Ronald Wilson Reagan, who grew up a shoe salesman's son in northern Illinois, became a movie star in the golden days of Hollywood and emerged as a conservative icon and a two-term president who helped end the Cold War, died Saturday after suffering from Alzheimer's disease for a decade. He was 93.
The oldest man elected to the presidency at age 69, he governed America through most of the 1980s and created a legacy that influences, if not dominates, American conservative politics.
He died at 3 p.m. Chicago time at his home in Los Angeles, with his wife, Nancy, and his children Ron Reagan and Patti Davis at his side, a family spokeswoman said. The cause was pneumonia, complicated by Alzheimer's.
President Bush, in Paris as part of the 60th anniversary celebration of D-Day, called Reagan's death "a sad hour in the life of America." Flags across the country were lowered to half-staff, and crowds observed moments of silence at baseball stadiums and the Belmont Stakes in New York.
A black hearse carried a flag-draped coffin from the Reagan home Saturday afternoon to a Santa Monica mortuary. Initial plans call for Reagan's remains to lie for a day at his presidential library in Simi Valley, then travel by Air Force One to Washington, where he will lie in state in the Capitol rotunda. The funeral is expected at midweek, probably Wednesday.
As president, Reagan presided over the nation with a Midwestern, folksy style, belying his years in Hollywood and his two terms as governor of California.
His political rise reflected an America eager to set aside the national trauma and recriminations that followed the Vietnam War and the crisis of American hostages held in Iran. He encouraged the country to look to the future with unbounded optimism.
Reagan also capitalized on the nation's weariness over domestic social programs that consumed a large share of the federal budget but were perceived by conservatives as failures. Reagan railed against big government and pushed for tax cuts to stimulate the economy. Those views profoundly influenced the Republican Party and are reflected in the policies of President Bush two decades later.
As president, Reagan promoted a free-market economy, worked to scale down welfare and other social programs and oversaw the largest defense buildup in peacetime history.
Reflecting years spent in a close circle of successful and wealthy friends, he believed deeply in a capitalism that benefits business first and then is supposed to expand the economy, create jobs and let prosperity "trickle down" to the poorest members of society.
That approach, often dubbed "Reaganomics," harked back to an aphorism from President John F. Kennedy that "a rising tide lifts all boats." His critics, including George H.W. Bush, a political rival who later became Reagan's vice president and successor in the White House, called it "voodoo economics."
When Bush's son became president in 2001, he pressed for the same "Reaganomics" policies of tax cuts as a means of creating jobs.
In his first inaugural address, Reagan challenged the view that such problems as inflation, energy shortages and international terrorism were beyond solution, and he vowed to help restore America as the land of liberty and plenty.
"We have every right to dream heroic dreams," he said. "Those who say we are in a time when there are no heroes, they just don't know where to look."
Energetic despite his age and health problems, including a bullet wound suffered during an assassination attempt just 70 days after he took office, Reagan led the country through a period of economic growth and withstood a recession in his first term.
But late in his second term, concern over the nation's foreign trade and budget deficits led to panic on Wall Street. On Oct. 19, 1987, the Dow Jones industrial average fell a then-record 508 points.
There also was serious political turbulence. The president became embroiled in what came to be known as the Iran-contra scandal when aides were accused of trading guns and missiles to Iran in exchange for help in gaining the release of several Americans held hostage in Lebanon. The proceeds of those sales were diverted illegally to aid the rebels known as contras, who were fighting Nicaragua's leftist government.
As president Reagan embodied a spirit of conservatism that emerged following the 1970s. While Reagan was a symbol of that conservatism, much to the annoyance of liberal critics, he was also a practical man, willing to compromise on domestic and foreign policy issues, often to the annoyance of his core conservative constituency.
His legacy is long and sometimes contradictory, not unlike aspects of his life. He often promoted "family values," but his own family was not particularly close.
Roots in the New Deal
Reagan, who began his political life with New Deal liberalism and evolved into one of the nation's most ideological conservatives, portrayed himself as a leader of youth and promise despite his age. In his last campaign in 1984, he appealed to patriotic instincts by declaring that it was "morning again in America."
His popularity with the electorate was deep and personal. He was credited with making Americans "feel good" about themselves after Vietnam and the humiliation of the Iran hostage crisis.
Tall, trim and ruggedly handsome, Reagan never lost his silver-screen good looks and engaging, aw-shucks manner. He was witty, charming and nostalgic about America's past.
