The Real Man Who Inspired Robert De Niro’s Character In ‘Taxi Driver’
(By William DeLong for All That’s Interesting)
Arthur Bremer just wanted to be famous for something, anything, so long as it got him out of his dull life. In 1972, the 21-year-old was an unemployed busboy from Milwaukee looking for a way out of his station in life. Bremer wanted money, fame, and fortune.
For 10 weeks, Arthur Bremer hatched a plan. He wrote in a diary that he kept in his car, and planned to sell that diary to TIME magazine for $100,000 after he became famous.
His plan was to kill the president of the United States.
In April 1972, Bremer followed President Richard Nixon to Ottawa where he planned to assassinate him. It did not go as planned.
“He passed me six times and he’s still alive!” Bremer wrote in his diary.
“Just another goddam failure,” Bremer wrote in another entry. “I may werewolf now, change to a wild man. I’m tired of writing about what I’ve failed to do. I’m traveling around like a hobo, and nothing has happened.”
Unfortunately for presidential candidate George Wallace, something would happen. Bremer never abandoned his obsession of being somebody, anybody. Wallace was running for the Democratic nomination. As the former segregationist governor of Alabama, he made headlines in 1963 by physically attempting to block National Guard troops escorting two black students to the admissions office of the University of Alabama. Wallace enjoyed widespread support among southern conservatives who resented the progress made by the Civil Rights movement.
Assassination Attempt On George Wallace
Arthur Bremer didn’t care about Civil Rights or segregation so much as making a name for himself. A month after stalking Nixon in Canada, Bremer finally achieved infamy at a shopping center in Laurel, Md. on May 15, 1972 by shooting Wallace five times and wounding three others. Wallace survived, but one of the bullets struck his spine, paralyzing him from the waist down for the rest of his life.
While people initially believed (understandably) that Wallace’s political views were Bremer’s motive, they weren’t. It turned out that Bremer was, for lack of a better word, crazy.
F.B.I. agents found a copy of Bremer’s diary in the trunk of his car following the shooting and used it as evidence against him at trial.
Bremer blamed tight security for his failure to shoot Nixon. “Can’t kill Nixie boy if you can’t get close to him,” he wrote. Less than a month later, he found a target with lighter security.
Bremer promised himself, “This will be among the best read pages since the scrolls in those caves.”
Travis Bickle Channels Arthur Bremer
Arthur Bremer was almost right. Director Martin Scorsese used the pages of Bremer’s diary as the inspiration for Travis Bickle played by Robert De Niro in the 1976 film Taxi Driver. Like Bremer, Bickle was a man without much to do in life besides plot a political assassination.
At his trial, experts labeled Bremer a schizoid. Evidence presented painted an obsessed man who knew was he was doing. On May 9, 1972, six days before the shooting, he signed up to become a volunteer for Wallace’s campaign in Silver Spring, Md.
On May 13, witnesses say they saw Bremer wait outside a campaign stop in Michigan two days before the assassination attempt. Authorities raided Bremer’s apartment and found a book about security problems facing political candidates, a Confederate flag, Black Panther literature, and scraps of paper talking about bigotry and sexual fantasies.
Ultimately Arthur Bremer was sentenced to 53 years in prison for attempted murder. He was paroled after serving 35 years for good behavior in 2007. Since his release, Bremer has lived in obscurity in Cumberland, Md., choosing to keep a low profile.
In 2015, the gun used in the assassination attempt fetched more than $28,000 auction. It seems Bremer’s actions still command the attention and money of some Americans.
At least one other person was inspired by Arthur Bremer, or at least Taxi Driver. Supposedly, would-be presidential assassin John Hinckley became obsessed with Jodie Foster after she appeared in the film. In 1981, Hinckley shot President Ronald Reagan and said he wanted to kill him to impress the young actress. Hinckley was found not guilty by reason of insanity. He was released from psychiatric care in 2016.