We thought it could be a lot of fun — while 2013 is still just a few weeks old — to look back at the people and milestones that shaped the past 50 years in American pop culture.
Looking back on 1963, 1973, 1983, 1993 and 2003 through websites like thepeoplehistory.com and infoplease.com dredged up a lot of good, bad and just plain odd memories.
The most significant event in 1963 was the assassination of President John F. Kennedy in Dallas, which forever changed the history, innocence and direction of the United States and its people.
And the release of The Beatles’ first album in America, “Meet The Beatles,” with its smash singles “I Wanna Hold Your Hand,” “Please Please Me” and “I Saw Her Standing There,” ensured that popular music would never be the same.
The average new home cost $12,650 in 1963, gasoline was 29 cents a gallon, and a loaf of bread cost 22 cents.
Dr. Michael DeBakey completed the first successful surgery involving an artificial heart; the country’s first state lottery was held in New Hampshire; zip codes were used for the first time in the United States; Alcatraz, the dreaded prison off the coast of San Francisco known as “The Rock,” closed; and children took the polio vaccination in sugar cubes.
The country mourned four young African-American girls killed in a Ku Klux Klan bombing at a Baptist church in Alabama, and Americans were inspired by civil-rights leader Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s “I Have a Dream” speech in Washington, D.C.
AT&T introduced the touch-tone phone; Edward Craven Walker invented the Lava Lamp; the country’s musical entertainment came from Roy Orbison, The Drifters and Buddy Holly. Films enjoyed at the movies were “To Kill A Mockingbird,” “Mutiny on the Bounty,” “Lawrence of Arabia” and “Cleopatra.”
“The Andy Griffith Show” charmed television audiences along with other programs such as “The Flintstones,” “Mr. Ed,” “The Avengers” and “The Dick Van Dyke Show.”
Chef Julia Child had her first show in 1963, the drug Valium was developed that year, and poet Robert Frost died.
A decision handed up in the case of “Roe v. Wade” made abortion a constitutional right for women in 1973, an issue that continues to be debated even today.
But the most-far-reaching events of the year came out of Washington, D.C., where the Watergate hearings took place before the U.S. Senate, prompting President Richard Nixon to declare: “I’m not a crook.”
Armed American Indian protesters took over the South Dakota town of Wounded Knee, and U.S. troops were officially withdrawn from Vietnam, ending the nation’s involvement there.
Gasoline was 40 cents a gallon, eggs were 45 cents a dozen, and the average home sold for $25,000. The average rent was $175, and the average household income was $12,900 a year.
The Concorde jet reduced the time it took to fly from the United States to England in half, traveling at 854 mph across the Atlantic Ocean. Additionally, Skylab was launched into space, and Secretariat became the first horse in 25 years to win the Triple Crown.
Marlon Brando won the Academy Award for Best Actor for “The Godfather,” but he refused the statue in protest of the treatment of American Indians.
Other films gaining wide attention at the time were “The Exorcist,” “Jesus Christ Superstar,” “The Sting,” “American Graffiti” and “Paper Moon.”
One of the most successful albums of all time was released in 1973 and continues to sell well to this day: Pink Floyd’s “Dark Side of the Moon.”
TV shows also dominated that year, including “The Odd Couple,” “The Partridge Family,” “Columbo,” “MASH” and “The Waltons.”
But it was the King, Elvis Presley, who grabbed the largest television audience with his “Aloha from Hawaii” concert special seen by more than 1 billion viewers worldwide.
Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. is now honored the third Monday in January, as his birthday was declared a national holiday in 1983.
It was the same year that first lady Nancy Reagan launched the “Just Say No” anti-drug campaign, and crack cocaine was developed in the Bahamas.
Gas was about $1 a gallon, an average new home cost $82,600, and the average annual income was $21,070.
Motorola introduced the first mobile telephone, Microsoft Word was released for the first time, and the Internet was created.
The space shuttle Challenger made its maiden voyage, astronaut Sally Ride became the first woman in space, and young girls began begging their parents for Cabbage Patch Kids in 1983.
Vanessa Williams was crowned the first African-American Miss America, and the final DeLorean vehicles were produced. Compact discs were developed and would soon all but kill sales of vinyl records.
