keynote speeches, Steve Jobs and Apple Computer Inc. catapulted technology into a new era with the Macintosh Personal Computer in late January 1984. The trailblazing machine was the first to achieve mass-market success and featured a built-in screen, mouse, and a graphical user interface.
3. Tetris Is Accidentally Birthed Into Existence by Soviet Engineer
While evaluating the capabilities of the newly developed Electronika 60 computer, software engineer Alexey Pajitnov inadvertently spawned Tetris–one of the most iconic and successful video games in history. Nintendo’s Game Boy eventually brought Tetris to the mainstream, making it one of the best-selling video games ever. Tetris would be adapted for more than 65 different platforms, earning a Guinness World Record as the video game with the most ports.
4. Ghostbusters Premieres
Everyone’s favorite disgraced parapsychology professors arrived on the scene in 1984 to rid NYC of its pesky paranormal problem. Ghostbusters quickly evolved into a cultural sensation, and the film achieved remarkable box office success.
The impact of Ghostbusters on popular culture gave rise to a multimedia franchise worth billions of dollars. I don’t know about you, but I know who I will call when my late mother-in-law’s silhouette appears at the end of the hall.
5. First Episode of Jeopardy! With Alex Trebek as Host
Alex Trebek played a central role in reviving the famous game show Jeopardy! when he became its host in September of 1984. His calm disposition, quick wit, and authoritative presence brought a new level of integrity and appeal to the show. I recall many evenings watching the show, hoping to get at least some answers- well, questions- correct. Trebek's charismatic hosting style helped transform Jeopardy! into a household name, attracting a broad audience and elevating the show to iconic status.
6. John Schnatter Founded Papa John's Pizza
1984 saw “Papa” John Schnatter launch his pizza empire by turning a broom closet into the birthplace of Papa John's restaurant. By the following year, Papa John and his merry pizza aficionados made 3,000 to 4,000 pizzas a week. Now, I can’t attest much about the pizza’s quality, being a New Jersey native with countless “real” pizza joints to pick from, but the quality of Papa John’s success goes without question.
7. The Cosby Show Premieres on NBC
Despite everything that came to light in more recent times, Bill Cosby was one of the biggest household names of the 1980s. The comedian-turned-sitcom star brought The Cosby Show to life for television audiences on September 20, 1984. Most will agree that Dr. Cliff Huxtable was a warm and humorous man whose wise and witty guidance of his family left a lasting impression on families worldwide.
8. The Terminator, Starring Arnold Schwarzenegger, Is Released in the US
Everyone’s favorite cyborg assassin lit up the silver screen in October of 1984–and the future of internet memes was altered forever. The Terminator franchise clinched the 17th spot in IGN's prestigious top 25 greatest film franchises list and impressively ranks within the top 30 highest-earning franchises, as highlighted by Rotten Tomatoes. To this day, when I run out to grab a sandwich or drop the kids at school, I still dramatically turn to my wife and mutter, “I’ll be back.”
9. Def Leppard Drummer Rick Allen Loses His Arm in a Car Crash
As 1984 drew to a close on a winding rural road near Sheffield, England, rock n’ roll history changed forever. Attempting to pass another vehicle, Def Leppard drummer Rick Allen rolled his Corvette C4 and lost an arm in the process. While most would give up on any future rhythmic profession, Allen relearned how to play his instrument. On his first show back with the band, he even used a bone from his amputated arm as a drumstick. Talk about devotion to your craft.
10. Paul & Linda McCartney Arrested in Barbados for Possession of Cannabis
The McCartneys faced the music in 1984 when they were busted with marijuana on the beautiful island of Barbados. The couple accepted a fine of $100 each. McCartney later called for the decriminalization of cannabis and reminded the world in a statement to the press, saying, “Let's get one thing straight. Whatever you think I've done, this substance cannabis is a whole lot less harmful than rum punch, whisky, nicotine, and glue, all of which are perfectly legal.” Can’t argue with that logic.
11. Hulk Hogan Wins His First WWF Title
In late January, Hulk Hogan stepped in for the sidelined Bob Backlund to compete in a championship match against the Iron Sheik. Hogan made history that night, winning his first WWF Championship title and becoming the first wrestler to break free from the notorious “camel clutch” hold. The iconic clash unfolded in the legendary Madison Square Garden and is etched in history as one of the most defining moments in professional wrestling.
