Guyana Tragedy: The Story of Jim Jones

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Guyana Tragedy
Guyana Tragedy movie poster1.jpg
Australian DVD cover
Directed by William A. Graham
Starring Powers Boothe
Ned Beatty
LeVar Burton
Colleen Dewhurst
Randy Quaid
Veronica Cartwright
James Earl Jones
Composer(s) Elmer Bernstein
Country of originUnited States
Original language(s)English
Executive producer(s) Frank Konigsberg
Producer(s) Sam Manners
Ernest Tidyman
CinematographyGil Hubbs
Editor(s) Tony de Zarraga
Aaron Stell
Running time192 minutes
Production company(s) Konigsberg Company
Distributor CBS
Original networkCBS
Original release
  • April 15, 1980 (1980-04-15)

Guyana Tragedy: The Story of Jim Jones, also called The Mad Messiah, [1] is a 1980 television miniseries about the Peoples Temple led by Jim Jones, and their 1978 mass suicide at Jonestown. Based on the book by Charles A. Krause, entitled Guyana Massacre: The Eyewitness Account, the film was originally shown on television on April 15, 1980.



The film draws on Guyana Massacre: The Eyewitness Account and reports from The Washington Post at the time, to describe the life of Jim Jones from a 1960s idealist to the November 1978 mass murder/suicide of members of Peoples Temple in Jonestown, Guyana. [2] In the beginning of the film, Jim Jones is seen helping minorities and working against racism. Later, after a move to San Francisco and increased power and attention, Jones becomes focused on his belief in nuclear holocaust, and moves hundreds of his followers to Guyana. Congressman Leo J. Ryan is notified that some individuals are being held against their will, and after going to investigate, the Guyana tragedy itself is depicted. [3]


Powers Boothe Jim Jones
Ned Beatty Congressman Leo J. Ryan
James Earl Jones Father Divine
Randy Quaid Clayton Richie based on Timothy Stoen
Meg Foster Jean Richie
Linda Haynes Karen Bundy
Brad Dourif David Langtree based on Larry Schacht
LeVar Burton Richard Jefferson
Michael C. Gwynne Larry King
Veronica Cartwright Marceline Jones
Albert Hall Otis Jefferson
Diane Ladd Lynette Jones
Diana Scarwid Sheila Langtree
Colleen Dewhurst Mrs. Myrtle Kennedy
Irene Cara Alice Jefferson
Rosalind Cash Jenny Hammond
Ron O'Neal Col. Robles
Brenda Vaccaro Jane Briggs
Joel Godard John Briggs
Clifton James Barber Charlie Amos
Ed Lauter Jim Jones Sr.


Jones's family members in the movie are based directly on his own family. The characters of Clayton and Jean Richie are based on Timothy and Grace Stoen (he was a primary Temple attorney and Jones's former right-hand man, she a main organizer for the Temple's "Planning Commission"), and David Langtree on Larry Schacht (the sole doctor at Jonestown), though elements of other Temple members are added to each, and details are changed. Many of the other characters are composites of one or more persons.

The character of Larry King has been likened to Larry Layton, a People's Temple member who took part in the assassination of Congressman Leo Ryan. [4]


Though not a documentary in its own right, the film takes the style of a "true life" portrayal of the events. [5] James Earl Jones appears in the film, as spiritual leader Father Divine. The final scenes of the film, with dialog taken from the infamous "Jonestown death tape" (FBI Number Q 042), were produced in a documentary cinematic style, and shot in Puerto Rico and Georgia instead of Guyana. The film was originally broadcast in two parts by CBS Television, on April 15 and 16. [2]

Reception and awards

1980, promotional movie poster Guyana Tragedy movie poster2.jpg
1980, promotional movie poster

A 1980 Time magazine review was mostly positive, but criticized the film for spending too much time on earlier parts of Jones' life, stating: "There really is no point in recounting the minutiae of a madman's life if, after four hours, it is still impossible to understand how Jones became a sex-and-drug-crazed megalomaniac or why his misfit followers so easily accepted his larcenous and sadistic behavior." [6] The Time review went on to also note the way Boothe captured the minutiae of the Jim Jones character, and lamented that the film's writer had not made the role more complex for Boothe to portray. [6]

