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Remembering What Happened in the 1980s — Year by Year

So you say you want to know what happened in the 1980s? Well, you’ve come to the right place — this whole website devoted (mostly) to the greatest decade ever! But if you want a more specific answer, read on to discover the gnarly happenings from each year of our big-hair prime years.


  • Ronald Reagan elected President
  • MTV debuts
  • Superman II opens in theaters
  • The Empire Strikes Back releases in theaters
  • John Lennon is shot four times by Mark David Chapman as he enters the Dakota building
  • US Hockey stages “Miracle on Ice”


  • Reagan shot by John Hinckley, Jr.
  • Major League Baseball Strike tears season in two
  • “Dynasty” debuts
  • Space Shuttle Columbia launches
  • AIDS first recognized by the CDC
  • Prince Charles and Lady Diana Spencer marry


  • “Knightrider” debuts on NBC television
  • Patrick Ewing selected #1 overall in the NBA draft by New York Knicks
  • “E.T.” released
  • Argentina occupies the Falkland Islands
  • Michael J. Fox debuts as Alex P. Keaton on “Family Ties”


  • US forces invade Grenada to rescue American students at St. Georges Medical College Hospital
  • Pac-Man invades video arcades everywhere (no, really)
  • M*A*S*H” ends after a decade-plus on the air
  • Michael Jackson releases “Thriller” album


  • USSR performs a successful test of its new AK-1000 computer
  • First Apple Macintosh released (priced at $2,495)
  • I Love Lucy and The Honeymooners reunite for CBS special
  • New Coke introduced to disastrous results; Coca-Cola Classic follows in 1985
  • Disney releases “The Care Bears Movie”
  • Los Angeles Olympics open; former Soviet Bloc countries (except Hungary) boycott; United States dominates
  • Ronald Reagan reelected President in a landslide victory over Walter Mondale
  • “Do they know it’s Christmas?” Band Aid video helps to fight famine in Ethiopia (eventually raises $8 million)
  • The Queen and George Michael of Wham! sing “Wake Me Up Before You Go-Go” together at the Royal Variety Performance


  • DuckTales debuts on TV
  • NBC’s “The Cosby Show” is No. 1 in the Nielsen ratings for five years straight
  • Michael Jackson releases “Bad”
  • “We Are the World” is released
  • Over 250,000 people take part in what is called the “Great Peace March for Global Nuclear Disarmament”
  • Ozone hole first discovered


  • Martin Scorsese releases “The Color of Money” (sequel to “The Hustler”)
  • The Oprah Winfrey Show is first nationally syndicated talk show targeted to an African-American audience.
  • The Space Shuttle Challenger disaster rocks the world
  • Soviet Space Station Mir begins missions


  • The stock market crashes on what will become known as “Black Monday”
  • Larry Bird leads the Boston Celtics to their third NBA championship in six years
  • Prozac is introduced as a new depression treatment
  • DNA first used to solve a crime


  • Soviets launch what will be the first of many probes to Venus and Mars
  • Babylon 5: The Gathering is released, marking the start of what would become one of the most successful science fiction series in history.
  • Alexander Lukashenko becomes leader of what was then the Soviet Republic of Belarus
  • Disneyland’s Space Mountain opens with what is still the longest and fastest roller coaster ride in the world.
  • The Soviet Union halts nuclear testing for what will be almost 2 years of negotiations that will end with the signing of an arms control treaty by President Reagan and Premier Gorbachev in this year.
  • The Olympics bring what many consider to be the greatest achievement in track and field history, when Carl Lewis wins multiple Golds en route to an incredible nine firsts in his Olympic career
  • The first George Bush becomes President of the United States.


  • The Berlin Wall comes down, symbolizing what many regard as an end to the Cold War.
  • The Exxon Valdez runs aground what will be the worst oil spill in US history.
  • The Exxon Valdez oil spill is one of several large spills in what will later be called “the decade of the environment.” More than 650 million gallons of toxic chemicals are released into water supplies by industry and an additional 260 million gallons by city sewage systems during this time period.
  • In China’s Tiananmen Square, what will be the biggest pro-democracy uprising in China since 1949 is crushed with a massacre of students
  • Bay Watch makes its debut
  • The Simpsons airs for the first time

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