12. NFL Owners Passed the Infamous Anti-Celebrating Rule
The NFL’s rule book was updated in 1984 when the owners passed the Infamous anti-celebrating rule. It stated that “any prolonged, excessive, or premeditated celebration by individual players or groups of players will be construed as unsportsmanlike conduct.” So much for having too much fun on the gridiron.
However, somewhere in the fine print, the updated edition also stated that “spontaneous expressions of exuberance will be permitted.” You be the judge…
13. Challenger Astronauts Complete the First In-Space Satellite Repair
A groundbreaking space operation occurred in April 1984 when Challenger astronauts retrieved the problematic Solar Max astronomy satellite. The crew successfully executed repairs before redeploying it into orbit. The job marked the first time a satellite was serviced and fixed in space. Their dedication and aptitude can undoubtedly alter the perspective when we Earthlings complain about our morning commute.
14. Scientists Successfully Clone DNA From An Extinct Animal
1984 saw scientists from the University of California at Berkeley successfully identify and replicate gene fragments from an extinct species closely related to zebras and horses. The breakthrough marked the first time genetic material had been extracted and reproduced from extinct animal species. Jurassic Park hadn’t yet hit the big screen, so they thought, “What could possibly go wrong?”
15. Cyndi Lauper Lands First #1 Hit in the US With “Time After Time”
“Time After Time” propelled Cyndi Lauper to the top of the Billboard Hot 100 chart, marking her debut as a number-one artist. The famous track also clinched top positions on the Adult Contemporary and Canadian RPM Top Singles charts. Lauper's musical career saw global album sales soar past the 50 million mark, but her first chart-topping single continues to tug at our emotions, time after time…time after time…time after time…
16. Lynn Rippelmeyer Becomes the First Female to Captain a 747 Across the Atlantic
Lynn Rippelmeyer was born and raised on a farm in Illinois and began her aviation journey in 1973 by taking flying lessons in a Piper J-3 Cub on floats. Fast forward to 1981, and her skills and dedication led to her being hired as a pilot at People Express Airlines. With PEX, Captain Rippelmeyer made history in 1984, becoming the first female to captain a 747 Trans-Atlantic flight.
17. MTV Airs the First Video Music Awards
On September 14, 1984, Dan Aykroyd and Bette Midler hosted the first-ever MTV Video Music Awards live from Radio City Music Hall in NYC. The night saw The Cars win with “You Might Think,” and David Bowie take home the award for “China Girl.”Madonna's audaciously bold performance of “Like a Virgin” defined a new era of pop culture and went down as one of the most memorable moments in VMA history.
18. Desmond Tutu Wins the Nobel Peace Prize
Desmond Tutu was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1984 for his pivotal contribution to the fight against apartheid in South Africa. The honor had only once been awarded to a South African when former president of the African National Congress Albert Lutuli won it for his non-violent struggle against apartheid. Tutu’s extensive media presence transformed him into a living emblem of the liberation movement, eloquently voicing the pain and aspirations of the oppressed population in South Africa.
19. “Baby Fae” Gets Baboon Heart Transplant
Having experienced the unnerving journey of extreme prematurity with my daughter, the story of Baby Fae hits close to home. Stephanie Fae, more widely known as “Baby Fae,” underwent a groundbreaking yet controversial medical procedure in an attempt to correct her otherwise fatal hypoplastic left heart syndrome. She would become the first newborn to receive a cross-species heart transplant.
Defying expectations, the transplant succeeded, but the journey was short-lived. Baby Fae’s tiny body successfully functioned with a baboon heart before sadly passing away 21 days post-surgery.
20. A Nightmare on Elm Street Premieres in the US
Wes Craven’s A Nightmare on Elm Street debuted in the US with a limited theatrical release nationwide. With an impressive haul of over $1.2 million in its first weekend, the film quickly established itself as an immediate hit at the box office. As a now-successful fear-mongering franchise, Freddy Krueger continues to haunt audiences' dreams with his chilling persona and nightmarish antics.
21. Night Court Premieres on NBC
Debuting on January 4, 1984, and enjoying a remarkable nine-season run, NBC's Night Court established itself as the humor-filled sitcom brainchild of Reinhold Weege. Known for its eclectic mix of eccentric characters and a revolving door of oddball cases, the fan-favorite sitcom stands out for simply making people laugh harder than most other shows of its time. And the show is certainly not sorry for all the laughs. After all, “being a judge means never having to say you’re sorry.”
