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1980s' Timeline: Important Events of the '80s Everyone Should Know

1980s' Timeline: Important Events of the 1980s
One would best remember 1980s as the decade of MTV, Pac-Man, and MASH. While music and entertainment were fantastic over these years, it was also an era of economic development and international relations.
Kashmira Lad
Last Updated: Mar 19, 2018
In the 1980s' historical timeline, Margaret Thatcher, Ronald Reagan, and Mikhail Gorbachev were the three leading names.
As of Britain in the 1980s' timeline, Margaret Thatcher reigned as the Prime Minister throughout. She was the only lady to ever hold the position and went on to become the longest-serving prime minister in the United Kingdom.
Ronald Reagan, on the other hand, was the President of the United States for around eight years, spanning a majority of this era.
It was a time that witnessed quite a few important changes. This was the time for some outlandish fashion ideas and weird hairstyles! There were various other social trends that found a rise during the 1980s.
rubiks cube
Political Events in the Year 1980
  • Iran-Iraq war began on September 22, 1980. It is also widely known as the First Persian Gulf war.
  • Ronald Reagan was elected as President of the United States. Hereafter, he held the position till January 1989.
Assassinations in the Year 1980
  • John Lennon, lead vocalist from the ever-famous and loved band Beatles, was shot dead by Mark Chapman on December 8, in New York City. The murderer later pleaded "not guilty" by stating insanity as the reason.
Disasters in the Year 1980
  • Mt. St. Helens in Washington erupted after precisely 123 years; a total of 34 people were killed.
  • Hurricane Allen devastated Haiti, Jamaica, Mexico, Texas, and St. Lucia, killing 270 people.
  • An extremely harsh heat wave killed over 1,250 people in the United States.
  • Two successive earthquakes in Algeria claimed 3,500 lives.
  • Over 9,000 were injured and 3,000 were killed by a powerful earthquake in Italy.
Entertainment in the Year 1980
  • CNN, founded by Ted Turner, was broadcasted worldwide.
Music in the Year 1980
  • Another One Bites The Dust - Queen
  • Celebration - Kool & the Gang
  • You Shook Me All Night Long - AC/DC
Sports in the Year 1980
  • Summer Olympic Games was held at Moscow, USSR. This event was boycotted by over 60 countries, US being the foremost to this protest.
  • Winter Olympic Games were held at Lake Placid, USA.
  • Miracle on Ice: During the Olympics, the US hockey team who were the underdogs comprising amateurs, won a gold against the seasoned soviets. It is considered as one of the biggest moments in sports even today and one of the best ice hockey games ever to be played.
  • Super Bowl played in Pasadena was won by Pittsburgh Steelers.
Health in the Year 1980
  • The World Health Organization declared that smallpox was eradicated.
First Ever in the Year 1980
  • Rubik's cube
  • Post-it notes
prince charles married lady diana
Political Events in the Year 1981
  • Hostages taken captive from the US embassy in Tehran were finally released by Iran on January 20, 1981 after a total of 444 days.
  • On January 20, Ronald Reagan was ushered in as the President of the United States.
Assassinations in the Year 1981
  • Mark Hinckley attempted to murder the then-US president Ronald Reagan on March 30.
  • A Turk, allegedly from the group 'Grey Wolves' attempted to murder Pope John Paul II on May 13. Though the Pope was shot, luckily he recovered from his injuries soon enough.
Disasters in the Year 1981
  • Two successive earthquakes in Iran killed 3,000 and 1,500 people, respectively.
Entertainment in the Year 1981
  • Prince Charles and Lady Diana got married, with over 700 million TV viewers watching the ceremony.
  • MTV was born on August 1.
  • Reggae legend Bob Marley died on May 11. He was diagnosed with malignant melanoma in July 1977, with symptoms showing on his toe. He refused amputation based on his religious beliefs, and eventually, the disease took a toll on him.
Music in the Year 1981
  • I Love Rock 'n' Roll - Joan Jett
  • Woman - John Lennon
  • Start Me Up - The Rolling Stones
  • Don't You Want Me - The Human League
Sports in the Year 1981
  • Boxing legend Muhammad Ali retired after completing 20 successful years as a professional boxer. His failing health was the prime factor behind his retirement.
  • Super Bowl played at New Orleans was won by Oakland Raiders.
First Ever in the Year 1981
  • Cases of AIDS were reported: Many homosexuals were infected by what was suspected to be a strange form of cancer. Not much was known then, other than the fact that it was highly contagious and fatal.
