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John Hinckley Jr: How Jodie Foster's acting and a crazy fan who wanted to please her almost killed Ronald Reagan

Hinckley Jr said that he had emptied his gun at the president just to 'impress' the actress
John Hinckley Jr (R) tried to kill Ronald Reagan to impress Jodie Foster (IMDb/Getty Images/FBI)
John Hinckley Jr (R) tried to kill Ronald Reagan to impress Jodie Foster (IMDb/Getty Images/FBI)

The year was 1976 and Robert De Niro played the highly-praised obsessive character of Travis Bickle in 'Taxi Driver', who plotted to assassinate a presidential candidate. Jodie Foster was also one to receive a great deal of praise for playing a child prostitute. It was a role that changed her life. It also changed the life of a certain John Hinckley Jr. Five years later, merely two months into his presidency, the then-25-year-old John would try to recreate the assassination by shooting at Ronald Reagan in an absurd, failed attempt to impress actress Jodie Foster. Hinckley Jr fired six shots from a .22-calibre revolver at Reagan as he left a Washington DC hotel after a routine speech.

March 30, 2021, marks the 40th anniversary of the attempted assassination of Ronald Reagan. Hinckley Jr, would go on record to say that all he wanted to do was impress the actress.


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President Ronald Reagan waves to onlookers moments before an assassination attempt (Getty Images)

March 30, 1981

On March 30, 1981, as he stepped out of the Hilton hotel and was walking up to his limo, at 2.27 pm EST, John Hinckley Jr shot a .22 calibre Röhm RG-14 revolver six times, wounding police officer Thomas Delahanty and Secret Service agent Timothy McCarthy, and critically wounded press secretary James Brady. It was Secret Service agent Jerry Parr who pushed the president toward the limo.

At first, it was thought that the president was fine, as Parr searched Reagan's body and found no blood. "Rawhide is OK...we're going to Crown" (the White House). But it was when Reagan coughed up frothy blood that the limo was redirected to the nearby George Washington University Hospital — arriving less than four minutes after leaving the hotel. This was the decision that saved the president's life. 

Former White House Press Secretary James Brady, his son Scott Brady and wife Sarah Brady visit the press briefing room that bears his name in the West Wing of the White House (Getty Images)

Obsession with Jodie Foster

After the shooting, Hinckley was handcuffed and arrested. “There was never any question about who shot Reagan,” Associated Press reporter Michael Putzel, who was present at the scene, reportedly said. “But the first question was whether or not he acted alone. The second question was whether or not he was sane."

Robert De Niro and Jodie Foster in 'Taxi Driver' (IMDb)

Forensic psychiatrist Dr Park Dietz diagnosed Hinckley with narcissistic and schizoid personality disorders and dysthymia, as well as borderline and passive-aggressive features. It was this expert who reportedly said that the socially-isolated, awkward Hinckley thought he had a chance with Foster because she was "approachable."

Stalking Jodie Foster

Before he emptied his gun at the president, John Hinckley Jr stalked Jodie Foster — he sent notes to her and slipped greeting cards under Foster's dorm room door. 

At the time (1980-81), she was a freshman at Yale. Hinckley moved to New Haven and tried to contact her through several phone calls. The first call saw him introduce himself as "the person who’s been leaving notes in your box." A later exchange, which was reportedly recorded by Hinckley, Foster, exasperated said, "oh, seriously, this is really starting to bother me. Do you mind if I hang up?" But Hinckley could only respond with a "Jodie, please." On another call, after Foster told Hinckley that it is “dangerous” to talk to strangers, he responded, “Well, I’m not dangerous."

Jodie Foster attends the "Taxi Driver" 40th Anniversary Celebration (Getty Images)

Not the first time

This was not the first time John Hinckley had done something like this. According to Del Quentin Wilber, author of 'Rawhide Down: The Near Assassination of Ronald Reagan', Hinckley was en route to New Haven in March 1981 when he made a stop in DC. "He planned on killing himself or Foster or both. He wrote a note to Foster" — which said that he’d be assassinating Reagan to impress her — "and left it in his room . . . He thought he would go down in a hail of gunfire."

After the assassination attempt, Foster was accompanied by bodyguards while on campus.