Learn more about 1961
1961 (MCMLXI) was a common year starting on Sunday (the link is to a full 1961 calendar).
As MAD Magazine pointed out on its cover for the March issue, this was the first "upside-up" year—i.e., one that looked the same upside down—since 1881, and the last until 6009.
- January 1 - The farthing coin, used since the 13th century, ceases to be legal tender in the United Kingdom.
- January 3 - President Dwight Eisenhower announces that the United States has severed diplomatic and consular relations with Cuba.
- January 3 - At the National Reactor Testing Station in Idaho Falls, Idaho, SL-1, an atomic reactor, explodes, killing 3 military technicians.
- January 5 - Italian sculptor Alfredo Fioravanti marches into the U.S. Consulate in Rome, and confesses that he was part of the team that forged the Etruscan terracotta warriors in the Metropolitan Museum of Art.
- January 7 - Following a 4-day conference in Casablanca, 5 African chiefs of state announce plans for a NATO-type African organization to ensure common defense. The Charter of Casablanca involves Morocco, the United Arab Republic, Ghana, Guinea, and Mali.
- January 8 - In France, a referendum supports Charles de Gaulle's policies in Algeria.
- January 9 - British authorities announce that they have discovered a large Soviet spy ring in London.
- January 17 - President Dwight Eisenhower gives his final State of the Union Address to Congress. In a Farewell Address the same day, he warns of the increasing power of a "military-industrial complex".
- January 17 - Patrice Lumumba is assassinated.
- January 20 - John F. Kennedy becomes the 35th President of the United States.
- January 24 - A U.S. B-52 Stratofortress, with two roughly 2.4 megaton nuclear bombs, crashes near Goldsboro, North Carolina.
- January 24 - Musician Bob Dylan reportedly makes his way to New York City after bumming a ride in Madison, Wisconsin. Dylan is likely on his way to visit his idol Woody Guthrie. He later finds fame in the Greenwich Village protest folk music scene.
- January 25 - In Washington, DC John F. Kennedy delivers the first live presidential news conference. In it, he announces that the Soviet Union has freed the 2 surviving crewmen of a USAF RB-47 reconnaissance plane shot down by Soviet flyers over the Barents Sea July 1, 1960. (see RB-47H shot down)
- January 25 - Acting to halt 'leftist excesses,' a junta comprised of 2 army officers and 4 civilians takes over El Salvador, ousting another junta that had ruled for 3 months.
- January 26 - John F. Kennedy appoints Janet G. Travell to be his physician, the first woman to hold this appointment.
- January 30 - President John F. Kennedy delivers his first State of the Union Address.
- January 31 - Ham, a 37 pound male chimpanzee, is rocketed into space aboard Mercury-Redstone 2, in a test of the Project Mercury capsule, designed to carry United States astronauts into space.
- May 4 - Freedom Riders: 13 black and white students with the Congress of Racial Equality (CORE) leave Washington DC on 2 buses, to test integration laws in bus stations throughout the deep South.
- May 5 - Alan Shepard becomes the first American in space aboard Mercury-Redstone 3.
- May 8 - Briton George Blake is sentenced to 42 years imprisonment for spying.
- May 14 - American civil rights movement: A Freedom Riders bus is fire-bombed near Anniston, Alabama and the civil rights protestors are beaten by an angry mob.
- May 16 - A military coup in South Korea - Park Chung Hee takes over.
- May 19 - Venera program: Venera 1 becomes the first man-made object to fly-by another planet by passing Venus (however, the probe had lost contact with Earth a month earlier and did not send back any data).
- May 21 - American civil rights movement: Alabama Governor John Patterson declares martial law in an attempt to restore order after race riots break out.
- May 24 - American civil rights movement: Freedom Riders are arrested in Jackson, Mississippi for "disturbing the peace" after disembarking from their bus.
- May 25 - Apollo program: President Kennedy announces before a special joint session of Congress his goal to put a man on the Moon before the end of the decade.
- May 27 - Tunku Abdul Rahman, Prime Minister of Malaya, holds a press conference in Singapore, announcing his idea of formation of the Federation of Malaysia, comprising Malaya, Singapore, Sarawak, Brunei and North Borneo(Sabah).
- May 28 - Peter Benenson's article "The Forgotten Prisoners" is published in several internationally read newspapers. This will later be thought of as the founding of the human rights organization Amnesty International.
- May 30 - Rafael Leónidas Trujillo, totalitarian despot of the Dominican Republic since 1930, is killed in an ambush, putting an end to the second longest-running dictatorship in Latin American history.
- May 31 - In France, rebel generals Maurice Challe and Andre Zelelr are sentenced to 15 years in prison.
- May 31 - South Africa officially leaves the Commonwealth of Nations.