  • Pac-Man was released in the US, gripping people in an addictive rage.
  • Disc Camera: Sony Mavica was developed by Sony and officially launched for commercial distribution in August 1981.
  • Scanning tunneling microscope was invented by Gerd Karl Binnig and Heinrich Rohrer.
michael jacksons thriller
Political Events in the Year 1982
  • Great Britain and Argentina were at war.
  • Argentina invaded Falkland Islands.
  • Canada gained complete independence.
  • Reverend Sun Myung Moon married 2,075 couples at the Madison Square Garden.
Disasters in the Year 1982
  • 1,500 people lost their lives as an earthquake hit Yemen.
Entertainment in the Year 1982
  • Charles and Diana were blessed with a baby boy, Prince William.
Music in the Year 1982
  • Thriller - by Michael Jackson
  • I Love Rock 'n' Roll - Joan and the Blackhearts
  • Eye of the Tiger - Survivor
Sports in the Year 1982
  • FIFA World Cup in Spain was won by Italy.
  • Commonwealth Games took place in Brisbane.
  • Super Bowl played in Pontiac was won by San Francisco 49ers.
First Ever in the Year 1982
  • Liposuction Surgery: Though the idea of something similar to liposuction had been around since several decades before the 80s, most of the experiments performed were unsuccessful, with undesirable results and risky procedures. Dr Yves-Gerard Illouz gave a presentation suggesting a new approach which had good results. It came to be known as the 'Illouz method'.
  • Artificial Heart Transplant Surgery: The first artificial heart recipient ever was Barney Clark. At 61, he was too old to be eligible for a human heart, thus Barney became the first one to receive a permanent artificial heart. After the transplant, he lived for 112 days.
  • Compact Discs were developed, commercially launched, and distributed by Philips and Sony from 1982.
  • Braniff International Airways, the ninth largest airline in the US, filed for bankruptcy on May 11.
  • Issue of 'USA today' was on sale: The subscription first began with circulation in Baltimore and Washington.
final episod of mash
Political Events in the Year 1983
  • Hindu-Muslim riots in Assam, India claimed 1,500 lives.
  • US Embassy was bombed in Beirut, Lebanon by a suicide bomber truck weighing 400 pounds. Over 400 people were injured while 63 lost their lives.
Assassinations in the Year 1983
  • Benigno S. Aquino, Jr. was assassinated in Manila, Philippines. He was known to have a strong political rivalry with the then-President of Philippines, Ferdinand Marcos.
Disasters in the Year 1983
  • An earthquake in Turkey claimed 1,200 lives.
Entertainment in the Year 1983
  • Vanessa Williams became the first African-American to win the prestigious title of Miss America. However, the crown did not last with her for too long as a magazine published her nude photos from years ago.
  • 125 million people were glued to their television sets as the all-time favorite sitcom M*A*S*H aired its last episode.
Music in the Year 1983
  •  All Night Long - Lionel Richie
  •  Karma Chameleon - Culture Club
  •  Beat It - Michael Jackson
Sports in the Year 1983
  • Hockey: New York Islanders won their fourth consecutive Stanley Cup championship.
  • Super Bowl played at Pasadena was won by Washington Redskins.
Health in the Year 1983
  • The virus behind AIDS, i.e., HIV -- Human Immunodeficiency Virus -- was discovered by French scientist Dr. Luc Montagnier. Did you know? AIDS cases were first found in homosexuals; as a result it came to be known as Gay syndrome or GRID earlier, which stood for Gay-Related Immune Deficiency.
  • 'Crack' cocaine was made for the first time in Bahamas and was used vastly in the US within a couple of years.
First Ever in the Year 1983
  • Motorola introduced the first mobile phone in the US.
  • Sony developed the first camcorder, which was mostly used to cover news stories, or other events.
  • Hooters was a chain of restaurants started in 1983 by six businessman, or the "Hooters Six" as they're called in Clearwater, Florida.
do they know it is christmas
Political Events in the Year 1984
  • The US and the Vatican reinstated diplomatic ties after more than a century.
  • British coal mine workers went on a strike in March. The strike continued for almost a year.
Assassinations in the Year 1984
  • Indian Prime Minister Indira Gandhi was assassinated on October 31 by her own bodyguards.
  • Indian diplomat Ravindra Mhatre was kidnapped and murdered in England.
