A timeline of John Hinckley, Jr.'s shooting of President Reagan

In 1981, six terrifying blasts reverberated through the afternoon air and into history books. The gunshots, fired by John Hinckley, Jr., a deranged young man with an obscure obsession, nearly cut short the life of a man who would later become inextricable from American conservative politics. The assassination attempt of President Ronald Reagan not only rocked America to its core, it also paved the way for "Reaganomics"—changing the course of our political history.

In 2016, Hinckley was released back into society to mixed reactions from the public, who couldn't help but wonder: Is Hinckley still a danger, or has he been rehabilitated? Below, explore how Reagan and Hinckley's paths crossed briefly and violently, as well as the intriguing events leading up to and following the shooting.

To see the fascinating story come to life, tune into National Geographic Channel's world premiere television movie event "Killing Reagan" on Sunday, October 16 at 8/7c

Timeline Key

Reagan Hinckley Convergence
February 6, 1911

Small town, big ambitions

The second of two sons born to John (Jack) and Nelle Reagan, Ronald Wilson Reagan entered the world into relative obscurity in Tampico, Ill., a town with a population of fewer than 800 people. Reagan's father nicknamed the boy "Dutch," joking that the child resembles "a fat little Dutchman."

March 4, 1952

A Hollywood love story

Nancy Davis and Ronald Reagan met in 1951 while Reagan was president of the Screen Actors Guild. Confusion ensued when another Nancy Davis, an aspiring actress, had been blacklisted in Hollywood as a possible communist sympathizer. The future Mrs. Reagan's appeal to Reagan to clear her name eventually resulted in a proposal.

May 29, 1955

Troubled in Texas

Nearly forty years after Reagan's birth, another man who would shape the course of history, John Hinckley, Jr., was born in Ardmore, Oklahoma. At a young age, he moved with his wealthy family to Texas. As early as his teenage years, Hinckley displayed tendencies of depression and mental illness, shunning traditional high school activities and social circles.


A growing obsession

After developing an obsession with the 1976 film "Taxi Driver" and its leading actress, Jodie Foster, Hinckley began compulsively penning letters to the Hollywood starlet. Inspired by the movie's plot line, he devised a plan to rise to fame in the public eye in order to attract the attention of the object of his desire. A presidential assassination plot was born out of delusional visions of grandeur.

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October 9, 1980

Carter's close call

Hinckley got within arm's reach of President Jimmy Carter at a re-election campaign event in Dayton, Ohio. A week later, he was arrested on a weapons charge in Nashville, Tennessee—the same day Carter was campaigning there. An arrest was made, but Hinckley was neither photographed nor fingerprinted, and the Secret Service was not informed of the incident.

November 4, 1980

Winning the White House

Having been previously denied the Republican presidential nomination twice before, Reagan was finally granted a chance at bat for America's highest office in 1980. He ultimately secured 51 percent of the popular vote and became the oldest elected President of the United States at 69 years of age.

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December 8, 1980

Death of an idol

News of John Lennon's murder devastated Hinckley, and firmed his resolve. He wrote in his diary: "John Lennon is dead. Forget it. It's just going to be insanity. I still think about Jodie all the time. Anything I might do in 1981 would be solely for Jodie Foster's sake. I want to tell the world that I love her."

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March 30, 1981

Chaos at the helm

With the president hospitalized and Vice President George Bush out of town, Al Haig asserted that as Secretary of State, he was in charge. (Actually, he was fourth in succession.) With the victims' fates and shooter's identity still unknown—was it a Soviet plot?—nerves were frayed in the White House, in the press and in the nation at large.


A ‘Reaganomics' roller coaster

The assassination attempt shot Reagan's approval ratings through the roof to 70 percent; his first post-shooting appearance before Congress earned him a hero's welcome, and helped him pass his economic package through a Democratic-controlled House. A year later, as the economy faltered and the unemployment rate spiked above 10 percent, Reagan's approval rating fell to 35 percent.

June 21, 1982

An insane verdict

Americans were shocked and outraged with the verdict of the Hinckley trial: "Not guilty" by reason of insanity. Hinckley's defense lawyers argued that the defendant suffered from narcissistic personality disorder, and had attempted to assassinate Reagan in a state of delusion. A jury agreed. Hinckley was sent to St. Elizabeth's Hospital, a mental institution in Washington, D.C.

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April 1987

Letters to Ted Bundy

Although he was called schizophrenic and "unpredictably dangerous," Hinckley applied for a court order to allow home visits. In response, a judge requested hospital officials search his room, where they found evidence that his obsession with Foster had not abated, that he had corresponded with serial killer Ted Bundy and tried to contact Charles Manson. (His request was denied.)

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May 3, 1988

Under the influence —of astrology

Former White House chief of staff Donald T. Regan noted the role of astrology in the president's life. The Reagans had long had an interest in the topic, but White House spokesman Marlin Fitzwater acknowledged that after the assassination attempt, "[Nancy] was very concerned for her husband's welfare, and astrology has been part of her concern in terms of his activities."

Jan. 11, 1989

"We made a difference"

After two terms as president, Reagan left office as one of the most popular modern U.S. presidents. He hoped he would be remembered for his foreign policy and domestic achievements, from stemming communism to reducing nuclear arms and pushing supply-side economics to control inflation. From his Farewell Address: "My friends: We did it. We weren't just marking time. We made a difference."

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November 5, 1994

A voice for health

Five years after leaving office, Reagan wrote, "I have recently been told that I am one of the millions of Americans who will be afflicted with Alzheimer's Disease." This inspired the former First Lady to embark on a crusade to improve health, support Alzheimer's research and take a stand against some of her fellow conservatives by advocating strongly for stem-cell research.

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April 14, 1998

Love doesn't conquer all

Off psychiatric medications since 1992 and given unsupervised walks on hospital grounds, Hinckley had a girlfriend, herself once a mental patient at St. Elizabeth's from an insanity defense. (In 1982, she shot her 10-year-old daughter and attempted suicide.) Still his request for unsupervised release to his parents was denied by the U.S. Court of Appeals.

June 5, 2004

Last battle

After suffering from Alzheimer's disease for close to a decade, Ronald Reagan died at the age of 93. He was survived by his wife and four children: Maureen and Michael (with first wife Jane Wyman), Patti Davis, and Ron Reagan.

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March 6, 2016

End of an era

Nancy Reagan died 12 years after her husband's death. She was remembered for her dedication to her husband, numerous impacts upon the White House and her affinity for astrology.

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September 10, 2016

Regaining freedom

After a controversial court order, Hinckley, known as one of America's most notorious emblems of distressed mental health, was released into his mother's care. Amid mixed public opinion, he departed St. Elizabeth's to join his mother at her home in Williamsburg, VA.

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Sources include: The National First Ladies' Library, the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library, Tampico Historical Society, University of Missouri School of Law