How the Suicide of R. Budd Dwyer Inspired ‘Hey Man, Nice Shot’
Politician R. Budd Dwyer died by suicide on Jan. 22, 1987, in front of an audience of TV news cameras. Eight years later, the incident would inspire the alt-rock hit “Hey Man, Nice Shot” by Filter.
Dwyer was in hot water prior to his death. He’d held various positions throughout the ‘60s and ‘70s in the Pennsylvania House of Representatives and the Pennsylvania State Senate. In 1981, Dwyer became the state’s treasurer, a position he held for the next five years.
When Pennsylvania discovered state employees had overpaid federal taxes, an outside accounting firm was hired to investigate how much money needed to be redistributed. Computer Technology Associates was awarded the contract, which stipulated that the the California-based company be paid $4.6 million for their work on the project.
Financial discrepancies in the deal resulted in a 1984 investigation. The discovery: Dwyer had accepted a $300,000 bribe from the firm to guarantee the contract would be theirs.
What Was R. Budd Dwyer Convicted Of?
Dwyer was convicted in 1986 of 11 counts of conspiracy, mail fraud, perjury and interstate transportation in aid of racketeering. He was scheduled to be sentenced on Jan. 23, 1987, but called a press conference for the day before.
None of Dwyer’s staff knew what he would discuss that day. Most of the people assembled, including members of the media, assumed he would be announcing his resignation from public office. As the conference started, Dwyer read from pages and pages of prepared materials, consistently declaring his innocence and criticizing the justice system that planned to incarcerate him.
“I face a maximum sentence of 55 years in prison and a $300,000 fine for being innocent. Judge Muir has already told the press that he felt ‘invigorated’ when we were found guilty and that he plans to imprison me as a ‘deterrent’ to other public officials,” Dwyer announced. “But it wouldn't be a deterrent because every public official who knows me knows that I am innocent.
"It wouldn't be legitimate punishment, because I've done nothing wrong," he added. "Since I'm a victim of political persecution. My prison would simply be an American Gulag.”
Watch a 1987 News Report on the Death of R. Budd Dwyer
After more than 30 minutes of speaking, Dwyer began to conclude his speech. Among his foreboding statements: the promise he was “going to die in office” and a suggestion that members of the crowd “leave immediately if you have a weak stomach or mind.”
Dwyer then pulled a Model 19 .357 Magnum revolver out of a manila envelope, shocking those in attendance.
Press Recall 'Out-of-Body Experience'
“To be honest, after what he had just gone through, the thought crossed my mind that he could just turn that gun on the people in the room,” admitted Kenn Marshall, then a reporter for The Patriot-News. “I remember the gun, because it was huge,” fellow reporter Eric Conrad noted. “I had one of those moments where I was up in the air, looking down at myself, almost an out-of-body experience.”
Dwyer didn’t commit violence on the media, but instead on himself. As people pleaded with him to put the gun down, Dwyer placed the barrel in his mouth and pulled the trigger.
The public nature of Dwyer’s suicide spawned conversations and criticisms regarding graphic content in news reports. Some stations aired footage of the incident completely uncensored, while others opted to cut away seconds before the gun was fired.
Dwyer's Death Sparked Richard Patrick
Richard Patrick was 17 at the time of Dwyer’s death, and four years passed before something clicked. By then, Patrick was a touring guitarist with Nine Inch Nails.
“On one stop, there was this little booth that was selling books, and they gave me this weird video tape,” he told Billboard in 2020. “That wasn’t Faces of Death, but it had footage from that press conference.”
Patrick is "from the suburbs" so he didn't "remember seeing a lot of things like that growing up,” he told KLAQ in 2012. “There was no internet to watch death on. ... You can see anything on the internet now. Back then, we were watching it out of fascination of like, 'Wow. We're all gonna die.' There was a morbid curiosity. I was watching it and I was all, 'Hey man, nice shot.'"
Watch the Music Video for 'Hey Man, Nice Shot'
Patrick recorded a demo at Trent Reznor’s house, and at one point considered making it a Nine Inch Nails song. The track was eventually completed and released by Patrick’s band Filter on their debut album Short Bus in 1995.
Though Dwyer was not expressly mentioned in the song, his actions were alluded to in lines like, "Now that the smoke's gone and the air is all clear, those who were right there got a new kind of fear." Patrick was always careful to clarify the lyrics were not a celebration of what happened.
READ MORE: Top 100 '90s Rock Albums
“It's about a guy that kind of made a statement, a final one,” the rocker told MTV in 1995. “The song is not a celebration of suicide. He had the guts to stand up for what he believed. I'm wary about talking about it. I'm worried it's going to turn up in print, and I really don't want the guy's family to have to deal with it. I don't think it would be fair and I certainly wouldn't want us to sell any records at the expense of this guy’s family."
“Hey Man, Nice Shot” reached No. 10 on the alternative chart and No. 76 on the Billboard Hot 100. Its popularity spurred Short Bus to platinum sales.
'Hey Man, Nice Shot' Was Not About Kurt Cobain
Some fans mistakenly believed the track was inspired by the suicide of Kurt Cobain, which Patrick roundly denied.
“For years, I walked around, going, 'Holy fuck! People are getting the wrong idea about this song,’” Patrick told Billboard. “You know, you write a song in your mom and dad’s basement, and all of a sudden, Nirvana fans are like, ‘Why are you talking about this shit,’ and … it was just painful, man.”
Patrick later discussed the song with Dave Grohl and Krist Novoselic, "and I assured them it wasn’t about Kurt,” he added. “I told them I wasn’t trying to profit off of anyone’s death, and that there’s a phenomenon known as suicide and people do it — that I wanted to kind of understand it, and raise the intellectual question of, you know, to be or not to be and that whole thing.
"When Dave and Krist understood that and I could look them both in the eye," Patrick concluded, "that’s when I felt completely OK about it."
Top 100 '90s Rock Albums
Gallery Credit: UCR Staff
What Classic Rockers Said About Grunge