Disasters in the Year 1984
  • Large-scale chemical disaster in Bhopal, India on December 3 claimed over 2,000 lives overnight. Almost 13,000 others passed away later due to gas-related diseases. Several thousands are still suffering from permanent disabilities till date.
  • The death toll in the Ethiopian famine was a shocking 1 million (lasted throughout 1984).
Entertainment in the Year 1984
  • Michael Jackson suffered from serious burn injuries while shooting for a Pepsi commercial.
  • Video tapping movies for personal, home-viewing purpose were legally permitted henceforth by the Supreme Court.
Music in the Year 1984
  • Do They Know It's Christmas? - Band Aid
  • I Just Called to Say I Love You - Stevie Wonder
  • Ghostbusters - Ray Parker Jr.
  • Careless Whisper - George Michael
Sports in the Year 1984
  • Super Bowl played at Tampa was won by LA Raiders.
  • Winter Olympic Games were held in Sarajevo, Yugoslavia.
  • Summer Olympic Games were held in Los Angeles, USA. Many countries boycotted this event, primarily the Soviet Union.
First Ever in the Year 1984
  • Recipient of a Heart-liver Transplant - Stormie Jones: Dr. Thomas Starzl, an organ transplant expert and the father of modern transplantation, performed the surgery on this six-year old.
ozone layer hole
Political Events in the Year 1985
  • Soviet leader Gorbachev and US president Reagan met for the first time at the Geneva Summit of 1985 to discuss disarmament and diplomatic relations.
  • First hole in the Ozone layer was detected near the Antarctic region by scientists Farman, Gardiner, and Shanklin of the British Antarctic Survey.
  • Titanic wreckage was discovered and filmed.
Disasters in the Year 1985
  • A shocking total of 25,000 people died due to a volcanic eruption in Columbia.
  • 10,000 lives were lost due to a cyclone in Bangladesh. 
  • Mexico City was struck by an earthquake of 8.1 magnitude on the Richter scale, leaving more than 9,000 dead.
we are the world
Entertainment in the Year 1985
  • Rock Hudson (famous actor) died of AIDS; he was the first celebrity who passed away due to the disease.
Music in the Year 1985
  • We are the World - Michael Jackson
  • Part-Time lover - by Stevie Wonder
  • We are the World - USA for Africa
  • Can't Fight This Feeling - REO Speedwagon
  • Like a Virgin - Madonna
Sports in the Year 1985
  • Super Bowl played at Stanford was won by San Francisco.
  • The first event of WrestleMania was at Madison Square Garden, New York. While almost 20,000 people showed up to watch it live, over 1 million people viewed it on television.
Health in the Year 1985
  • First ever successful trial in curbing progression of type I diabetes with the help of cyclosporine was conducted.
First Ever in the Year 1985
  • Pictionary board game came into being.
  • Macintosh PC: The Macintosh 128K, launched as 'Apple Macintosh' and developed by Apple in 1984 was discontinued in 1985.
  • Artificial kidney dialysis machine was invented by Willem J. Kolff.
  • New Coke: Coke came out with a new formula, which received an extremely poor response. They brought back the original Coke and sold this new formula as the 'new Coke' till the early 90s.
hands across america campaign
Political Events in the Year 1986
  • Hands Across America: Seven million Americans participated in a fundraising event on Sunday, May 25, to help the poor and homeless. Participants held hands to form continuous chains; the longest one was about 4,152 miles! Proceeds ($34 million) from this event were directed to local charities.
  • The US space shutter 'Challenger' went up in flames immediately after its launch, killing all seven astronauts present inside.
  • Iran-Contra Affair: Later in the year, it was found that Ronald Reagan went against the official policy and assisted in selling arms to Iran as ransom in exchange for the six American hostages. Furthermore, the profits from this sale were redirected to the rebels uprising against the Nicaraguan government.
Assassinations in the Year 1986
  • The Swedish Prime Minister, Olof Palme was shot dead on the night of February 28, in Stockholm, Sweden when he and his wife were walking back from a cinema. He was famous as one of the few political figures who would walk freely without any security or entourage. The case of his murderer has several theories but remains unsolved till date.
Disasters in the Year 1986
  • Lake Nyos in Cameroon released toxic gas, killing 1,500 people. 
  • 1,500 lives were lost in El Salvador due to a high-magnitude earthquake.
Entertainment in the Year 1986
  • The famous 'Oprah Winfrey Show' was born as the show, 'A. M. Chicago' renamed itself.