Actor Powers Boothe, who played the role of Jim Jones, won the 1980 Emmy Award for Outstanding Lead Actor in a Limited Series or a Special for his portrayal in the film. [7] [8] Boothe was the only nominated actor in any category to attend the awards ceremony, since the Screen Actors Guild was boycotting the event during a strike. [9] The film was also nominated for Emmy Awards in three other categories, including Outstanding Achievement in Film Sound Mixing, Outstanding Directing in a Limited Series or a Special, and Outstanding Drama or Comedy Special. The film was also nominated for an Eddie Award, for Best Edited Episode from a Television Mini-Series, by the American Cinema Editors. [10]

Related Research Articles

Peoples Temple defunct new religious movement founded in 1955

The Peoples Temple of the Disciples of Christ, commonly shortened to Peoples Temple, was an American new religious movement founded in 1955 by Jim Jones in Indianapolis, Indiana. Jones used the Peoples Temple to spread a message that combined elements of Christianity with communist and socialist ideology, with an emphasis on racial equality.

Jonestown former community established by the Peoples Temple, known for a mass death event on November 18, 1978

The Peoples Temple Agricultural Project, better known by its informal name "Jonestown", was a remote settlement established by the Peoples Temple, a cult under the leadership of Jim Jones, in northwestern Guyana. It became internationally known when, on November 18, 1978, a total of 918 people died in the settlement, at the nearby airstrip in Port Kaituma, and at a Temple-run building in Georgetown, Guyana's capital city. The name of the settlement became synonymous with the incidents at those locations.

Jim Jones American mass murderer

James Warren Jones was an American civil rights preacher, faith healer and cult leader who conspired with his inner circle to direct a mass suicide and mass murder of his followers in his jungle commune at Jonestown, Guyana. He launched the Peoples Temple in Indiana during the 1950s. Rev. Jones was ordained in 1956 by the Independent Assemblies of God and in 1964 by the Disciples of Christ. He moved his congregation to California in 1965 and gained notoriety with its activities in San Francisco in the 1970s. He then left the United States, bringing many members to a Guyana jungle commune.

Leo Ryan American teacher and politician

Leo Joseph Ryan Jr. was an American teacher and politician. A member of the Democratic Party, he served as the U.S. Representative from California's 11th congressional district from 1973 until his assassination during the Jonestown massacre in 1978.

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Jonestown: The Life and Death of Peoples Temple, is a 2006 documentary film made by Firelight Media, produced and directed by Stanley Nelson. The documentary reveals new footage of the incidents surrounding the Peoples Temple and its leader Jim Jones who led over 900 members of his religious group to a settlement in Guyana called Jonestown, where he orchestrated a mass suicide with poisoned Flavor Aid, in November 1978. It is in the form of a narrative with interviews with former Temple members, Jonestown survivors, and people who knew Jones.

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  5. Yearbook of the Encyclopedia Americana (1981). The Americana Annual: An Encyclopedia of Current Events. Grolier. pp. Page 521.
  6. 1 2 Rich, Frank (April 14, 1980). "Ratings Gambit: GUYANA TRAGEDY: THE STORY OF JIM JONES". Time Magazine . Time Warner.
  7. Lundius, Jan; Mats Lundahl (1999). Peasants and Religion. Routledge. pp. Page 311. ISBN   0-415-17411-2.
  8. Franks, Don (1996). Entertainment Awards: A Music, Cinema, Theatre and Broadcasting Reference, 1928 Through 1993 . McFarland & Co Inc Pub. pp. Page 56.
  9. Trivia for The 32nd Annual Primetime Emmy Awards, Internet Movie Database, Retrieved June 14, 2007.
  10. Awards for Guyana Tragedy: The Story of Jim Jones, Internet Movie Database, Retrieved June 10, 2007.