11 Historical Events Featured on The Americans

FX Networks
FX Networks

Since 2013, The Americans has revisited the paranoia of the Cold War through the eyes of Philip and Elizabeth Jennings—two Soviet spies secretly living in 1980s America who just so happen to have an FBI agent for a neighbor. To separate itself from all the other espionage shows on TV, the series uses history as its guide: The real world of the 1980s is never far away from the on-screen drama, whether we see it through controversial presidential speeches, wars, or seminal moments in pop culture. Sometimes these moments are a direct influence on the plot; other times, they’re featured simply to tell audiences when the episode takes place. As the hit FX show readies to air its series finale, we're revisiting 11 historical events featured on The Americans.

1. RONALD REAGAN’S STRATEGIC DEFENSE INITIATIVE // SEASON 1

On March 23, 1983, President Ronald Reagan announced to the world his plans for a missile defense system that would shield the United States against the threat of Soviet nuclear weapons. Eventually known as the Strategic Defense Initiative, the program was a system of loosely connected ideas for defense, including a web of ground-based and satellite-based anti-ballistic missile systems. The ideas were so far out there that the speech and program itself famously took on the nickname “Star Wars.”

In the first season of The Americans, which predates the president’s real-life speech, Philip and Elizabeth find out that UK Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher and Secretary of State for Defence John Nott were to meet with United States Secretary of Defense Caspar Weinberger in his home to discuss something top-secret. What they learned from their bug was the initial planning of the SDI program, calling for a missile shield that would cover America and, at Thatcher’s insistence, Europe as well. The plan was to render the Soviet nuclear arsenal obsolete, effectively rendering the Soviet threat useless.

The threat of “Star Wars” looms over the first season, but in the finale, a rogue Air Force Intelligence Colonel informs Philip that the anti-ballistic technology proposed by the United States is “50 years from being remotely operational.” In the real world, President Bill Clinton would pare down Reagan’s lofty vision of an orbital defense system, instead organizing the Ballistic Missile Defense Organization, which concentrated on ground-based defense.

2. THE ASSASSINATION ATTEMPT ON PRESIDENT RONALD REAGAN // SEASON 1, EPISODE 4

Nothing heats up a Cold War quicker than an attempt on the president’s life, and when Ronald Reagan was shot on March 30, 1981, there was a real fear that the Soviets had struck. The Americans tackled the issue in the season one episode “In Control,” throwing the characters into the middle of the frenzy.

It begins when FBI agent Frank Gaad orders his team to find out if gunman John Hinckley had any Soviet ties. Meanwhile, Elizabeth is told by Claudia, her handler, that they should prepare for guerrilla warfare in the States should chaos break out. She also tells Elizabeth of rumors that the American government is up for grabs and that the Red Army is moving into Poland, which was a detail based on an actual fear at the time.

The Jenningses later find out through Stan Beeman that Hinckley was just a lone nut—information that Philip passes along to his KGB higher-ups.

3. THE NICARAGUAN REVOLUTION // SEASON 2, EPISODE 9

“Martial Eagle” is one of the most interesting blends of history and fiction in The Americans. The plot involves Philip and Elizabeth infiltrating a camp where the United States is training Nicaraguan rebels on U.S. soil to fight against the Sandinista government.

This is all based on the real Nicaraguan Revolution, where the United States supported the Contra rebels against the new Soviet-supported government until Congress put a stop to it through the Boland Amendments. This led to the Reagan Administration’s covert funding of the group through the profits it got from back-channel arms sales to Iran, culminating in the Iran-Contra scandal.

What does this have to do with The Americans? In addition to Philip and Elizabeth looking to leak photographic evidence of the United States training rebels on domestic soil, the episode itself had a very interesting person receive part of the story credit: Oliver North, the same lieutenant colonel who helped formulate the Contra funding plan, which led to him being convicted of three charges relating to the scandal (the charges were dismissed in 1991).

4. THE DEATH OF LEONID BREZHNEV // SEASON 3, EPISODE 1

The Americans typically uses important historical moments from the ‘80s as more of a backdrop for the plot than an upfront storyline. This is best exemplified with the death of Soviet leader Leonid Brezhnev on November 10, 1982.

As an audience, we learn of the death during the season three premiere as Paige is flipping channels and happens across a news bulletin read by a young Tom Brokaw. There’s no real fanfare or dramatic reveal—it’s just business as usual as Brezhnev is replaced by Yuri Andropov, former KGB head, whose presence is felt intermittently over the next few seasons.