Music in the Year 1986
  • Take My Breath Away - Berlin
  • Livin' on a Prayer - Bon Jovi
  • Walk Like an Egyptian - Bangles
  • Papa Don't Preach - Madonna
Sports in the Year 1986
  • Defeating Trevor Berbick at the age of 20, Mike Tyson became the youngest heavyweight boxing champion.
  • Super Bowl played at New Orleans was won by Chicago.
  • FIFA World Cup - Mexico was won by Argentina.
  • Commonwealth Games were held in Edinburgh, Scotland.
First Ever in the Year 1986
  • AIDS test was developed by the Pasteur Institute in France. However, NCI or the National Cancer Institute (America) filed for patent rights of the AIDS test kit before the Pasteur Institute. A lawsuit ensued as Pasteur institute accused NCI of breaching contract terms and sharing samples and research information provided to them by Pasteur Institute itself. Eventually, both parties shared the patent rights and the credit.
  • Laptop computer was developed for commercial distribution by IBM.
  • Modern disposable camera was developed for commercial use by Fujifilm.
  • Heart-lung-liver transplant took place.
  • Computer Virus: It was a virus for MS-DOS, named as 'Brain'.
inf treaty
Political Events in the Year 1987
  • On October 19 -- the 'Black Monday', the global stock market crashed, starting from Hong Kong, Europe, America, and so on.
  • The Intermediate-range Nuclear Forces (INF) treaty was signed between the US and the USSR at Washington D.C. on December 8. Hereby, neither of the nations could use nuclear or mid-range weaponry.
  • Margaret Thatcher was elected as the British Prime Minister for the third consecutive time.
Disasters in the Year 1987
  • Typhoon Nina devastated Philippines, submerging 14 islands and killing 1,000 people.
  • In August, a Northwestern Airlines jet crashed before it even took off from the runway, killing all 156 on board except a four-year-old girl. A fault with the plane's flaps is believed to have caused the crash.
  • 193 died as a ferry capsized in Belgium outside Port of Zeebrugge. Shockingly, only 100-feet away from the shore, the ferry sunk in a matter of seconds.
Entertainment in the Year 1987
  • Fox TV began regular broadcasting.
  • The infamous televangelist Jim Bakker scandal broke out.
Music in the Year 1987
  • Sweet Child O' Mine - Guns N' Roses
  • I Wanna Dance with Somebody - Whitney Houston
  • I Just Can't Stop Loving You - Michael Jackson
Sports in the Year 1987
  • Doug Williams (Washington Redskins) was the first black quarterback to play in the Super Bowl.
  • Super Bowl played at Pasadena was won by NY Giants.
  • The Rugby World Cup was won by New Zealand.
Health in the Year 1987
  • Prozac, the drug that helped thousands battle depression, became available as a prescription drug.
  • For the first time ever, two occipital craniopagus twins were separated (Germany - Ben Carson and his team).
First Ever in the Year 1987
  • Disposable Contact Lenses: Vistakon invented Acuvue, the world's first disposable soft contact lens.
  • Cardiac Defibrillator Implant: The first Internal cardioverter defibrillator pacemaker was implanted at the Lawson Health Research Institute.
  • Three-way Heart and Lung Transplant: This was a very unique procedure for its time. Clinton House needed new lungs as his had been destroyed by cystic fibrosis, a common hereditary condition. He received the heart and lungs of a second person, an accident victim. However, his own heart was also healthy, so it was transplanted to the third person, John Couch.
  • Condom Commercial: KRON-TV, San Francisco, US aired the first major condom commercial by the brand Trojan.
shroud of turin
Political Events in the Year 1988
  • Benazir Bhutto became the Prime Minister of Pakistan and the first woman to ever lead a Muslim nation.
  • The Iran-Iraq war or the Persian Gulf War finally came to an end after eight years on August 20, 1988. The reported death toll was one million.
  •  George H. W. Bush was elected as President of the United States. He is said to have played a key role in improving relations between the US and Soviet Union.
  • Shroud of Turin: Radiocarbon dating tests indicated that the shroud wasn't Christ's. The results implied the cloth to be much younger than expected. It is to be noted that not too many people agreed with the test's conclusions. Most doubted the test's accuracy in itself while others considered the possibility of the sample's contamination.
Assassinations in the Year 1988
  • Khalil Ibrahim al-Wazir, founder of the nationalist party 'Fatah' and commander of its military wing, died due to multiple gunshots on April 16, 1988 in Tunis, Tunisia.
