The phone number was not saved, nor was it one I recognized immediately. “Williamsburg, Va.” was the only indicator, which thankfully wasn’t the dreaded “Scam Likely”—so I picked up. The voice on the other end answered flatly, with a Southern drawl, and at a much slower pace than I, a New Yorker, was used to. “Hi, Fred, this is John.” The soft-spoken individual was polite, well-mannered, and measured in his responses—far from jovial and not quite friendly yet still inviting. It was hard to believe I was speaking with the recently released John Hinckley Jr., would-be assassin of our 40th president, Ronald Reagan.
Initial impressions aside, let’s recall how we all came to know his name in the first place. On March 30, 1981, Hinckley attempted to assassinate President Ronald Reagan, shooting his .22 Caliber Röhm revolver six times at Reagan as he left an AFL-CIO conference at the Hilton in Washington, D.C. Shots hit Officer Thomas Delahanty and Secret Service agent Timothy McCarthy, wounding both; mortally wounded Secretary of State James Brady in the head above his right eyebrow; and ricocheted off the presidential state car and into Reagan’s chest. When Hinckley was finally wrestled to the ground, he was still pulling the trigger on a now-empty gun. Obviously, the president survived the attack, but Brady’s wound left his entire left side paralyzed until his death in 2014, which was ruled a homicide after his passing. Following a swift trial in 1982, Hinckley was found not guilty by reason of insanity, a controversial opinion that led to the revision of laws dealing with the mentally ill on a state-by-state basis.
Soon thereafter he would follow through on his plan...“the greatest love offering in the history of the world.”
Hinckley’s attempt on the life of Reagan was inspired by Martin Scorsese’s Taxi Driver, in which a loner drives the NYC streets hoping that “someday a real rain will come and wash all this scum off the streets.” In the film, the protagonist Travis Bickle plots to assassinate a presidential candidate, abandons that idea, and eventually saves a child prostitute, played by Jodie Foster, from a local brothel by going on a killing spree. Heralded as a vigilante hero in the papers in the days following, Bickle eventually gets the girl he wooed in the first portion of the film—a darkly ironic twist to a hyper-violent and nihilistic film.