His sense of humor and timing became American legend.
Once a stand-up comedian in Las Vegas, Reagan even cracked jokes not long after he was shot on March 30, 1981, as he left a speech to labor leaders at the Washington Hilton.
It was the first time since the Kennedy assassination in 1963 that a U.S. chief executive had been shot.
Although he walked into the hospital, he collapsed in the emergency room and lost nearly 4 quarts of blood. Doctors at the time said the president's life never was in danger, but later reports made it clear that Reagan had been in extremely grave condition.
Yet his humor persisted. "Honey, I forgot to duck," he quipped when Nancy Reagan arrived at the hospital.
When he regained consciousness from surgery to remove the bullet lodged behind his lung, Reagan was unable to talk because of tubes in his nose and throat. He indicated to those around his bed that he wanted a paper and pen.
"Am I dead?" he scribbled.
Later the actor emerged. "I'd like to do this scene again--starting at the hospital," he wrote.
Reagan was nicknamed the "Teflon president" because no scandal or policy disaster seemed to stick personally. Rarely did his popularity dip below 50 percent; it often exceeded 70 percent, an extraordinarily high mark.
His avuncular style, combined with an actor's sense of delivery and storytelling, made him a formidable advocate for his administration's programs and policies.
Reagan's set speech was a call for the old-fashioned values of his Midwest boyhood, a revival of the national spirit, strong leadership and lower taxes.
He used television effectively as president and enjoyed a reputation as the "Great Communicator." In his first inaugural address, Reagan spelled out the spirit if not the reality of his message.
"In this present crisis," he said, "government is not the solution to our problem; government is the problem."
The early years
Reagan was born Feb. 6, 1911, in Tampico, Ill., a small town near the Rock River in Whiteside County, the younger of John and Nelle Reagan's two children.
His father, an Irish-American shoe salesman, was a liberal Democrat, and his political views became his son's. The elder Reagan also was an alcoholic, and Reagan said that was why he sometimes poured his drinks into potted plants at cocktail parties and never became much of a social drinker.
When the future president was 2 years old, his father took a clerk's job at Marshall Field & Co. and moved the family to Chicago's South Side. The Reagans lived in a Hyde Park apartment that was lighted by gas jet when they had a quarter to put in a meter down the hall.
Within two years, the family returned to rural Illinois.
Young Ronald grew up in Galesburg, Monmouth, Tampico and finally Dixon, where he played guard on the Northside High School football team, was a member of the yearbook staff and was active in student government. In summer he worked as a $15-a-week lifeguard at Lowell Park on the Rock River.
"In a small town you can't sit on the sidelines and let somebody else do what needs doing," Reagan once said. "You can't coast along on someone else's opinions. That, really, is how I became an activist."
In a 1991 book chronicling the Reagan presidency, journalist Lou Cannon suggested that the rootlessness of Reagan's youth profoundly affected his adult life.
Cannon speculated that the family's frequent moves prevented Reagan from forming close childhood friendships, a phenomenon that made Reagan aloof as an adult and allowed him to dismiss even favored aides without difficulty.
Cannon also suggested that Reagan inherited his softhearted nature and faith in people from his mother. Cannon quoted Nancy Reagan as saying that her mother-in-law, Nelle, never saw evil in anyone, and that she instilled that trait in her son.
Nonetheless, Reagan the politician referred to the Soviet Union as the "evil empire."
During a sound check before a radio speech in August 1984, Reagan said: "My fellow Americans, I am pleased to tell you I have signed legislation to outlaw Russia forever. We begin bombing in five minutes." Intended as a joke, the sound test created an international furor.
Reagan's anti-communist views were well known throughout the Cold War. His presidency coincided with the rise of Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev, who presided over political reforms that eventually hastened the collapse of the Soviet Union.
"Ronald Reagan had a higher claim than any other leader to have won the Cold War for liberty, and he did it without a shot being fired," said former British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher, a close friend.
In June 1987, Reagan stood beside the Berlin Wall and said, "Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall." Two years later Germans on both sides of that divide did the job.
Reagan's enormous personal popularity forced many Democratic rivals to support his policies. Still, his critics painted him as an uncaring leader who directed the nation away from its social conscience and sought to cut back on numerous federal programs to help the poor and disabled.
As president, Reagan appealed to many fundamentalist and evangelical religious voters, but he rarely went to church, nor did he outwardly practice a formal religion.
