Reagan, Ronald (Wilson) 1911-2004

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REAGAN, Ronald (Wilson) 1911-2004


See index for CA sketch: Born February 6, 1911, in Tampico, IL; died June 5, 2004, in Los Angeles, CA. Politician, actor, and author. Reagan was a former Hollywood actor who entered politics to eventually become the fortieth president of the United States from 1981 to 1989. A graduate of Eureka College, where he earned a B.A. in 1932, he entered a media career right away. His first job was as a sports announcer for WOC-Radio in Davenport, Iowa, where he also worked as an editor until 1937. He then entered a career as a film actor, appearing in movies and on television from 1937 until the mid-1960s, in such films as Hell's Kitchen (1939), Knute Rockne—All American (1940), and King's Row (1942). Having enlisted in the U.S. cavalry reserve in 1937, Reagan was called to duty in 1942 but was ineligible for active service because he was nearsighted. He was therefore assigned to the Army Air Corps' First Motion Picture Unit, where he made training films and also acted in the 1943 stage musical This Is the Army. Discharged in 1945 with the rank of captain, he returned to acting in Hollywood and joined the United World Federalists union. Reagan originally considered himself a liberal Democrat, but his growing fear of Communism eventually pushed him toward conservative politics, and he even became an informant for the FBI at one time. His acting career, meanwhile, continued, and he appeared in such films as That Hagen Girl (1947), Bedtime for Bonzo (1951), Prisoner of War (1954), and The Killers (1964); he was also host of the television series General Electric Theater in the mid-1950s, and Death Valley Days during the early 1960s. Reagan, who had divorced his first wife, actress Jane Wyman, in 1949, met another actress, Nancy Davis, in 1951, and the two were wed in 1952 in a marriage that would endure until Reagan's death. By the 1950s, Reagan's involvement in union work was growing, and he became president of the Screen Actors Guild in 1952. By the mid-1960s, Reagan had decided to set aside his acting career for politics; the charisma and on-air presence he had learned as an actor proved extremely helpful as he entered an era of politics increasingly influenced by television. After changing parties from Democrat to Republican in 1962, a successful bid for the governorship of California led him to hold that office from 1967 to 1974. While governor, he successfully eliminated the state's budget deficit, supported women's rights to abortion (a position he would later reverse), and doubled the number of state employees. After he left office, he worked as a syndicated columnist and radio broadcaster while slowly attaining his political goals, making unsuccessful presidential bids in 1968 and 1976. In 1980 he defeated incumbent Democrat Jimmy Carter, and launched what would be a remarkable eight years as president of the United States. As president, Reagan is most often noted for his economic policies, known as "Reaganomics," which helped spur the third-longest economic expansion in U.S. history, as well as his tough stance against the USSR. It was Reagan's foreign policies, which placed stringent economic, military, and political pressures on the USSR, that are often credited with helping to bring about the end of the decades-old cold war, the collapse of the Soviet bloc, and the fall of the Berlin Wall. But Reagan's administration also suffered from controversy, such as overseeing large government deficits, his decision to send Marines to Beirut, Lebanon, in 1983, and the Iran-Contra scandal of the mid-1980s in which it became known that the government had sent arms to Iran in exchange for the release of U.S. hostages and for money that was then sent to support the U.S.-backed Contras in Nicaragua. The scandal resulted in the conviction of Marine Colonel Oliver North's conviction on three felony counts, but Reagan remained relatively unscathed. It was Reagan's ability to deflect such political problems, as well as his survival of an assassination attempt, that earned him the reputation as "the Teflon president." Also sometimes referred to as "the Gipper," a nickname that dated back to his role in Knute Rockne—AllAmerican, Reagan remained an exceedingly popular president throughout his tenure. After leaving office to his successor, George H. W. Bush, he retired to his home in California. Sadly, in his final years Reagan's health deteriorated as a result of Alzheimer's disease, but he was well cared for until the end by his devoted wife. Reagan, who had received numerous honors, such as the 1989 Supreme Order of the Chrysanthemum from Japan and the 1993 Presidential Medal of Freedom, was also a prolific author, publishing speeches, collections of quotes, and letters well seasoned by his witty humor, such as "I Hope You're All Republicans!" (1981), Ronal Reagan Talks to America (1982), President Reagan's Quotations: A Collection (1984), Grinning with the Gipper: A Celebration of the Wit, Wisdom, and Wisecracks of Ronald Reagan (1988), and Reagan, in His Own Hand (2001), autobiographies including Where's the Rest of Me? (1965) and An American Life (1990), and political works such as Abortion and the Conscience of the Nation (1984) and Reagan on Cuba (1986).



Los Angeles Times, June 6, 2004, pp. A1, A32-33.

New York Times, June 8, 2004, p. A2; June 10, 2004, p. A2; July 1, 2004, p. A2.

Times (London, England), June 7, 2004, p. 28.

Washington Post, June 6, 2004, p. A1.