"In keeping with Channel 40's policy of bringing you the latest in blood and guts, and in living colour - you are going to see another TV first: attempted suicide."

With those words, the pretty brunette newscaster pulled out a .38 Smith and Wesson revolver, and shot herself behind her right ear, before slumping forward onto the desk.

Christine Chubbuck was 29 years old when she committed suicide live on air, during the newsreel that preceded her morning current affairs programme on July 15, 1974.

Stunned viewers jammed the station phone lines asking if it was a hoax; some phoned the police.

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Although the small Sarasota station only numbered 10,000 viewers and fewer than 1000 watched Chubbuck's show, within hours of the shooting, the story made headlines in New York, Tokyo, London and Sydney: "TV Star Kills Self", "TV Personality Takes Own Life On Air", "On Air Suicide".

Dramatic and disturbing as it was, the sad life and death of Christine Chubbuck was swiftly consigned to the archives of broadcasting history - the footage has never been made public since - until, in an uncanny coincidence, two films revived the tragedy at last year's Sundance Film Festival.

This Saturday sees the UK release of Antonio Campos' Christine, which stars British actress Rebecca Hall as the promising but troubled young reporter, and has garnered five-star reviews for the empathetic portrayal of a story that has particular resonance for today's Instagram and Facebook generation, as they play out the most intimate episodes of their lives on a public platform.

Screenwriter Craig Shilowich ran across Chubbuck's story in 2010: having had a breakdown himself, the tragic tale of a woman afflicted by serious depression - at a time when the condition was largely misunderstood or misdiagnosed - hit a nerve.

"I thought, if that hadn't gotten better, if the medication hadn't worked, if I had been a woman in the 70s, maybe I would have gone over the edge, too," he says.

Chubbuck, who grew up in the wealthy Ohio suburb of Harbor, showed signs of depression early in life; her self-deprecating humour was always tinged with darkness. During her time at Laurel School for Girls, for example, she jokingly formed a "Dateless Wonder Club'' with other ''rejected'' girls who didn't have dates on Saturday night.

In a recent interview with People magazine, her younger brother Greg said he now believes his sister suffered from bipolar disorder, a mood disorder characterised by bouts of manic highs and periods of depression. "She had no greys in her life," he says. "Everything was black and white. Things were either wonderful, or terrible. Chrissie just didn't have a compromise button."

Greg also claims that his concerned parents had spent more than $1 million over 20 years on doctors' fees, psychiatrists and psychologists to "help Chrissie find peace".

But aged 16, Christine received a devastating blow when her 23-year-old boyfriend was killed in a car crash, and she lost the man Greg believes was "the love of her life".

Nevertheless Chrissie continued to do well academically, graduating with a degree in broadcasting from Boston University in 1965, securing a job at WXLT Channel 40, a small news station in Sarasota, Florida.

Christine Chubbuck aged 29. Photo / Youtube / FTD News
Christine Chubbuck aged 29. Photo / Youtube / FTD News

"She was hired because she was intelligent, smart, witty, a very good writer," remembers Craig Sager, a former colleague who is now a commentator for Turner Sports.

But as a woman trying to break through in 1970s broadcasting - not least, one who refused to conform to the bubbly, Barbie doll stereotype sought by the networks - she faced an uphill battle.

Ambitious, fiercely self-critical and determined, however, Chubbuck was eventually given her own current affairs show in the 9am Saturday slot: Suncoast Digest. She threw herself into the role with characteristic fervour, delving into social and environmental issues.

But compassionate and generous as she was, Chubbuck struggled with personal relationships. As her mother, Peg, told the Washington Post in a 1974 interview, "she just couldn't connect with people".

In the run-up to her 30th birthday (which never came), she bemoaned the fact that she was still a virgin to co-workers, saying she'd only been on two dates in her entire life, and was still living with her mother and brother in what was formerly the family's summer cottage, nursing an unrequited crush on a colleague.

"I think Christine never really had the image of herself that the rest of the world perceived," says Greg. "The rest of the world perceived her as confident, as attractive, as gifted at her job, and I don't know that she really perceived herself fully as any of that."

In her late 20s, she had her right ovary removed, and was warned by doctors that she should try to conceive in the next couple of years, or risk being childless. Chubbuck talked openly with her family about her struggles with depression, and made frequent remarks about suicide, telling her mother, "If life gets too tough, I'll get out. If I can't handle it, I'll leave."

She had taken an overdose in 1970, something she referred to with increasing regularity throughout her last summer. She had been seeing a psychiatrist in the run-up to her death, a fact that her mother chose not to disclose to her bosses, for fear that it would cost her daughter the one thing she had left: her job.

Sadly Chubbuck's love of her job started to sour, too, as she became increasingly disillusioned with the station's shift towards "if it bleeds, it leads" crime reporting. "I think she felt that the station emphasised sensationalism over serious journalism," says Greg.

In the weeks before her death, she joked with co-workers about killing herself live on air, as a "nifty" way to improve ratings. But this sort of dark humour was far from unusual; Jean Reed, the camerawoman who was working the morning Chubbuck shot herself, told a Washington Post reporter in 1974 that, "She had a great sense of the absurd, almost a macabre sense of humour."

Three weeks before her death, Chubbuck surprised the news director by asking to do a feature on suicide. The story was greenlit and she visited the local sheriff's office to research suicide methods.

On the morning of July 15, she showed up for work as usual. "She was in a much better than normal mood," remembers former co-worker Gordon Galbraith. "To this day, her enthusiasm still puzzles me."

She read three national news stories and covered a local shooting, before pulling the Smith and Wesson, which she had bought eight days earlier, from under the desk.

After the shooting, news director Mike Simmons found Chubbuck's script included a third-person account of her death. "She had written something like 'TV 40 news personality Christine Chubbuck shot herself in a live broadcast this morning on a Channel 40 talk programme'," he said. "'She was rushed to Sarasota Memorial Hospital, where she remains in critical condition'."

Chubbuck's death 14 hours later - at the hospital she had predicted - horrified the world. "I think it was a last cry for recognition to all the people she had helped, reached out to and who hadn't reached back," said Mike Simmons. "She was saying, 'I was here' - not just to Sarasota - but 'I was here, world'."

Though some have speculated that she killed herself because she was single - "a spinster at 29", as her mother put it - her brother, Greg, paints a different picture.

Mental illness may have driven her to suicide, but she didn't want her death to be meaningless. "That salacious part of television, Chris detested," he says. "Was her final action a raging statement against that sort of television? Yes, clearly it was."

Whether her last act should subsequently have been dramatised, then, is up for debate - her brother has accused filmmakers of "cash[ing] in on a family tragedy" - but 43 years after she made the personal so shockingly public, Christine Chubbuck is still making the news.

Where to get help:

Lifeline: 0800 543 354 (available 24/7)
Suicide Crisis Helpline: 0508 828 865 (0508 TAUTOKO) (available 24/7)
Youthline: 0800 376 633
Kidsline: 0800 543 754 (available 24/7)
Whatsup: 0800 942 8787 (1pm to 11pm)
Depression helpline: 0800 111 757 (available 24/7)
Rainbow Youth: (09) 376 4155
Samaritans 0800 726 666
If it is an emergency and you feel like you or someone else is at risk, call 111.
This article was originally published by Telegraph UK