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Film

Jodie Foster, John Hinckley, and the Ronald Reagan assassination attempt

The celebrity world is full of some of the most bizarre occurrences known to man. These can be comedic, dramatic or, on the whole, downright scary. The list of such events is so endless, that it almost seems like a prerequisite to celebrity – to be prepared for random incidents, in the same way you’d experience when playing any videogame produced by Rockstar. 

If we were to look at the comedic strain of these events, you’d probably conjure up images of Keith Moon and Co. in the 1960s and ’70s getting up to no good. In terms of the dramatic, this could be anything from the OJ Simpson case to any on-set rivalries, including that of Joel Schumacher vs Val Kilmer. Regarding the terrifying, there are the cases of Sharon Tate and John Lennon that instantly spring to mind.

It is with the latter category that we get our story today. It is well known that the man who murdered John Lennon, Mark David Chapman, was a paranoid and obsessive figure. He modelled his life on the fictional protagonist of The Catcher in the Rye, Holden Caulfield. This, alongside religious fervour, is what pushed him to murder Lennon in cold blood and contemplate other hits on celebrities such as Paul McCartney and Elizabeth Taylor. 

Being so much in the public eye, you’re bound to draw the attention of some of society’s worst elements, as actress Jodie Foster found in her freshman year at Yale University in 1980. That year she was stalked by John W. Hinckley Jr., who became obsessed with her after watching the 1976 movie Taxi Driver

Hinckley even moved to New Haven, Connecticut, the home of Yale and tried every channel of communication in an attempt to get in contact with Foster, including letters and telephone. Then things took an even darker turn. If you felt like you recognised Hinckley’s name, that’s because you do.

On March 30th, 1981, Hinckley attempted to assassinate then US President Ronald Reagan. He wounded the President and three others but claimed that he had done it all to impress Foster. Of course, this was a major incident, and it made headlines across the US and the Western world. Afterwards, Foster was accompanied by security night and day whilst on campus. Strangely, the judge sentencing Hinckley, Barrington D. Parker, said that Foster was innocent and was “unwittingly ensnared in a third party’s alleged attempt to assassinate an American President”.

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It didn’t end there, either. It came to light that Foster had numerous stalkers whilst at Yale, including one that had intended to kill her, but changed his mind after watching her perform in a play for University.

Understandably scarred by the events concerning Hinckley, Foster has rarely discussed them in public. Later, she wrote an essay about her ordeal in a 1982 edition of Esquire entitled Why Me? but, apart from that, her comments have been scarce. She’s even cancelled TV appearances after discovering that she was to be asked questions about Hinckley, as she “never wanted to be the actress who was remembered for that event”.

Foster said: “It didn’t have anything to do with me. I was kind of a hapless bystander. But… what a scarring, strange moment in history for me, to be 17 years old, 18 years old, and to be caught up in a drama like that”.

Apart from the ordeal impacting her career choices, Foster has explained that her experience was dwarfed by that of Reagan’s press secretary, James Brady, who was left disabled by the shooting and died of his terrible injuries decades later. She acknowledged: “Whatever bad moments that I had certainly could never compare to that family”.

Watch Foster talk about the ordeal below.