For Philip and Elizabeth—and the rest of the characters on the show—the Cold War still rages, despite who is in charge.

5. THE SALANG PASS TUNNEL FIRE // SEASON 3, EPISODE 5

Built into the Hindu Kush mountain range in the 1960s, the 1.7-mile Salang Pass Tunnel connects Northern Afghanistan with the city of Kabul, and today it’s estimated that 80 percent of the country’s commerce makes the journey through it. While years of wear and tear have destroyed the roads and ventilation system inside the tunnel and made any journey through it dangerous, one event remains the most infamous: the Salang Pass Tunnel fire of 1982.

Soviet censorship at the time attempted to downplay the severity, so details about the incident are sketchy; some reports even dispute the cause: The Soviets claimed there was a crash that involved a military convoy, which led to carbon monoxide poisoning for some soldiers due to idling truck engines. Other outlets paint the picture of a massive fuel tanker explosion that caused the deaths of hundreds of soldiers and civilians.

There’s nothing official, but the event was important enough to get referenced on The Americans, as Philip solemnly listens to a BBC radio broadcast covering the event in the appropriately titled episode “Salang Pass.” As with much of the series’s historical context, the tunnel fire is more background noise that serves to heighten the Jenningses' anxiety rather than an active plot point.

6. THE SOVIET–AFGHAN WAR // SEASON 3, EPISODE 12

The real-life Soviet-Afghan War is a recurring plot point throughout The Americans, and Philip and Elizabeth have undertaken various missions for the cause. The most high-profile comes in the episode “I Am Abassin Zadran,” in which the Jenningses disguise themselves as CIA operatives to manipulate a mujahideen commander into killing his partners in order to dissolve their plans to secure advanced U.S. weapons in their war against the Soviets.

In reality, the United States would arm the Afghan guerrillas against the Soviets by the late ‘80s. The war was a general fiasco, with the Soviet Union incurring massive military and financial losses that would eventually contribute to its fall in 1991. The initial Soviet invasion began in December 1979 and by February 1989, the final troops were driven out. The Soviet Union would dissolve within three years.

7. RONALD REAGAN'S "EVIL EMPIRE" SPEECH // SEASON 3, EPISODE 13

In 1983, President Ronald Reagan made clear his opposition to the Nuclear Freeze Movement, which was launched in the early ‘80s by Randall Forsberg, an arms controller researcher. The movement sought to halt the production and proliferation of the nuclear arsenals of both the U.S. and the Soviet Union, and though it had political support in the States, the president was determined to make sure the U.S. never weakened in front of the Russian threat.

In a speech made to the National Association of Evangelicals in Orlando, Florida, Reagan used some of the boldest and most pointed words of his young presidency, calling the Soviet Union an “evil empire” and asserting that “we will never stop searching for a genuine peace, but we can assure none of these things America stands for through the so-called nuclear freeze solutions proposed by some.”

For Reagan’s supporters, it was a sign that the Commander-in-Chief was ready and willing to expand the country’s nuclear scope to defend its freedom. For detractors, especially those in the Soviet Union, it just fanned the flames of a Cold War that was rapidly teetering on the brink.

In The Americans episode "March 8th, 1983," coverage of the speech is witnessed by Philip and Elizabeth, who realize that this type of language—and the subsequent heightened tensions—could make their jobs, and the world, far more dangerous. Season three of the show then drew to a close, with Reagan’s voice calling the Soviets “the focus of evil in the modern world” as Philip and Elizabeth listened on—and as their daughter confessed her parents’ true identity to Pastor Tim on the phone in the room next door.

8. DAVID COPPERFIELD MAKES THE STATUE OF LIBERTY DISAPPEAR // SEASON 4, EPISODE 8

Poor Martha. One of the series’s more tragic characters gets the heave-ho to the Soviet Union in this episode, all set to the thematic stylings of David Copperfield’s real-life TV special The Magic of David Copperfield V: The Statue of Liberty Disappears (which the episode is named after).

In the special, which aired on CBS on April 8, 1983, Copperfield used the vanishing Lady Liberty as a metaphor, saying, “I could show with magic how we take our freedom for granted.” For a show centered on a war over ideologies and differing views on freedom, Copperfield’s stunt proved the perfect symbol.