Though he campaigned as a strict conservative, saying the nation had to return to honest government, many of his appointees were charged with unethical behavior and others were convicted of perjury and fraud.
Criticized by the news media for not making himself available for long discussions, Reagan sometimes answered questions in short sessions usually reserved for photographs.
He also was criticized for restoring and reveling in the pomp and ceremony that had been toned down under the Carter administration, re-creating what often was described as an "imperial presidency."
Toward the end of his presidency, Reagan looked to foreign policy to secure his reputation. He negotiated the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces treaty with the Soviet Union that called for the elimination of intermediate nuclear weapons in Europe and Asia.
With a largely Democratic Congress embracing his budgets, Reagan's policies ended up raising the national debt to then-historic proportions, including a turnaround in the balance of trade that resulted in the U.S. becoming the largest debtor nation in the world.
In late 1986, an obscure Lebanese newspaper with ties to Iran published a report of secret negotiations between Washington and Tehran. The report was published two days later in the U.S., and over the next year details of what became known as the Iran-contra affair gradually surfaced.
Reagan's National Security Council had made secret overtures to Iranian leaders and provided guns and missiles in exchange for help in the release of several American hostages in Lebanon. Iran, which only a few years before had held 52 Americans for 444 days, was fighting a war at the time against Iraq and Saddam Hussein.
It also was revealed that many of the profits from those sales, contrary to U.S. law and the wishes of Congress, were diverted to the U.S.-backed Nicaraguan contra rebels.
The contras were a ragtag lot, many of them holdovers from a previous right-wing dictatorship. Nonetheless, Reagan championed them throughout his presidency, comparing them to America's Founding Fathers and saying, "I'm a contra too."
A low point
In a speech after Iran-contra surfaced, Reagan was not apologetic and tried to explain his philosophy to the nation: "You know, by the time you reach my age, you've made plenty of mistakes, and if you've lived your life properly, so you learn. You put things in perspective. You pull your energies together. You change. You go forward."
The scandal saw Reagan's popularity and political prestige slide to their lowest levels. Yet he did not apologize for the arms sales and often argued that they were in America's national interest.
Several other foreign policy controversies cast long shadows over his terms in the White House.
He entered office partly as a result of President Jimmy Carter's inability to free the American diplomats held hostage in Iran. (They were released in Reagan's first hour as president). But in his last year in office, Reagan still had to face down Tehran as Navy ships escorted oil tankers through the Persian Gulf.
His first major overseas controversy was the deployment of U.S. Marines as the main body of a four-nation peacekeeping force in Beirut after the Israeli invasion of Lebanon in 1982. As the U.S. gradually sided with the ruling Christian-led government, the Marines increasing became a target. In October 1983, a suicide bomber killed 241 Marines and sailors when his truck exploded in front of the troops' barracks.
Days later the U.S. invaded Grenada, a small island-nation in the Caribbean that was allied with Cuba and whose Marxist leader had just been overthrown by a more radical Marxist. The Grenada adventure was considered a success; the Marine force in Lebanon was slowly withdrawn.
Reagan's management style of delegating authority was criticized in the so-called Tower Report that followed the Iran-contra affair. But it had become an issue years before when his staff decided not to awaken the president after U.S. fighter planes shot down two Libyan combat jets during military exercises off the coast of North Africa.
And though Reagan was considered America's most conservative president since Calvin Coolidge, he put aside his 40-year crusade against communism and concluded the INF treaty with the Soviet Union--the first between the two countries that actually resulted in the destruction of nuclear weapons.
Four summit meetings with Gorbachev set in motion intense negotiations to achieve even more sweeping reductions in arms designed to reduce both nations' stockpiles of long-range strategic nuclear weapons.
Dealing with the USSR
Reagan ran for office on a platform that warned of new Soviet aggression in the Third World.
In the early 1980s, he bluntly informed Moscow's leaders that Soviet aggression had replaced human rights as the central concern of U.S. foreign policy, and he set out to re-establish America's military superiority.
In 1981, however, he approved the resumption of arms-control talks with the Soviets and indicated willingness to negotiate in other areas even as he criticized Moscow for such actions as its involvement in the crackdown against dissent in Poland.
There was little progress in U.S.-Soviet relations during his first term, when the Soviet Union faced multiple changes in leadership as Leonid Brezhnev, Yuri Andropov and Konstantin Chernenko died in office.
