John W. Hinckley Jr., the son of a wealthy business executive from Texas, John Hinckley was no match for his overachieving brother and sister: after college, he had trouble holding down jobs and grew increasingly disturbed. While living in Hollywood in the late 1970s, he saw the film Taxi Driver at least 15 times, apparently identifying strongly with Travis Bickle, the lead character portrayed by Robert De Niro. The arc of the story involves Bickle’s attempts to protect a 12-year-old child prostitute, played by Jodie Foster. Towards the end of the film, Bickle attempts to assassinate a United States Senator who is running for president. Hinckley fell in love with Jodie Foster and wrote numerous letters and notes to Foster in late 1980. In March 1981, he embarked on a cross-country odyssey driven by his obsession with the Jodie Foster due to erotomania. He called her twice and refused to give up when she indicated that she was not interested in him. Convinced that by becoming a national figure he would be Foster’s equal, Hinckley decided to emulate Bickle by assassinating Ronald Reagan, the president of the United States and began to stalk President.
On March 30, 1981, President Ronald Reagan was just seventy days into his first term of office. While leaving a speaking engagement at the Washington Hilton Hotel in Washington, D.C., Reagan waved to those gathered outside. Almost immediately thereafter, Hinckley fired. One bullet entered Reagan’s chest, puncturing a lung and lodging one inch from his heart. Reagan, shoved into the presidential limousine by Secret Service agent Jerry Parr, was quickly rushed to George Washington University Hospital for emergency surgery. Despite serious bleeding, Reagan walked into the hospital. Always one for timing, Reagan joked with doctors as he was being wheeled into the operating room: “I hope you’re all Republicans.” To try to comfort his wife, Nancy, Reagan also told her “Honey, I forgot to duck.” Three others were also shot and wounded.
Hinckley was found not guilty by reason of insanity on June 21, 1982. After his trial, he wrote that the shooting was “the greatest love offering in the history of the world”, and did not indicate any regrets. Reagan was the first serving U.S. President to survive being shot in an assassination attempt.