- April 15 - Greta Garbo, Swedish film star.
- October 14 - Leonard Bernstein, American composer and conductor
- October 16 - Art Blakey, jazz drummer
- February 11 - James "Buster" Douglas KOs Mike Tyson to win world heavyweight boxing crown.
- February 11 - Nelson Mandela is released from Victor Verster prison, near Cape Town, South Africa
- August 2 - Iraq invades Kuwait, eventually leading to the Gulf War
- November 22 - Margaret Thatcher resigns as the Prime Minister of the United Kingdom.
- Jean-Bertrand Aristide is elected president of Haiti, ending three decades of military rule
- West Germany wins Football World Cup in Italy
- Physics - Jerome I. Friedman, Henry W. Kendall, Richard E. Taylor
- Chemistry - Elias James Corey
- Medicine - Joseph E Murray, E Donnall Thomas
- Literature - Octavio Paz
- Peace - Mikhail Sergeyevich Gorbachev
- Economics - Harry Markowitz, Merton Miller, William Sharpe