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Flashback: Convicted politician kills himself on live TV

JANUARY 22, 1987 

At a TV press conference during which he was expected to announce his resignation, convicted Pennsylvania state treasurer R. Budd Dwyer pulled out a .357 revolver and shot himself. He was 47.

Before putting the barrel in his mouth and pulling the trigger, he told shocked reporters and officials to stay back, yelling “Don’t, don’t, don’t, this will hurt someone.”

Politician kills himself on live TV
‘Stay back,’ Budd Dwyer says just before he shoots himself.

Philadelphia station WPVI re-broadcast the suicide footage in full on their 5 and 6 p.m. broadcasts without warning to viewers. That video is the basis of the many copies that are still available online.

Harrisburg station WHTM-TV twice broadcast the uncut video. Many parents and their children were home due to a major snowstorm and saw the video.


Several other stations froze the footage prior to the gunshot and continued with just the audio, showing only the image of the dead man slumped on the floor.

Dwyer was to be sentenced the next day for taking a bribe from the California firm that won a lucrative state contract. He was found guilty on 11 counts of conspiracy, mail fraud, perjury and interstate transportation in aid of racketeering.


A 2010 documentary about Dwyer’s life and death, Honest Man: The Life of R. Budd Dwyer, was shown at the Carmel Art and Film Festival in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania.

William T. Smith, a former chairman of the Dauphin County Republican Committee and one of the key trial witnesses in Dwyer’s conviction, admitted that he lied under oath about the treasurer taking bribes in hopes of reducing his own sentence.

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Politician kills himself on live TV

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