What Happened in 1980s Decade – Year by Year

The '80s was a decade of significant political and cultural change. These events have an impact on our lives today and will into the future in so many ways.

There were also, admittedly, trivial or relatively unimportant events that took place in the 1980's. Here are some of the events that ranged from the deadly serious to the ridiculous.

So whether you loved the 1980s or hated it, there's something here for everyone who lived during this decade to bring back those nostalgic memories.

1980

  • The $40 million "Heaven's Gate" took a dive after it's Thanksgiving premier.
  • Despite a recession, auction prices started to soar. Lighting the way: A Tiffany Lamp sold for $360,000.
  • Tampons caused toxic shock syndrome, resulting in 42 deaths.
  • In Mexico city, Yin-Yin delivered the first giant panda born outside China, but smothered the cub shortly thereafter.
  • "Friday the 13th" was a big enough grosser to scare up seven sequels by the end of the decade.
  • Rubik's Cube, the product of a Hungarian inventor, tormented puzzlers trying to find the correct variation out of 43.2 quintillion possibilities.
  • Dialects were Meryl Streep's signature. Her New York whine in "Kramer vs. Kramer" won her an Oscar.

1981

  • Washington Post reporter Janet Cook's story about an eight-year-old heroin addict won a Pulitzer prize; alas, she faked it.
  • Yo Picasso's auction price of $5.8 million doesn't sound steep at all anymore; but back on the auction block in 1989, it fetched $47.9 million.
  • California's Dilemma: Was the medfly's attach on crops worse than the insecticide that could eradicate it?
  • The first mammals cloned were three mice.
  • Harrison Ford in "Raiders of the Lost Ark", an homage to '30s serials, played a character that would go on to find new cliffs to hang from in '84 and again in '89.
  • The way it was: Walter Cronkite signed off after 19 years as CBS news anchor.
  • Joystick mania was led by Pac-Man, which earned nearly $1 million, a quarter at a time - in a nation suddenly hip-deep in video arcades.
  • Never tongue-tied, Meryl Streep used two accents in "The French Lieutenants Woman".

1982

  • The FDA cracked down on starch blockers, a diet that purportedly prevented the body from digesting starch calories.
  • Steven Spielberg parted with $60,500 for the Rosebud sled from Orsen Welle's "Citizen Kane", which was the most money ever for a movie prop.
  • Seven people died from cyanide-laced Tylenol; packaging grew more tamper-resistant.
  • British composer Andrew Lloyd Webber's "Cats" made it's way to Broadway, where the British musical has been ever since.
  • Sylvester Stallone's Rambo, spawned in "First Blood" survived to fight two more wars with sequels in the '80s.
  • The meter ran out on the roomy Checker cabs.
  • The original Master of the Universe was He-Man. an action figure with his own TV series.
  • Meryl Streep got even better than the best she already was, with "Sophie's Choice", and again won the Oscar.

1983

  • A record 122 million viewers tuned in to watch as the surgeons and nurses of M*A*S*H (which actually lasted longer than the Korean War it depicted), demobilized in a teary farewell episode.
  • What child could resist the Cabbage Patch Kid?
  • "National Lampoon's Vacation" hit theaters and spawned two sequels in the '80s; '85s "European Vacation" and '89s "Christmas Vacation". Three 1980s classics.
  • Meryl Streep stepped into a trailer-trash twang for the "anti-nuke" thriller "Silkwood", in which Cher's star shines brightly too.

1984

  • Newly-crowned Miss America Vanessa Williams stumbled from her throne when Penthouse published a series of racy nudes for which she had posed before winning the title.
  • New findings spurred new laws curbing smoking to protect those who didn't smoke.
  • Dinosaurs staged a comeback, at least on T-shirts, school bags, etc.
  • "Police Academy" debuted with five trigger-happy class reunions to follow.
  • AT&T ended an eight-year antitrust suit by splitting itself into seven regional companies, often referred to as the Baby Bells. Seems like we've come full-circle in the 21st century, since AT&T is now bigger than they ever were.
  • The best-selling board game in the 1980s was Trivial Pursuit. That's funny, because Trivial Pursuit 80s is the best selling board game of 2007.
  • The Actress! Meryl Streep appeared in "Falling in Love", a tale of suburbanites succumbing to adultery.