9. THE PREMIERE OF THE DAY AFTER // SEASON 4, EPISODE 9

In November 1983, director Nicholas Meyer’s made-for-TV movie The Day After aired on ABC, with a plot revolving around the opening salvo of nuclear war between the U.S. and the Soviet Union. It attracted a record number of viewers, most of whom were likely left speechless by the harrowing scenes of nuclear devastation it depicted. Even President Reagan had an emotional take on the movie, saying, “My own reaction was one of our having to do all we can to have a deterrent and to see there is never a nuclear war."

Much like the 100 million people that watched in real life, The Day After left nearly every character on The Americans stunned—the Jenningses, the Beemans, even the Soviets working in the States. (While watching, one of the characters mentions another real life incident: On September 26, 1983, Soviet satellites detected a missile launch from the U.S., which should have prompted an immediate counter-attack from the Soviets. But the officer on duty that night determined it was a false alarm—and he was right: The satellites were fooled by the glint of the sun off some clouds.) The violent imagery and emotional devastation of the movie was so profound that it led Philip to doubt whether or not he should tell his KGB higher-ups about a new weaponized virus he just found out about, fearing what something like it could soon lead to.

10. “WE BEGIN BOMBING IN FIVE MINUTES” // SEASON 5, EPISODE 13

During a routine sound check for a radio speech in August 1984, President Ronald Reagan decided to have a little fun with the technicians by offering up an off-color parody of the speech he was actually set to deliver, saying: “My fellow Americans, I'm pleased to tell you today that I've signed legislation that will outlaw Russia forever. We begin bombing in five minutes.”

Though the joke was only meant to be heard by those in the room, word of it soon leaked, and with an election right around the corner, the gaffe was a disaster for Reagan. In addition to the obvious embarrassment for the country, there were reports of the Soviet Army going on heightened alert after the information got out. The U.S. State Department, however, argued that the Soviets were blowing a mere joke out of proportion for “propaganda purposes.”

News coverage of Reagan’s joke found its way into the season five finale of The Americans, and while it never turns into a big plot point, the pained look on Paige’s face as she watches the coverage perfectly illustrated the real-world anxiety of the country at the time.

11. THE WASHINGTON SUMMIT // SEASON 6

The final season of The Americans throws the main characters right into the midst of 1987’s Washington Summit, a real-world meeting between President Ronald Reagan and Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev that was highlighted by the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty, eliminating short- and medium-range nuclear missiles. The tension during the lead-up to the Summit is woven throughout the season, with Elizabeth working night and day to put plans into motion since Philip has stepped away from the spy game.

All is not well within the Soviet Union by late 1987, though, and Elizabeth is unwittingly used in a clandestine operation devised by internal opponents of Gorbachev who wish to overthrow him. While in Mexico City, she meets up with a General Kovtun who informs her of the Soviet’s “Dead Hand" program, which is a computerized missile system that will automatically unleash the super power’s nuclear arsenal in the event their military leaders are ever wiped out in a first strike by the United States. Not only did the Dead Hand system actually exist during the Cold War, it may still be around today in some form.

"Dead Hand sounds like something made up for a James Bond movie—but that’s probably true of the Cold War in general," series creator Joe Weisberg told Vanity Fair. "If you look at a lot of the crazy things that happened during the Cold War, the more made up they seem, the more true they are."

10 Wireless Chargers Designed to Make Life Easier

La Lucia/Moshi
La Lucia/Moshi

While our smart devices and gadgets are necessary in our everyday life, the worst part is the clumsy collection of cords and chargers that go along with them. Thankfully, there are more streamlined ways to keep your phone, AirPods, Apple Watch, and other electronics powered-up. Check out these 10 wireless chargers that are designed to make your life convenient and connected.

1. Otto Q Wireless Fast Charging Pad; $40

Otto Q Wireless Fast Charging Pad
Moshi

Touted as one of the world's fastest chargers, this wireless model from Moshi is ideal for anyone looking to power-up their phone or AirPods in a hurry. It sports a soft, cushioned design and features a proprietary Q-coil module that allows it to charge through a case as thick as 5mm.

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2. Gotek Wireless Charging Music Station; $57

Gotek Wireless Charging Music Station
Rego Tech

Consolidate your bedside table with this clock, Bluetooth 5.0 speaker, and wireless charger, all in one. It comes with a built-in radio and glossy LED display with three levels of brightness to suit your style.

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3. BentoStack PowerHub 5000; $100 (37 percent off)

BentoStack PowerHub 5000
Function101

This compact Apple accessory organizer will wirelessly charge, port, and store your device accessories in one compact hub. It stacks to look neat and keep you from losing another small piece of equipment.

