1978 1979 1980 - 1981 - 1982 1983 1984
| Decades: |
1950s 1960s 1970s - 1980s - 1990s 2000s 2010s
| Centuries: |
19th century - 20th century - 21st century
- January - Sarawak Chamber found
- January 1 - Greece enters the EEC
- January 1 - Palau becomes self-governing
- January 4 - Sheffield police arrests Peter Sutcliffe, the Yorkshire Ripper
- January 16 - Protestant gunmen shoot and wound Bernadette Devlin McAliskey and her husband
- January 19 - United States and Iranian officials sign an agreement to release 52 American hostages after 14 months of captivity
- January 20 - Ronald Reagan succeeds Jimmy Carter as President of the United States of America
- January 20 - Minutes after Ronald Reagan becomes president, Iran releases 52 American hostages that had been held captive for 444 days - Iran Hostage Crisis ends
- February 4 - Gro Harlem Brundtland becomes the Prime Minister of Norway
- February 9 - Polish Prime Minister Pinkowski resigns and is replaced by General Wojciechk Jaruzelski
- February 10 - A fire at the Las Vegas Hilton hotel-casino kills eight and injures 198.
- February 23 - Antonio Tejero, with members of the Guardia Civil enters the Spanish Congress of Deputies, and stops the session, where Leopoldo Calvo Sotelo was going to be named president of the government. The coup d'etat would fail thanks to King Juan Carlos.
- February 24 - Jean Harris is convicted of murdering Dr. Herman Tarnower, the author of the bestseller The Complete Scarsdale Medical Diet
- March 1 - Bobby Sands, an IRA member, begins hunger strike in Maze prison - he dies May 5
- March 6 - After 19 years hosting the CBS Evening News Walter Cronkite signs off for the last time.
- March 10 - Francois Mitterand elected the president of France
- March 11 - Chilean president Augusto Pinochet sworn in for an eight-year term as president
- March 19 - Three workers are killed and five injured during a test of the Space Shuttle Columbia.
- March 29 - First running of the London Marathon
- March 30 - President Ronald Reagan is shot in the chest outside a Washington, D.C., hotel by John Hinckley, Jr., whose family had connections with the vice president. Two police officers and James Brady are also wounded.
- April 4 - Riots in Brixton, South London - rioters throw petrol bombs, attack police and loot shops
- April 12 - The first launch of a Space Shuttle: Columbia launches on the STS-1 mission.
- May - Daniel K. Ludwig abandons the Jari project in the Amazon
- May 6 - A jury of architects and sculptors unanimously selects Maya Ying Lin's design for the Vietnam Veterans Memorial from 1,421 other entries.
- May 13 - Pope John Paul II is shot at and nearly killed by Mehmet Ali Agca, a Turkish gunman, as he entered St. Peter's Square in Rome to address a general audience. (Two days after Christmas in 1983, Pope John Paul went to the prison to meet and forgive his would-be assassin)
- May 21 - In France, socialist François Mitterrand becomes president of the Republic.
- May 22 - Peter Sutcliffe, the Yorkshire Ripper, imprisoned for life for 13 counts of murder
- May 25 - In Riyadh, the Gulf Cooperation Council is created between Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates.
- May 26 - The Italian government resigns over its links to the fascist Masonic cell P-2
- May 30 - Bangladesh President Ziaur Rahman assassinated in Chittagong.
- June 5 - The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention report that five homosexual men in Los Angeles, California are have a rare form of pneumonia seen only in patients with weakened immune systems (these were the first recognized cases of AIDS).
- June 6 - Seven coaches of an overcrowded passenger train fall off the tracks into the River Kosi, in Bihar, India - about 800 dead
- June 7 - Israeli Air Force destroys Iraq's Osiraq nuclear reactor
- June 12 - Release of Raiders of the Lost Ark starring Harrison Ford and directed by Steven Spielberg
- June 13 - At the Trooping the Colour ceremony in London, a teenager Marcus Sargeant fires six blank shots at Queen Elizabeth II.
- June 22 - Hamas attacks a travel agency in Greece - two dead
- June 22 - Iranian president Bani Sadr deposed
- June 29 - Morris Edwin Robert armed with a machine gun holds hostages in the FBI section in Atlanta Federal Building. After three hours the hostages are rescued - Robert is shot
- July 17 - Hyatt Hotel disaster: Two skywalks filled with people at the Hyatt Regency Hotel in Kansas City, Missouri collapse into a crowded atrium lobby killing 114
- July 17 - Israeli Bombers destroy the PLO HQ in Beirut
- July 29 - Lady Diana Spencer marries Charles, Prince of Wales.