Disasters in the Year 1988
  • Spitak earthquake in Armenia claimed a staggering 25,000 lives.
  • One of the worst heat waves struck US with the death toll ranging between 5,000 to 10,000.
Entertainment in the Year 1988
  • 'TNT' was started by Ted Turner.
  • Nike came up with their famous tagline 'Just Do It'.
  • Plump and fuller lips became the new "in thing" with fat injections.
Music in the Year 1988
  • Desire - U2
  • A Groovy Kind of Love - Phil Collins
  • One - Metallica
  • One More Try - George Michael
Sports in the Year 1988
  • Super Bowl played at San Diego was won by Washington.
  • Winter Olympic Games were held in Calgary, Canada.
  • Summer Olympics took place in Seoul, South Korea.
Health in the Year 1988
  • Crack cocaine was easily available and used vastly.
  • Invention of Doppler radar took place.
First Ever in the Year 1988
  • Liver-small bowel transplant took place for the first time.
  • Plutonium Pacemaker: Earlier, pacemakers ran on batteries that needed to be changed every two years or so, making them risky. In 1988, a plutonium pacemaker was fitted into a 47-year-old man in 1982. The plutonium inside it could generate enough power to run the pacemaker for almost two decades.
  • Transatlantic Fiber Optic Cable: Costing around $335 million, TAT-8 was the eighth transatlantic cable and the first optical one. Connecting France, England, and USA, it was constructed by a gamut of companies led by AT&T corporation, France telecom, and British telecom.
Berlin Wall
Political Events in the Year 1989
  • End of the Cold War: The cold war ended in 1989 with the fall of the Berlin wall. Alternatively, it is said to have ended in 1991 with the disintegration of USSR; both the theories are considered equally correct.
  • Tiananmen Square Massacre: Student protests for democracy in Beijing, China gained mass popularity during this period. Eventually, on May 20, the Chinese government declared martial law, leading to army intervention. Though the exact figures are unclear with different organizations going back and forth with their numbers, the government statement eventually listed 7,000 as injured and 241 as dead.
  • Worldwide Ivory Ban: With a massive market for Ivory trade, elephants -- both Asian and African -- were hunted on a scale large enough to bring them near the verge of extinction. In 1989, Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) listed the elephant on the Appendix I, hence protecting the species and bringing an end to the brutal trade.
Assassinations in the Year 1989
  •  Ayatollah Khomeini, the religious political figure behind Iran's Islamic revolution, passed away on June 3, 1989. The cause of his death was a heart condition he was ailing from over the previous three decades (almost). US intelligence suspected him to be suffering from cancer; however, the same was neither confirmed by the family nor doctors.
Disasters in the Year 1989
  • Hillsborough Disaster: In a shocking turn of events, the semifinal match of the FA cup between Nottingham Forest and Liverpool turned into a blood bath as 96 people were crushed to death against a high-wired fence.
Entertainment in the Year 1989
  • Salman Rushdie's 'Satanic Verses': The infamous novel was published during this year, sparking controversy like wildfire. Iran's political head Ayatollah Khomeini issued a 'fatwa' against him in the same year.
  • Faux Fur: Though it was available since the late 1950s, faux fur was imbibed by several fashion houses during this year as a measure to prevent animal slaughter for fur.
  • Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: The super hit game developed by Konami for the Nintendo Entertainment System was launched during this year.
  •  WWW: The initial proposal for the World Wide Web was framed early this year by a scientist at CERN.
Music in the Year 1989
  •  Another Day in Paradise - Phil Collins
  •  Like a Prayer - Madonna
Sports in the Year 1989
  • Super Bowl played at Miami was won by San Francisco.
  • Pete Rose, manager of the Cincinnati Reds, got a lifetime ban for gambling on baseball during his tenure.
Health in the Year 1989
  • The Human Genome Project was initiated.
  • The first successful case of PGD (Preimplantation Genetic Diagnosis) was conducted during October.
First Ever in the Year 1989
  • The Simpsons' Episode: The Simpsons' first episode appeared as a part of 'The Tracey Ullman Show'; however, the first distinct episode was on December 17, 1989. The episode name was 'Simpsons Roasting on an Open Fire'.
  • Game Boy: The first Game Boy was released in Japan in April 1989, and soon it was released in North America in August. It was a handheld video game player developed by Nintendo.
  • A 4,400-year-old mummy was discovered in Egypt, in the Great Pyramid of Giza.