- May 31 - President John F. Kennedy and Charles De Gaulle meet in Paris.
- October 1 - Baseball player Roger Maris of the New York Yankees hits his 61st home run in the last game of the season, against the Boston Red Sox, beating the 34-year-old record held by Babe Ruth.
- October 10 - A volcanic eruption on Tristan da Cunha causes the whole population to be evacuated.
- October 12 - The death penalty is abolished in New Zealand.
- October 17 - Paris massacre of 1961: French police attack in Paris about 30,000 protesting a curfew applied solely to Algerians. The official death toll is 3, but human rights groups claim 240 dead.
- October 19 - The Arab League takes over protecting Kuwait; the last British troops leave.
- October 25 - The first edition of Private Eye, the British satirical magazine, is published.
- October 27 - An armistice begins in Katanga, Congo.
- October 27 - Mongolia and Mauritania join the United Nations.
- October 27 - A standoff between Soviet and American tanks in Berlin, Germany heightens Cold War tensions.
- October 29 - RBS Channel 7, the Philippines' third TV station, is launched.
- October 30 - Nuclear testing: The Soviet Union detonates a 58 megaton yield hydrogen bomb known as Tsar Bomba over Novaya Zemlya. It remains the largest ever (man-made) explosion.
- October 31 - Hurricane Hattie devastates Belize City, Belize killing over 270. After the hurricane, the capital moves to the inland city of Belmopan.
- October 31 - Joseph Stalin's body is removed from the Lenin Mausoleum.
- December 1 - Netherlands New Guinea raises the new Morning Star flag and changes its name to West Papua.
- December 2 - Cold War: In a nationally broadcast speech, Cuban leader Fidel Castro declares he is a Marxist-Leninist, and that Cuba will adopt Communism.
- December 5 - U.S. President John F. Kennedy gives support to the Volta Dam project in Ghana.
- December 9 - Tanganyika gains independence and declares itself a republic, with Julius Nyerere as its first President.
- December 9 - The Australian government of Robert Menzies is re-elected for a sixth term.
- December 10 - The Soviet Union severs diplomatic relations with Albania.
- December 11 - The Vietnam War officially begins, as the first American helicopters arrive in Saigon along with 400 U.S. personnel.
- December 11 - Adolf Eichmann is pronounced guilty of crimes against humanity by a panel of 3 Israeli judges.
- December 11 - Nobel Prize: Malvin Calvin is awarded the Nobel Prize for the process of photosynthesis.
- December 15 - An Israeli war crimes tribunal sentences Adolf Eichmann to die for his part in the Jewish holocaust.
- December 17 - India occupies Goa.
- December 19 - Goa is officially ceded to India after 400 years of Portuguese rule.
- December 19 - Sukarno announces that he will take West Irian by force if necessary.
- December 21 - In Congo, Katangan prime minister Moise Tshombe recognizes the Congolese constitution.
- December 23 - Luxembourg's national holiday, the Grand Duke's Official Birthday, is set on June 23 by Grand Ducal decree.
- December 30 - Congolese troops capture Albert Kalonji of South Kasai (who soon escapes).
- December 31 - The Marshall Plan expires, after having distributed more than $12 billion in foreign aid to rebuild Europe.
- December 31 - Ireland's first national television station, Teilifís Éireann (later RTÉ), begins broadcasting.
 Unknown dates
- January 1 - Mark Wingett, British actor
- January 2 - Gabrielle Carteris, American actress
- January 2 - Todd Haynes, American film director
- January 8 - Calvin Smith, American athlete
- January 13 - Julia Louis-Dreyfus, American actress
- January 13 - Suggs, British singer (Madness)
- January 17 - Maia Chiburdanidze, Georgian chess player
- January 18 - Mark Messier, Canadian hockey player
- January 24 - Nastassja Kinski, German-born actress
- January 26 - Wayne Gretzky, Canadian hockey player ("The Great One")
- January 30 - Dexter Scott King, son of Martin Luther King, Jr.