Playwright and author Tennessee Williams and boxer Jack Dempsey died, “Torch Song Trilogy” won the New York Drama Critics and Tony Award for Best Play on Broadway, and 125 million people tuned in to watch the final episode of “MASH.”
Movie theaters were packed with patrons watching “Return of the Jedi,” “Trading Places,” “Tootsie,” “WarGames,” “The Big Chill,” “The Right Stuff,” “National Lampoon’s Vacation” and “Terms of Endearment.”
Michael Jackson continued to dominate the music industry with hits from his 1982 album, “Thriller.” Five of his seven top singles came out in 1983: “Billie Jean,” “Beat It,” “Wanna Be Startin’ Somethin,” “Human Nature” and “P.Y.T. (Pretty Young Thing).”
Others bands with successes the same year were Culture Club, Phil Collins, Bob Marley and the Wailers, Lionel Richie and The Police.
The average new home sold for $113,200 in 1993 as the average household income climbed to $31,230, and gas was $1.16 a gallon.
President Bill Clinton signed the North American Free Trade Agreement, and the Brady Bill, which requires background checks on people looking to purchase a handgun, was also made law.
Islamic fundamentalists detonated a truck full of explosives in the parking garage under the north tower of the World Trade Center in New York City, blowing a 98-foot crater in the concrete. Six people were killed, and more than 1,000 wounded in the noontime attack, which was intended to knock the north tower over into the south tower and kill thousands.
Federal agents with the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms attempted to execute a search warrant on the compound of religious-sect leader David Koresh outside Waco, Texas, that became a 50-day standoff with him and followers of the Branch Davidians. The siege ended when agents tried to storm the compound a second time, which triggered a fire that burned the compound and killed Koresh along with 75 other men, women and children.
The World Wide Web was launched in 1993, the same year Beanie Babies were introduced.
The top movies were “Jurassic Park,” “The Fugitive,” “Mrs. Doubtfire,” “In the Line of Fire,” “Sleepless in Seattle” and “Philadelphia.”
Musically, Michael Jackson’s little sister, Janet, smashed all expectations with “That’s The Way Love Is”; Whitney Houston made a power ballad out of Dolly Parton’s “I Will Always Love You”; and Phil Collins, Garth Brooks, Aerosmith and Snoop Doggy Dogg were making an impact.
Celebrity deaths from 1993 included actor Don Ameche, Audrey Hepburn, Frank Zappa, Dizzy Gillespie and tennis superstar Arthur Ashe.
The U.S. Department of Homeland Security officially began its operation in 2003, the same year the United States made plans to invade Iraq in search of weapons of mass destruction.
Former Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein was captured near his hometown of Tikrit, and armed sky marshals began flying on domestic-airline flights in response to the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.
The Space Shuttle Columbia disintegrated on re-entry in the air above Texas and killed all seven people aboard. Harley-Davidson turned 100, and actor and former Mr. Universe Arnold Schwarzenegger was elected governor of California.
It was also the year that more than 800 people in East Asia died from the effects of Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS), and 50 million people in the northeastern section of the United States and southeast Canada saw their power knocked out by a cascading blackout.
The Concorde made its last commercial flight, the United States started the “Do Not Call” registry to help consumers avoid annoying telemarketers, and Apple launched iTunes.
The self-proclaimed “King of Pop,” Michael Jackson, was arrested on a slew of child-molestation charges, and a show tiger attacked and severely injured Roy Horn of the Las Vegas act “Siegfried and Roy.”
The entertainment world lost both Johnny Cash and his wife, June Carter Cash, as well as Katharine Hepburn, Bob Hope, Gregory Peck and Fred Rogers of “Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood.”
“The Lord of the Rings: Return of the King,” “Pirates of the Caribbean: Curse of the Black Pearl,” “Finding Nemo” and “Mystic River” were among the popular movies in 2003. The music industry was strong as well, with releases from Justin Timberlake, Beyonce, Coldplay, Norah Jones, Avril Lavigne, Kelly Clarkson, 50 Cent and Clay Aiken.
Email Denise A. Raymo: firstname.lastname@example.org