But the ascension of Gorbachev, then a 54-year-old former agriculture secretary, to the top of the ruling Politburo brought Reagan a Soviet leader with whom he could do business, a reality first brought to Reagan's attention by Britain's Thatcher.
Two summits in 1985 and 1986 ended with little concrete agreement. In fact, the October 1986 meeting with Gorbachev in Reykjavik, Iceland, was widely viewed as having raised tensions, at least in the short term.
Initially, swift progress appeared to be made as the U.S. and the Soviets agreed to broad arms-reduction measures. But at the last moment Gorbachev said he would agree to the cuts only if the U.S. abandoned plans to build the space-based missile defense system known as the Strategic Defense Initiative, sometimes referred to as "Star Wars."
According to an account given later by Nancy Reagan, her husband refused to consider the idea and the meeting's promise instantly collapsed.
"I saw them on TV," Nancy Reagan was quoted as saying in a 1998 interview with Vanity Fair magazine. "I'll never forget that picture of the two of them coming out of the door at Reykjavik. I saw the expression on his [Reagan's] face and I knew everything was not fine. He started to get in the car and Gorbachev said, `Well, I don't know what more I could have done.' Ronnie said, `You could have said yes,' and he got in the car," she recalled.
"Gorbachev found out that you couldn't push Ronnie."
As their relationship grew, Reagan was fond of publicly chiding Gorbachev about the U.S. negotiating strategy by quoting an old proverb in Russian: "Trust, but verify." After one such remark during a formal ceremony, Gorbachev jokingly rebuked the president by telling him that he wished he would stop repeating the saying.
The two leaders met again in Washington in December 1987 to sign the accord to eliminate intermediate-range nuclear missiles in Europe and Asia. They followed that with a summit in Moscow in late May and early June 1988, when texts of the ratified treaty were exchanged. Reagan also used that occasion to promote American interest in human rights.
On domestic affairs, Reagan had a mixed record. He set a strong tone in August 1981 when he fired striking air-traffic controllers. He cut taxes the next year and later led a successful fight to overhaul the federal tax code.
To solve America's economic ills, Reagan proposed hefty tax and budget cuts. He urged Congress to slash the federal budget by $41.4 billion. He also called for an across-the-board cut in income taxes of 30 percent over three years. Congress gave him most but not all of what he wanted.
He also took steps to limit the growth of government. Federal hiring was frozen. Reagan also vowed to eliminate waste and fraud in the bureaucracy, though he never came close to this goal.
While Reagan won a tax cut in his first term, he also found himself presiding over the worst recession in America since the Great Depression of the 1930s as thousands of factory workers lost their jobs.
He began his presidency pledging to balance the federal budget by the end of his first term. Instead his administration incurred record deficits. While his critics called for a shift in economic policy, Reagan insisted his policies would work. He resisted calls for new taxes and kept predicting economic recovery.
By the time of the 1984 campaign, recovery was evident and Reagan--again with George H.W. Bush as vice president--wiped out the Democratic ticket of Walter Mondale and Geraldine Ferraro. Mondale, who campaigned on a commitment to raise taxes, carried only one state--his native Minnesota.
Reagan began his second term determined to make the rewriting of the nation's tax laws the centerpiece of the last chapter of his presidency.
The plan lowered personal tax rates, closed many loopholes and eliminated millions of poor Americans from the tax rolls altogether. After many revisions and a two-year fight on Capitol Hill, the new code became law in 1986.
Though Reagan cultivated a hale and hearty image during his two terms in office--he often chopped wood and rode horses during vacations at his hillside ranch above Santa Barbara, Calif.--his age made his health an issue throughout his presidency.
In July 1985, Reagan went to the Naval hospital at Bethesda, Md., for surgery to remove two cancerous tumors and about 2 feet of intestine. He came through in fine shape.
That fall, and again the next year, Reagan suffered minor outbreaks of skin cancer on his nose. Doctors said it was a common condition among older Americans, and he was given a clean bill of health.
Reagan also underwent surgery in January 1987 to relieve prostate discomfort. After leaving office, he had surgery in 1989 to relieve a buildup in fluid in his skull likely caused by a fall off a horse.
Reagan's journey to the White House was long and in many ways made possible by the communication skills he cultivated during his years as an entertainer.
One of the best speakers in American politics, Reagan came across as a citizen politician, a hero of a Frank Capra movie sprung to life. His voice was strong and vibrant, the punch lines perfectly timed.