- August 5 - Ronald Reagan fires 11,359 striking air-traffic controllers who ignored his order for them to return to work
- August 7 - The Washington Star ceases all operations after 128 years of publication
- August 19 - Gulf of Sidra incident (1981). Libyan leader Muammar Qaddafi sends two Sukoi Su-22 fighter jets to intercept two US fighters over the Gulf of Sidra. The American jets destroyed the Libyan fighters.
- August 28 - South African troops invade Angola
- August 31 - A bomb explodes at the US Army base in Ramstein, West Germany injuring 20 people
- September 4 - An explosion at a mine in Zalizin, Checkoslovakia - 65 dead
- September 10 - Picasso's painting "Guernica" is moved from New York to Madrid
- September 15 - The John Bull becomes the oldest operable steam locomotive in the world, at 150 years old, when it operates under its own power outside Washington, DC.
- October 6 - Egyptian president Anwar Sadat is assassinated during a parade by army members who were part of the Egyptian Islamic Jihad organization, who opposed his negotiations with Israel
- October 14 - Vice President Hosni Mubarak is elected President of Egypt one week after Anwar Sadat was assassinated.
- October 21 - Andreas Papandreou becomes Prime Minister of Greece.
- November 1 - Antigua and Barbuda gain independence from the United Kingdom
- November 9 - [[C�line Dion]]'s first album is released
- November 13 - The first Friday the 13th event held by motorcyclists in Port Dover, Ontario, Canada
- November 23 - Iran-Contra scandal: Ronald Reagan signs the top secret National Security Decision Directive 17 (NSDD-17), giving the Central Intelligence Agency the authority to recruit and support Contra rebels in Nicaragua
- November 30 - Cold War: In Geneva, representatives from the United States and the Soviet Union begin to negotiate intermediate-range nuclear weapon reductions in Europe (the meetings ended inconclusively on Thursday, December 17)
- December 1 - A Yugoslavian DC-9 crashes into a mountain while approaching Ajaccio Airport in Corsica killing 178
- December 4 - South Africa grants "homeland" Ciskei independence (not recognized outside South Africa)
- December 11 - El Mozote massacre - in El Salvador, army units kill 900 civilians
- December 13 - Wojciech Jaruzelski declares the state of martial law in Poland to prevent dismantling of the communist system by Solidarity
- December 15 - A car bomb destroys the Iraqi Embassy in Beirut, Lebanon, killing 61 people. This is the first modern suicide bombing. Syrian intelligence is blamed.
- December 20 - The Penlee lifeboat disaster off the coast of South-West Cornwall
- December 28 - The first American test-tube baby, Elizabeth Jordan Carr, is born (Norfolk, Virginia)
- US President Ronald Reagan appoints the first female US Supreme Court Justice, Sandra Day O'Connor
- The Pac-Man video game is introduced in the US
- IBM PC released
- Millennium Renactment of the translation of Saint Edward the Martyr's relics from Wareham to Shaftesbury
- Mauritania abolishes the institution of slavery.
- Tylenol Scare
Year in topic
- 1981 in film
- 1981 in literature
- 1981 in music
- 1981 in theatre
- 1981 in sports
- January 25 - Super Bowl XV Oakland Raiders (27) def. Philadelphia Eagles (10)
- July 24-August 2 - First World Games held in Santa Clara, California
- August 21 - Salvador Sanchez defeats Wilfredo Gomez by a knockout in 8 to retain his WBC world Featherweight boxing title in Las Vegas.
- September 16 - Sugar Ray Leonard knocks out Thomas Hearns in round 14, in Las Vegas, to unify the world's Welterweight boxing championship.
- September 26 - Australian Rules Football: Victorian Football League Grand Final, Carlton Blues 12.20 (92) def Collingwood Magpies 10.12 (72)
- 1981 in television
- January 20 - Comedian Andy Kaufman ruins sketches and starts a brawl live on the air during ABC's Fridays.
- August 1 - MTV debuts on Cable television, playing music videos 24 hours a day
- November 16 and November 17 - Luke and Laura's wedding on General Hospital becomes one of the most watched weddings in television history, second only to the wedding of Charles, Prince of Wales and Lady Diana Spencer.