22. Michael Jackson Is Burned During Filming for Pepsi Commercial
Although Michael Jackson certainly experienced a career on fire, the King of Pop was literally set ablaze while filming a Pepsi commercial in 1984. While performing live in front of 3000 spectators at the Shrine Auditorium in Los Angeles, footage from the shoot reveals the extent of the accident, which left Jackson with severe second and third-degree burns on his scalp and body. We’re not sure his career ever cooled off.
23. Bruce McCandless Makes First Untethered Spacewalk
Can you imagine drifting off into the boundless expanse of space? This could have been the reality for Bruce McCandless if not for successfully completing a historic spacewalk during the STS-41B mission. How could he have drifted off, you ask? The daring astronaut made the walk completely untethered from the Space Shuttle Challenger. Talk about taking a triple doggy dare too far.
24. John Lennon’s Single “Borrowed Time” Is Released Posthumously
In May of 1984, US audiences listened to “Borrowed Time,” the second single from John Lennon's posthumous album Milk And Honey. The track showcased Lennon's reflective songwriting and was accompanied by Yoko Ono’s “Your Hands” as the B-side. It achieved a chart position of number 32 in the UK while only peaking at number 108 on the US charts.
25. Pete Rose Becomes First NL Player To Get 4,000 Hits in a Career
Pete Rose marked a career milestone in 1984 by securing his 4,000th career hit–a double off Phillies pitcher Jerry Koosman. The notable achievement made him the first National League player to reach the milestone and occurred precisely 21 years to the day after his first career big league hit. Rose’s career was ultimately tainted by illegally betting on games he managed. But at the end of the day, he was simply fantastic with the bat- and you can bet on that.
26. Mick Fleetwood Files for Bankruptcy
Drummer Mick Fleetwood of Fleetwood Mac declared personal bankruptcy in 1984 after extravagant spending and succumbing to an estimated $8 million cocaine habit. The famed drummer claimed a few unfruitful real estate ventures also contributed to his financial collapse. Fleetwood eventually pulled it together, with a critical part of his recovery being a profitable band reunion tour in the 1990s, which significantly aided his financial resurgence.
27. Bruce Springsteen's 7th Studio Album “Born in the USA” Releases
In June 1984, Columbia Records unveiled Born in the USA, the seventh studio album from New Jersey native Bruce Springsteen. The album conceptualized themes of resilience and aspiration in the everyday struggle to chase the American Dream. Born in the USA became The Boss’s most successful commercial venture, dominating charts in 11 countries and selling over 30 million copies globally. If only we all could aspire to the same level of success by sporting a pair of blue jeans.
28. Prince Releases “Purple Rain” Album
Purple Rain is indisputably Prince's most legendary album, pivotal in shaping fashion and musical trends during the 1980s. Featuring hit singles like “When Doves Cry” and “I Would Die 4 U,” Prince catapulted himself into global superstardom. Leaning into his unique blend of funk-rock, Purple Rain solidified Prince’s status as a pop culture icon.
29. Cincinnati Reds Retire Johnny Bench's #5 Uniform Number
Johnny Bench is considered one of the best catchers to sit behind the plate on a major league diamond. In accordance with his dominating career, The Cincinnati Reds organization retired his Number 5 Jersey on August 11, 1984. The Hall of Fame catcher concluded his remarkable 17-year career in 1983, adorned with two Most Valuable Player Awards, 10 Gold Gloves, and 14 selections to the All-Star Game. Could the Mets please find such a talent to wear the uniform already?
30. Joseph Kittinger Completes the First Solo Balloon Flight Across the Atlantic
In a cutting-edge feat of aeronautics, Joseph Kittinger used 1984 to soar into the history books as the first pilot to complete a solo transatlantic balloon flight. The expedition also set a world record for the greatest distance traveled in a 3,000 cubic-foot balloon. All in all, Kittinger spent 86 hours taking off from C
aribou, Maine, and setting down 3,543 miles away in Montenotte, Italy.
31. Indian Prime Minister Assassinated by Her Bodyguards
On October 31, 1984, India's Prime Minister was assassinated in New Delhi at the hands of two of her bodyguards. Beant Singh and Satwant Singh fatally shot Indira Gandhi as she was heading toward her office. The pair were presumably motivated by a desire to retaliate for dishonoring Sikhs and violating the sacred Golden Temple during Operation Blue Star earlier in the year.