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4. Porto Q 5K Portable Battery with Built-in Wireless Charger; $85

Porto Q 5K Portable Battery with Built-in Wireless Charger
Moshi

This wireless charger doubles as a portable battery, so when your charge dies, the backup battery will double your device’s life. Your friends will love being able to borrow a charge, too, with the easy, non-slip hook-up.

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5. 4-in-1 Versatile Wireless Charger; $41 (31 percent off)

4-in-1 Versatile Wireless Charger
La Lucia

Put all of those tangled cords to rest with this single, temperature-controlled charging stand that can work on four devices at once. It even has a built-in safeguard to protect against overcharging.

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6. GRAVITIS™ Wireless Car Charger; $20 (31 percent off)

GRAVITIS™ Wireless Car Charger
Origaudio

If you need to charge your phone while also using it as a GPS, this wireless device hooks right into the car’s air vent for safe visibility. Your device will be fully charged within two to three hours, making it perfect for road trips.

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7. Futura X Wireless 15W Fast Charging Pad; $35 (30 percent off)

Futura X Wireless 15W Fast Charging Pad
Bezalel

This incredibly thin, tiny charger is designed for anyone looking to declutter their desk or nightstand. Using a USB-C cord for a power source, this wireless charger features a built-in cooling system and is simple to set up—once plugged in, you just have to rest your phone on top to get it working.

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8. Apple Watch Wireless Charger Keychain; $20 (59 percent off)

Apple Watch Wireless Charger Keychain
Go Gadgets

This Apple Watch charger is all about convenience on the go. Simply attach the charger to your keys or backpack and wrap your Apple Watch around its magnetic center ring. The whole thing is small enough to be easily carried with you wherever you're traveling, whether you're commuting or out on a day trip.

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9. Wireless Charger with 30W Power Delivery & 18W Fast Charger Ports; $55 (38 percent off)

Wireless Charger from TechSmarter
TechSmarter

Fuel up to three devices at once, including a laptop, with this single unit. It can wirelessly charge or hook up to USB and USB-C to consolidate your charging station.

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10. FurniQi Bamboo Wireless Charging Side Table; $150 (24 percent off)

FurniQi Bamboo Wireless Charging Side Table
FoneSalesman

This bamboo table is actually a wireless charger—all you have to do is set your device down on the designated charging spot and you're good to go. Easy to construct and completely discreet, this is a novel way to charge your device while entertaining guests or just enjoying your morning coffee.

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12 Facts About Richard Simmons

Getty
Getty

Richard Simmons was everywhere during the 1980s and 1990s. From talk show appearances to Sweatin' to the Oldies video tapes, Simmons was the world's most memorable exercise advocate ... until he dropped out of sight.

In 2017, Simmons became the subject of the Missing Richard Simmons podcast, which took the central conceit of Serial and dropped it into a group fitness class. The podcast recounted filmmaker Dan Taberski’s attempts to coerce Simmons out of an apparently self-imposed three-year exile, but still left plenty of Simmons lore to pore over. Check out 12 things that may help you better understand the man behind the sequined tank tops, who was born on July 12, 1948.

1. Richard Simmons was almost Father Simmons.

Born in 1948, Simmons was raised in a very religious household in the French Quarter of New Orleans. After graduating from high school, he entered a Dominican seminary in Iowa and stayed for nearly two years before leaving. “It just wasn’t for me,” he said, citing his 240-pound frame that had been engorged on food addiction from an early age and his “loud” persona as being less than fitting for the job. Simmons also tried getting into medicine but found that “dead bodies [and] blood” were unnerving. He also had stints as a cosmetics executive and fashion illustrator before finding his niche in the fitness industry, opening the Anatomy Asylum exercise studio in 1975.

2. An anonymous note led to Richard Simmons's body transformation.

A photo of Richard Simmons
Getty Images

According to a 1981 feature in The New York Times, Simmons was working as a “fat model” in Europe in 1968 when he found a handwritten note stuck to his car. “Fat people die young,” the paper read. “Please don’t die. Anonymous.” Rattled by the message, the then-268-pound Simmons developed an eating disorder, surviving on water and lettuce for more than two months. Eventually, he recovered and developed a new philosophy: "Love yourself, move your body and watch your portions."