- The State Council of the People's Republic of China listed the four cities (Beijing, Hangzhou, Suzhou and Guilin) as where the protection of historical and cultural heritage as well as natural scenery should be treated as a prior project.
- Commodore VIC-20, Sinclair ZX81, and Texas Instruments TI-99/4A launched, helping to start the 1980s home computing phenomenon.
- January 1 - Zsolt Baumgartner, Hungarian Formula One racing driver
- January 3 - Polly Klaas, young victim of crime (d. 1993)
- January 15 - El Hadji Diouf, Senegalese football star
- January 21 - Dany Heatley, NHL hockey player
- January 25 - Alicia Keys, musician
- January 28 - Elijah Wood, actor
- January 31 - Justin Timberlake, musician
- February 11 - Kelly Rowland, singer ("Destiny's Child")
- February 17 - Paris Hilton, actress
- February 18 - Andrei Kirilenko, Russian NBA star
- February 22 - Jeanette Biedermann, German singer and actress
- February 24 - Lleyton Hewitt, Australian tennis player
- March 9 - Antonio Bryant, American football wide receiver
- March 11 - David Anders, actor
- March 28 - Julia Stiles, actress
- April 9 - Eric Harris, perpetrator of the Columbine High School massacre (d. 1999)
- April 28 - Jessica Alba, actress
- May 13 - Sunny Leone, adult entertainer
- May 15 - Jamie-Lynn DiScala, actress
- June 1 - Carlos Zambrano, baseball pitcher
- June 7 - Anna Kournikova, tennis player
- June 9 - Natalie Portman, actress
- June 15 - Mary Carey, American erotic actress
- July 8 - Anastasia Myskina, tennis player
- August 5 - Carl Crawford, Major League Baseball All-Star
- August 5 - Rachel Scott, victim of the Columbine High School massacre (d. 1999)
- August 8 - Vanessa Amorosi, Australian singer/songwriter
- August 8 - Roger Federer, Swiss tennis player
- August 23 - Eric Radloff
- September 4 - Beyoncé Knowles, singer
- September 9 - Dylan Klebold, perpetrator of the Columbine High School massacre (died 1999)
- September 22 - Rocco Baldelli, baseball player
- September 26 - Serena Williams, tennis player
- October 15 - Elena Dementieva, tennis player
- October 28 - Milan Baros, Czech soccer player
- November 25 - Barbara and Jenna Bush, daughters of President George W. Bush
- December 2 - Britney Spears, singer
- December 13 - Amy Lee, Evanescence frontwoman
- December 21 - Shizuka Arakawa, figure skating champion
- December 27 - Yuvraj Singh, Indian cricketer
- January 3- Her Royal Highness Princess Alice of Albany, the last grandchild of Queen Victoria
- January 5 - Lanza del Vasto, philosopher, poet and non-violent activist
- January 6 - A.J. Cronin, Novelist
- January 10 - Katherine Alexander, actress
- January 23 - Samuel Barber, Composer
- February 1 - Geirr Tveitt, Norwegian composer
- February 9 - Bill Haley, Musician
- February 26 - Howard Hanson, composer
- March 9 - [[Max Delbr�ck]], German biologist
- April 7 - Norman Taurog, director
- April 27 - John Aspinwall Roosevelt, businessman, philanthropist
- May 11 - Bob Marley, Jamaican roots rock reggae singer and musician
- May 18 - William Saroyan, author
- June 1 - Carl Vinson, United States Congressman (b. 1883)
- June 19 - Lotte Reiniger, German and later British silhouette animator.
- June 28 - Terry Fox, cancer activist
- September 1 - Albert Speer, Nazi official
- September 8 - Bill Shankly, football manager
- October 2 - Harry Golden, U.S. journalist
- October 6 - Anwar Sadat, Egyptian president (assassinated)
- October 16 - Moshe Dayan, Israeli general
- October 30 - Stephen Wheeler Watson
- November 7 - Will Durant, American philosopher and writer.
- November 22 - Sir Hans Adolf Krebs, German medical doctor and biochemist
- November 29 - Natalie Wood, actress (accidental drowning)
- December 28 - Allan Dwan, pioneer film director
- Physics - Nicolaas Bloembergen, Arthur Leonard Schawlow, Kai M. Siegbahn
- Chemistry - Kenichi Fukui, Roald Hoffmann
- Medicine - Roger W. Sperry, David H. Hubel, Torsten N. Wiesel
- Literature - Elias Canetti
- Peace - United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees
- Economics - James Tobinaf:1981
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