32. Wayne Gretzky Becomes Youngest NHL Player To Score 1,000 Points
At a mere 23 years young, NHL superstar Wayne Gretzky scored his 1,000th point in only his 424th professional game. Gretzky became the 17th player in NHL history to reach the 1,000-point mark, although the offensive scoring machine achieved the feat much faster than any of his predecessors. Mario Lemieux achieved the same milestone in his 513th game in 1992–the only player to even come close to matching Gretzky’s feat.
33. Marvin Creamer Sails Around the World Without Navigational Instruments
I can hardly find my way to the grocery store without the aid of my phone’s trusty Global Positioning System, but don’t tell that to Marvin Creamer. The adventurous mariner was more in touch with his ancient ancestors than his modern-era sea captain counterparts. Led by only the sun, moon, and stars, Creamer became the first known person to sail around the world without using any navigational instruments.
34. New South Wales Declares Homosexuality Legal
Modern culture has come a long way in recent decades thanks to shifts in perspectives and progressive thinking. But before the 1980s, many nations viewed consensual relationships between same-sex partners to be a criminal offense. 1984 saw New South Wales, Australia, make a significant legal shift by decriminalizing homosexuality, setting the course for a more inclusive and accepting culture for its residents.
35. Pierre Trudeau Steps Down as Canadian Prime Minister
Pierre Trudeau concluded his tenure as Canada's Prime Minister in 1984, marking the end of an era with two distinct terms that collectively spanned 15 years. Trudeau's administration worked toward several key achievements, including gaining constitutional independence from the British parliament and developing the Canadian constitution.
36. Richard Miller Is First (Former) FBI Agent Charged With Espionage
In October 1984, former FBI Agent Richard Miller found himself in custody alongside two Russian immigrants who were later identified as operatives for the Soviet KGB. It was alleged that Miller handed over confidential materials in exchange for a demand of $50,000 in gold and $15,000 in cash. Following his arrest, details about Miller's life began to surface, painting a complex picture of his overwhelmingly erratic behavior.
37. Kathy Sullivan Is the First US Woman To Walk in Space During a Challenger Mission
Astronaut Kathy Sullivan made history in 1984 as the first American woman to venture outside a spacecraft. The fearless female conducted work in the Space Shuttle Challenger's payload bay while orbiting 140 miles above Earth at a speed of 17,500 miles per hour. Sullivan was selected as one of six women in a group of 35 Space Shuttle astronauts, subsequently becoming the third woman chosen for a spaceflight mission.
38. First Broadcast of Miami Vice on NBC
In September 1984, NBC introduced audiences to Miami Vice with a two-hour pilot episode. The series follows James “Sonny” Crockett and Ricardo Tubbs as they bond unexpectedly while working undercover in Miami. After a five-season run, Miami Vice concluded with Crockett and Tubbs leaving the police force, disillusioned by their experiences. Despite its status as a classic, the show faced declining performance in its later seasons, ultimately leading to its cancellation.
39. Eleven Members of the Colombo Crime Family Arrested
A major announcement from federal officials shook the New York City crime scene in October 1984 when eleven members of the Colombo crime family were indicted. The extensive 51-count indictment included alleged boss Carmine Persico. Officials accused the family of orchestrating a criminal network engaged in activities ranging from extortion, theft, and loan sharking to gambling, bribery, and drug trafficking. Even Tony Soprano was impressed with the family’s ambitious nature.
40. Waitress Gets the World's Most Valuable Tip
On an ordinary evening in late March 1984, Detective Robert Cunningham playfully offered his favorite waitress a unique tip: shared ownership of a lottery ticket. In a turn of fate far surpassing the usual couple of dollars left on a restaurant table, the detective-waitress duo hit for $6 million the very next day. They split the winnings 50/50 because, after all, each picked half of the winning numbers. Check, please!
41. Kareem Abdul-Jabbar Breaks Wilt Chamberlain's All-Time Career Scoring Record
On a memorable Thursday night in April 1984, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar sank his signature sky hook to eclipse Wilt Chamberlain's all-time leading scorer record. As the ball passed through the net, amounting to 31,420 points, play stopped, and an impromptu ceremony began right there on the court. It was rumored that Chamberlain was supposed to attend the game that night, but the former leading scorer never showed up at the arena.