3. Richard Simmons appeared in two Federico Fellini movies.

Before Simmons slimmed down, he was enjoying the cuisine of Florence, Italy, where he was studying art in the late 1960s. While there, Simmons nabbed parts in two movies by acclaimed Italian filmmaker Federico Fellini: Satyricon and The Clowns. The footage is apparently the only existing evidence of his former frame: Simmons once said he “burned” all other photos prior to his weight loss.

4. Richard Simmons revolutionized the '80s fitness tape craze.

No video store in the 1980s was complete without a section devoted to fitness. Industry stars like Jake Steinfeld and Tony Little shared shelf space with tapes from Jane Fonda and Arnold Schwarzenegger. In almost all of these releases, perfectly-proportioned motivators and models led viewers through rigorous workout routines. When Simmons started his Sweatin’ to the Oldies series in 1988, he elected to populate his stage with regular people who were still struggling with weight loss. Consumers appreciated that Simmons wasn’t holding them up to a fitness magazine ideal, and the Sweatin’ series went on to sell 25 million copies.

5. Richard Simmons has been known to confront overeaters.

Early in his mission to eliminate excess adipose tissue, Simmons admitted to confronting total strangers over some of their dietary choices. “I’ll see an overweight woman eating a butterscotch sundae,” he told People in 1981, “and I’ll sit at her table and say, ‘What is this?’” When he operated a trendy Los Angeles eatery he called Ruffage in 1975, he’d also sit down with his customers and tell them if they needed to lose weight.

6. Richard Simmons once replaced Alex Trebek.

In 1987, syndicated TV distributor Lorimar attempted to capitalize on the home-shopping craze with ValueTelevision, a one-hour show where viewers could place orders via the telephone for featured products. The series was co-hosted by Jeopardy! star Alex Trebek. When the ratings were less than Lorimar anticipated, they fired Trebek and replaced him with Simmons. Nothing seemed to work, and the show was canceled in June.

7. Richard Simmons used to tour shopping malls.

Beginning in 1979, Simmons appeared on the ABC soap opera General Hospital as a fitness instructor. With the cast, he began making personal appearances at shopping malls: Simmons was so impressed by the number of people he could reach this way that he continued even after leaving the show in the early 1980s. “I travel almost 300 days a year,” he said in 1991. “I do mostly shopping malls, because everyone will come to a shopping mall, no matter what they weigh, no matter their economic structure, no matter what they drive. The malls are the meeting places of America. And so that's where I go."

8. Richard Simmons doesn't like sarcasm.

A photo of Richard Simmons
Getty Images

In 2004, Simmons was at Phoenix’s Sky Harbor Airport when a fellow passenger made a caustic remark about his Sweatin’ to the Oldies series of tapes. According to police, the man spotted Simmons and shouted, “Hey, everybody, it’s Richard Simmons. Let’s drop our bags and rock to the ‘50s.” The heckling was unappreciated by Simmons, who reportedly walked over and slapped the man across the face. According to the Bangor Daily News, police cited him with misdemeanor assault. The case was later settled and dropped.

9. David Letterman gave Richard Simmons an asthma attack.

Simmons was a frequent guest on David Letterman’s late-night talk shows, with Letterman often playing the straight man to the hyper antics of Simmons. In 2000, Simmons took a break from the appearances after Letterman playfully sprayed him with a fire extinguisher, prompting the asthmatic Simmons to have so much trouble breathing that paramedics were called. The normally affable Simmons was so upset by the incident that he refused to appear on the show for six years.

10. Richard Simmons doesn't like restaurants.

Speaking with the Denver Post in 2008, Simmons said that he very rarely visits restaurants owing to the fact that people can’t stop craning their necks to see what the diet guru has ordered. To maintain some semblance of privacy, Simmons typically gets room service while traveling. He also avoids grocery stores, citing concerns that people tend to call him over and ask him to read the ingredients label to see if it’s a healthy option.

11. Richard Simmons called his dogs on the phone.

A photo of Richard Simmons
Getty Images

Describing himself as a “loner” who doesn’t have many friends, Simmons once revealed a strong emotional bond with his three Dalmatians he named after characters in Gone with the Wind. When traveling, Simmons said he would call his house and sing to them over the telephone.

12. Richard Simmons foreshadowed his own exit in 1981.

As his fame and success grew, Simmons became a fixture on television and in print. Speaking to People for a profile in November 1981, the fitness expert said he received 25,000 to 30,000 letters every day and tried to meet as many people who requested his help as possible. “The day I don’t love any of this,” he said, “I’ll walk away.”

This story has been updated for 2020.