- January 31 - Lloyd Cole, British singer and songwriter
- February 1 - Volker Fried, German field hockey player
- February 3 - Jim Balsillie, Canadian CEO and philanthropist
- February 9 - John Kruk, baseball player and commentator
- February 10 -George Stephanopoulos, American political consultant and commentator
- February 11 -Mary Docter, American speed skater
- February 11- Carey Lowell, American actress
- February 13 -Henry Rollins, American musician
- February 16 -Andy Taylor, British musician (Duran Duran)
- February 25 -Davey Allison, American race car driver (d. 1993)
- March 4 - Ray Mancini, American boxer
- March 4 - Steven Weber, American actor
- March 8 - Camryn Manheim, American actress
- March 10 - Laurel Clark, astronaut (d. 2003)
- March 14 - Gary Dell'Abate, radio producer (The Howard Stern Show)
- March 16 - Brett Kenny, Australian rugby league player
- March 17 - Umayya Abu-Hanna, Palestine-born Finnish writer and politician
- March 21 - Lothar Matthäus, German footballer
- March 23 - Helmi Johannes, Indonesian television newscaster
- March 27 - Tak Matsumoto, Japanese guitarist (B'z)
- March 29 - Gerardo Teissonniere, Puerto Rican pianist
- April 2 - Christopher Meloni, American actor
- April 3 - Eddie Murphy, American actor and comedian
- April 5 - Lisa Zane, American actress
- April 6 - Gene Eugene, Canadian actor and singer (Adam Again)
- April 12 - Lisa Gerrard, Australian musician
- April 18 - Jane Leeves, English actress
- April 20 - Don Mattingly, baseball player
- April 23 - George Lopez, American actor and comedian
- April 27 - Moana Pozzi, Italian porn actress (d. 1994)
- April 30 - Isiah Thomas, American basketball player, coach, and team owner
- May 6 - George Clooney, American actor
- May 12 - Billy (William H) Duffy, English guitarist (The Cult)
- May 13 - Dennis Rodman, American basketball player and actor
- May 14 - Tim Roth, English actor
- May 27 - Peri Gilpin, American actress
- May 29 - Melissa Etheridge, American musician
- May 31 - Justin Madden, Australian footballer and politician
- June 1 - Paul Coffey, Canadian hockey player
- June 2 - Dez Cadena. American musician
- June 3 - Lawrence Lessig, Professor and Free Culture activist
- June 5 - Rosie Kane, member of Scottish Parliament
- June 6 - Tom Araya, Chilean-born musician (Slayer)
- June 9 - Michael J. Fox, Canadian actor
- June 14 - Boy George, British musician and producer
- June 15 - Dave McAuley, Northern Irish boxer
- June 18 - Andrés Galarraga, Venezuelan Major League Baseball player
- June 22 - Stephen Batchelor, British field hockey player
- June 23 - Zoran Janjetov, Serbian comic artist
- June 25 - Ricky Gervais, English comedian
- June 26 - Greg LeMond, American cyclist
- July 1 - Kalpana Chawla, astronaut (d. 2003)
- July 1 - Diana, Princess of Wales (d. 1997)
- July 1 - Carl Lewis, American athlete
- July 12 - Ray Gillen, American singer (d. 1993)
- July 14 - Jackie Earle Haley, American actor
- July 19 - Maria Filatova, Soviet gymnast
- July 19 - Benoît Mariage, Belgian film director
- July 26 - Keiko Matsui, Japanese pianist and composer
- July 30 - Laurence Fishburne, American actor
- August 1 - Steven F. Zambo, film producer, director and screenwriter
- August 3 - Nicholas Harvey, English politician
- August 4 - Barack Obama, US Senator, author
- August 4 - Lauren Tom, American actress
- August 5 - Clayton Rohner, American actor
- August 7 - Yelena Davydova, Soviet gymnast
- August 8 - The Edge, Irish guitarist (U2)
- August 14 - Susan Olsen, American actress
- August 21 - Stephen Hillenburg, animation writer and artist
- August 25 - Billy Ray Cyrus, American singer and actor
- August 29 - Carsten Fischer, German field hockey player
- September 2 - Eric Dickerson, American football player
- September 2 - Carlos Valderrama, Colombian footballer
- September 6 - Paul Waaktaar-Savoy, Norwegian guitarist (a-ha)
- September 6 - Scott Travis, American drummer (Judas Priest)
- September 11 - Elizabeth Daily, American Actress
- September 12 - Mylene Farmer, Canadian singer and songwriter
- September 13 - Dave Mustaine, former Metallica guitarist, frontman of Megadeth
- September 15 - Dan Marino, American football player
- September 18 - James Gandolfini, American actor
- September 22 - Scott Baio, American actor
- September 23 - William C. McCool, US Army Commander and astronaut (d. 2003)
- September 25 - Heather Locklear, American actress
- September 26 - Edward Kennedy Jr, son of U.S. Senator Ted Kennedy
- October 2 - Edmond Yu, Chinese student (d. 1997)
- October 11 - Steve Young, American football player
- October 11 - Amr Diab, Egyptian singer
- October 16 - Randy Vasquez, American Actor