1985

  • If it ain't broke, why fix it? When sales of the sweeter new Coke fell flat among fans of the old formula, the real thing was quickly resurrected under the name Classic Coke.
  • Ringling Bros. found itself on the horn of a dilemma when the circus tried to pass off a goat as a unicorn.
  • Back to the Future, starring Michael J. Fox, was released to critical and fan acclaim. The Back to the Future Trilogy, with all three movies filmed at the same time, was and remains an icon of the 80s.
  • After 113 years, Montgomery Wards discontinued it's mail-order catalog. I suppose they saw the future of mail-order sales moving to the internet long before the rest of us.
  • Unlike Hondas and Toyotas, the Transformers, from Japan could be twisted from cars into robots and back again.
  • Meryl takes on yet another accent, this time Danish, while portraying author Isak Dinesen in "Out of Africa" opposite Robert Redford. Yet another nod from Oscar.

1986

  • Haley's comet made a pass for those lucky enough to be in Chile. It won't be around again until the year 2061.
  • A 1931 Bugatti was had by a lucky bidder for $8.1 million. Whew! That's quite a bit of dough for a car.
  • Terrorist strikes in Europe, from Vienna to Rome, prompted Americans to rethink their European vacation plans.
  • An alien life form named "Alf" landed on NBC. "Alf" ate kitties.
  • "The Fly" starring Jeff Goldblume was just yucky enough to hatch an offspring later in the '80s.
  • Thanks to a built-in microchip, Teddy Ruxpin became the last word in talking dolls.
  • Meryl starred in "Heartburn" with Jack Nicholson where she tried sounding like a Jewish American princess.

1987

  • When Douglas Ginsburg admitted he smoked pot as a Harvard law professor, his Supreme Court bid went up in smoke.
  • Spuds Mackenzie convinced fellow party animals to buy Bud beer.
  • Mel Gibson and Danny Glover got together for "Lethal Weapon". They reunited later in the '80s for a sequel, "Lethal Weapon 2".
  • Turning ads into toys got a fresh wrinkle with the California Raisins.
  • Meryl acts with a voice corroded by rum and consumption in "Ironweed".

1988

  • Canada's Ben Johnson, became the world's fastest steroid user, with a time of 9.79 seconds in the 100-meter dash at the Seoul Olympics.
  • Medical waste like used syringes washed up on beaches - becoming a shocking concern in the AIDS age.
  • Sequels to "Who Framed Roger Rabbit" began to multiply like rabbits, led by 1989's "Tummy Trouble".
  • With the shuttering of Playboy's Lansing, Michigan club, the last nine bunnies in the U.S. went on unemployment.
  • Nintendo video games rose from the discarded cartridges of Atari and Coleco.
  • Streep traveled down under for "A Cry in the Dark".

1989

  • "Cold-Fusion" - a way to draw energy from water at room temperature - proved to be all wet.
  • Deer ticks were found to transmit Lyme disease. Now even Bambi should be given a wide berth.
  • Springer Spaniel Millie presented her owners at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue with a litter of six pups.
  • Batmania began with Michael Keaton as Batman and a star studded cast, including Kim Bassinger and Jack Nicholson.
  • Dynasty ran out of pecuniary plots as the era of conspicuous consumption began to wind down.
  • Meryl steals Roseanne Barr's hubby in "Lives and Loves of a She Devil", Meryl's accent this time out is pure American.

And so the 1980's winds to a close with the Berlin Wall falling and Meryl Streep reaching the peak of perfection.

The 1980's decade meant something different to all of us who were there and those who weren't. It becomes clear that this was a significant decade in many ways and the decade is often overlooked for the changes and transitions which took place in our society during this period of the twentieth century.

Jennifer Beals - Flashdance image

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Brad Franklin

The 1980's was a memorable time for me.From 80's music to classic 80's movies, it always brings back wonderful memories.I enjoy sharing my knowledge of 80's pop culture and history. I also play guitar and spend time with family and friends when not writing about the 1980's.
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About Brad Franklin

The 1980's was a memorable time for me. From 80's music to classic 80's movies, it always brings back wonderful memories. I enjoy sharing my knowledge of 80's pop culture and history. I also play guitar and spend time with family and friends when not writing about the 1980's.
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