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The Story Behind The Man Who Attempted To Assassinate President Ronald Reagan

What do an aspiring midwestern songwriter and actress Jodie Foster have to do with a would-be presidential assassination? More than you might think…

The typical traits you might imagine when picturing a would-be killer were not present when it comes to John Hinckley Jr., the man who attempted to murder President Ronald Reagan, on March 30, 1981. Hinckley came from a wealthy family in Oklahoma, and had wide open prospects in front of him. He was fairly popular during his high school years – he played sports, learned to play the piano, and was generally considered a well-rounded person.

Hinckley, not unlike many other young people over the years, set his sights on Los Angeles, and dropped out of college in order to pursue his dreams of being a famous musician. Unfortunately, much like the majority of young people who go on this journey, his career never took off. Although this was certainly a morale blow to a young, aspiring artist, a failed music career probably wouldn’t drive someone to attempt assassination.

Photo: WikiMedia Commons

This Is Where Jodie Foster Comes In

Three years after dropping out of school, Hinckley moved back into his parents’ home, and despite therapy, the tell-tale signs of something not quite right started to appear.

First, he began to stockpile guns, and second, he began to obsess over actress Jodie Foster. Particularly, he began favoring her in her role in a film called Taxi Driver, where her love interest plans to assassinate a presidential candidate in order to win her over. Apparently, this plot resonated deeply with Hinckley. When his attempts to woo Jodie Foster with poems, notes, and phone calls led to nothing, he decided something more impressive was in order.

At the time, it was actually President Jimmy Carter who was in office. Hinckley was caught following the president around the country, and was even arrested on a weapons charge in Nashville. Though he received psychiatric treatment after being released, his obsession saw no improvement, and he began to obsess over the new president, Ronald Reagan.

Unfortunately, knowing the President’s schedule ahead of time was all too easy, as it was posted in the Washington Star. Hinckley arrived in D.C. two days before he planned to make his attempt. On March 30th, Reagan attended a luncheon of AFL-CIO representatives at the Washington Hilton Hotel, where he gave a speech. Afterward, while the President was walking to his limo, Hinckley somehow managed to push through the media, and fire his blue steel revolver at Reagan and his Secret Service men from a mere 15 feet away. An officer managed to push Hinckley down, but not before he’d shot Reagan in the ribs, and wounded three other people.

Photo: Flickr.com/Cliff

Looking For Love, Not Infamy

While Hinckley was charged with 13 offenses during his trial in 1982, he was found not guilty by reason of insanity, and placed in a psychiatric hospital under strict watch. While he was locked up, the would-be assassin stated that his attempt was meant to be “the greatest love offering in the history of the world,” and he couldn’t understand why Jodie Foster didn’t appreciate what he’d done for her.

“I gave my life for Jodie and she couldn’t care less…yes, Jodie Foster knows who I am, just like the entire civilized world knows who I am. But does it matter now? I wanted Jodie’s love, not eternal infamy.”

Photo: WikiMedia Commons/Tom

Where Is He Now?

You might be interested to know that today, John Hinckley Jr. is alive, and was released somewhat recently from St. Elizabeth’s Psychiatric Hospital. Starting in 1999, he was allowed to make visits home, and continued to gain increasing freedom incrementally from there. In 2016, a judge ruled that he should be released, much to the consternation of two of the men he’d shot back in 1981. Both District of Columbia police officer, Thomas Delahanty, and Secret Service agent, Timothy McCarthy, took a bullet to protect the president back on that fateful day. Now, decades later, they’ve lived to see Hinckley freed.

Though Hinckley is permitted to live with his elderly mother, he is still under heavy surveillance by the government, and he must stick to very strict guidelines in order to maintain his freedom. According to those keeping a watchful eye, he is doing his best to live his life as an adjusted member of society.