- October 18 - Wynton Marsalis, American trumpeter and composer
- October 18 - Rick Moody, American writer
- October 26 - Dylan McDermott, American actor
- October 29 - Randy Jackson, American musician
- October 31 - Alonzo Babers, American runner
- October 31 - Peter Jackson, New Zealand film director
- October 31 - Larry Mullen, Jr., Irish drummer (U2)
- November 1 - Anne Donovan, American basketball player
- November 2 - k.d. lang, Canadian singer and songwriter
- November 4 - Daron Hagen, American composer
- November 4 - Ralph Macchio, American actor
- November 4 - Nigel Worthington, Northern Irish footballer and football manager
- November 5 - Gina Mastrogiacomo, American actress (d. 2001)
- November 18 - Anthony Warlow, Australian stage performer
- November 19 - Meg Ryan, American actress
- November 20 - Dave Watson, English footballer
- November 22 - Mariel Hemingway, American actress
- November 22 - Randal L. Schwartz, American computer programmer
- December 4 - Frank Reich, American football player
- December 8 - Ann Coulter, American author, political commentator and attorney
- December 12 - Sarah Sutton, British actress
- December 15 - Karin Resetarits, Austrian journalist and politician
- December 16 - Bill Hicks, American comedian (d. 1994)
- December 19 - Matthew Waterhouse, British actor
- December 19 - Eric Allin Cornell, American physicist, Nobel Prize laureate
- December 19 - Reggie White, American football player (d. 2004)
- December 25 - Ingrid Betancourt, Colombian senator
- December 26 - John Lynch, Northern Irish actor
- December 29 - Jim Reid, Scottish musician
- December 30 - Douglas Coupland, Canadian author
- December 30 - Sean Hannity, American talk radio host and conservative commentator
- December 30 - Ben Johnson, Canadian athlete
- January 4 - Erwin Schrödinger, Austrian physicist, Nobel Prize laureate (b. 1887)
- January 9 - Emily Greene Balch, American writer and pacifist, recipient of the Nobel Peace Prize (b. 1867)
- January 10 - Dashiell Hammett, American writer (b. 1894)
- January 21 - Blaise Cendrars, Swiss writer (b. 1887)
- January 24 - Alfred Carlton Gilbert, American swimmer and inventor (b. 1884)
- January 26 - Stan Nichols, English cricketer (b. 1900)
- February 17 - Nita Naldi, American actress (b. 1897)
- February 20 - Percy Grainger, Australian composer (b. 1882)
- February 22 - Nick LaRocca, American jazz musician (b. 1889)
- February 26 - King Mohammed V of Morocco (b. 1909)
- March 3 - Paul Wittgenstein, Austrian-born pianist (b. 1887)
- March 6 - George Formby, British singer, comedian & actor (b. 1904)
- March 8 - Thomas Beecham, English conductor (b. 1879)
- March 8 - Gala Galaction, Romanian writer (b. 1879)
- March 23 - Valentin Bondarenko, Russian Cosmonaut (b. 1937)
- April 6 - Jules Bordet, Belgian immunologist and microbiologist, recipient of the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine (b. 1870)
- April 7 - Vanessa Bell, English artist and interior designer (b. 1879)
- April 9 - Ahmet Zog, King of Albania (b. 1895)
- May 13 - Gary Cooper, American actor (b. 1901)
- May 30 - Rafael Leónidas Trujillo, dictator of the Dominican Republic (b. 1891)
- May 31 - Walter Little, Canadian politician (b. 1877)
- June 2 - George S. Kaufman, American playwright (b. 1889)
- June 6 - Carl Jung, Swiss psychiatrist (b. 1875)
- June 16 - Marcel Junod, Swiss physician (b. 1904)
- June 17 - Jeff Chandler, American actor (b. 1918)
- June 30 - Lee DeForest, American inventor (b. 1873)
- July 1 - Louis-Ferdinand Céline, French writer (b. 1894)
- July 2 - Ernest Hemingway, American writer, Nobel Prize laureate (b. 1899)
- July 6 - Woodall Rodgers, Mayor of Dallas, Texas (b. 1890)
- July 17 - Ty Cobb, baseball player (b. 1886)
- August 20 - Percy Williams Bridgman, American physicist, Nobel Prize laureate (b. 1882)
- September 17 - Adnan Menderes, Turkish prime minister (executed) (b. 1899)
- September 18 - Dag Hammarskjöld, Swedish Secretary General of the United Nations, recipient of the Nobel Peace Prize (b. 1905)
- September 25 - Frank Fay, American actor (b. 1897)
- October 11 - Chico Marx, American comedian (b. 1887)
- October 13 - Maya Deren, Russian-born filmmaker (b. 1917)
- November 1 - Mordecai Ham, American evangelist (b. 1877)
- November 2 - James Thurber, American humorist (b. 1894)
- November 16 - Sam Rayburn, Speaker of the United States House of Representatives (b. 1882)
- December 20 - Moss Hart, American dramatist (b. 1904)
- December 20 - Earle Page, eleventh Prime Minister of Australia (b. 1880)
- December 25 - Otto Loewi, German-born pharmacologist, recipient of the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine (b. 1873)
 Unknown date
 Nobel prizes