42. The Fall of Two-Time CY Young Award Winner Denny McLain
Renowned as the last MLB pitcher to achieve a 30-win season, Denny McLain found himself at the center of legal turmoil with a Federal indictment in March 1984. The indictment included five counts, implicating McLain in racketeering, conspiracy, extortion, as well as possession and distribution of cocaine and conspiracy to import the drug. The only thing more impressive than his 30-win season was the laundry list of crimes he committed.
43. Michael Jackson Wins 8 Grammys at the 26th Grammy Awards
Michael Jackson made a dazzling entrance to the 26th Grammy Awards, sporting a crystal-encrusted blue-and-gold military coat complete with matching crystal gloves. Jackson set a Grammy record that evening, taking home eight Grammys—the most ever awarded to a single artist in one evening. His sweep included accolades for Album of the Year, Best Pop Vocal Performance, and Best R&B Vocal Performance, to name a few. It was a thriller of a night, and Jackson indeed showed everyone exactly how to beat it.
44. Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom Premieres
The second rendition of the Indiana Jones saga hit screens in 1984 following the success of Raiders of the Lost Arc in 1981. Steven Spielberg and Harrison Ford teamed up with Lucasfilm again to bring impatient audiences Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom. The film accumulated a record-breaking $45.7 million in its first week, grossing over $330 million worldwide.
45. Donald Duck's 50th Birthday Celebrated at Disneyland
While Mickey Mouse typically comes to mind when daydreaming about the greatest place on Earth, the entire cast of Disney characters deserves some love and affection. The folks at Disneyland agreed, and in 1984, they organized a special parade in honor of Donald Duck's 50th anniversary. Donald’s float featured live ducks sporting festive party hats. Yes, even our favorite little mouse friend was jealous of all Donald’s attention that day.
46. US Passes National Minimum Drinking Age Act
It wasn’t all peaches and cream for young folks in 1984. In fact, the 1984 National Minimum Drinking Age Act passed, mandating that states enforce a prohibition on the purchase and public possession of alcoholic beverages by individuals under 21 years of age.
This stipulation was a prerequisite for states to receive federal highway funding, intertwining legal drinking age regulations with financial incentives for state highway projects. I’m still regularly dodging potholes everywhere I drive, so what gives?
47. IRA Bombs the Grand Hotel
As it sometimes goes when dealing with the Irish, the IRA bombed the Grand Hotel in Brighton, England, targeting members of the British Conservative Party during a conference. Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher was among those in the hotel when the IRA-planted bomb exploded in the early hours of October 12, causing extensive damage to the historic building. The devastating attack resulted in five fatalities and injured over 30 people.
48. 11-Day-Old Becomes Youngest Person To Receive a Heart Transplant
Hollie Roffey became the youngest person ever to receive a heart transplant after being born missing the left side of her heart. Hollie's revolutionary transplant involved receiving a heart from a three-day-old Dutch infant, breaking the previous record set by a two-and-a-half-week-old Brooklyn patient in 1967.
49. Cale Yarborough Becomes the First Daytona 500 Qualifier Above 200 Mph
1984 wouldn’t be complete without feeding its need for speed–and Cale Yarborough was up for the challenge. During his illustrious racing career, Yarborough led over 31,500 laps, breaking a significant barrier in 1984 by becoming the first driver to qualify for the Daytona race with an average speed exceeding 200 mph. That same year, he clinched his fourth victory in the renowned Great American Race.
50. Central Intelligence Agency Information Act Passes
Although President Ronald Reagan didn’t pursue any significant legislative changes to the Freedom of Information Act during his administration, Congress did introduce a few amendments. 1984 saw a notable development occur in the same light, as Congress enacted the Central Intelligence Agency Information Act. This new legislation effectively placed certain CIA records beyond the scope of public access per the Freedom of Information Act.
51. Richard Branson's Virgin Atlantic Airways Commences Operations
1984 saw Richard Branson and Virgin Atlantic Airways take to the skies as they commenced operations. The airline's inaugural flight, dubbed the Maiden Voyager, transformed into an eight-hour celebration between Gatwick and Newark, with passengers consuming seventy cases of champagne during the transatlantic voyage. Despite the flight's success, the landing at Newark Airport brought a minor hiccup for Branson, who realized he had left his passport back at Gatwick. Forgiving a forgotten passport must be one of an airline owner’s perks.