Reagan was, certainly, the most accomplished campaigner of the television age. The erstwhile host of TV's "Death Valley Days" was, it seemed, the only professional in a business dominated by amateurs.
His political career essentially was launched in 1964 with a speech for GOP presidential nominee Barry Goldwater.
Mixing strong anti-communist themes and staunch pro-business and free-market ideas, the address was delivered at a $1,000-a-plate fundraiser at the Cocoanut Grove nightclub in Los Angeles.
The speech was so well received that it led to a surge of contributions that ultimately netted the Republican Party more than $1 million. Inspired by the power of the address, a group of Reagan's friends raised money to buy a 30-minute segment on NBC-TV so his remarks could gain a wider audience.
Two years later, in his first political race, Reagan won the California governorship by almost a million votes, defeating incumbent Democratic Gov. Edmund "Pat" Brown.
Reagan remained popular throughout his two terms as governor. When he stepped down in 1975, the respected Field poll indicated that 71 percent of California's voters thought he had done a "good" or "fair" job.
But he always seemed to have one eye on the prize that ultimately was his: the White House.
In 1968 he made his first venture into presidential politics with an unsuccessful 11th-hour challenge to Richard Nixon for the GOP nomination.
In 1975, Reagan turned down President Gerald Ford's offer of either of two Cabinet jobs--the commerce or transportation posts--and decided instead to challenge Ford. It was the most serious intraparty challenge to an incumbent president in a half-century, and in his memoirs Ford blamed Reagan for swinging the 1976 election to Carter.
In 1980, at age 69, Reagan swept the early primaries and eliminated a half-dozen GOP rivals on his way to a first-ballot nomination in Detroit.
In a surprise move, Reagan offered the vice presidential nomination to Ford, who considered it briefly before saying no. Reagan then turned to another one of his rivals for the nomination: Bush, a former congressman from Houston and former director of the Central Intelligence Agency.
Reagan did not set out to be a politician, though he was active in campus politics at Eureka College in central Illinois and led a weeklong student strike that forced the ouster of the college president.
Instead he joined Tau Kappa Epsilon fraternity, played football and starred in the drama club.
In 1932 he graduated with a bachelor's degree in economics and sociology. By his own admission, he had not been a very serious student. On accepting an honorary degree from Eureka in 1957, he quipped, "I always figured the first one you gave me was honorary."
After graduation, Reagan took a sportscasting job for radio station WOC in Davenport, Iowa, doing play-by-play for University of Iowa football games. When the station merged with WHO in Des Moines, Reagan covered Chicago Cubs baseball games from a ticker, competing with broadcasters who actually were at Wrigley Field.
Once the telegraph died with the Cubs' Augie Galan at bat. As Reagan told it, Galan kept fouling off pitch after pitch for six minutes until the ticker started working again.
For five years, Dutch Reagan, as he was known, was one of the most popular radio personalities in the Midwest. Besides the Cubs, he covered Big 10 football, championship fights and track meets.
But his next career move set him on a course that would change his life.
In 1937, while traveling with the Cubs to spring training in Southern California, Reagan took a screen test at Warner Bros. and was signed to a $200-a-week contract. Max Arnow, the casting director at Warner's, described him as the next Robert Taylor.
Over the next 27 years he made 54 motion pictures and, at his peak, earned $3,500 a week. As an actor he was good but not great, a solid performer with more staying power than sexier stars.
His first film was "Love Is on the Air" (1937), in which he played a broadcaster up against the rackets. He appeared with Jane Wyman, who would become his first wife, in "Brother Rat" (1938), a comedy about military cadets, and in "Dark Victory" (1939), a melodrama with Bette Davis and Humphrey Bogart. In "Santa Fe Trail" (1940), he played George Armstrong Custer.
Reagan was thin-skinned about his image as the guy who always lost the girl. In fact, he wooed and won Alexis Smith in "Stallion Road," Priscilla Lane in "Million Dollar Baby," Diana Lynn in "Bedtime for Bonzo," Barbara Stanwyck in "Cattle Queen of Montana" and Nancy Davis, who became his second wife, in "Hellcats of the Navy."
His two most memorable performances were as Notre Dame halfback George Gipp in "Knute Rockne--All American" (1940) and as Drake McHugh, a playboy whose legs were sliced off by the wicked Charles Coburn, in "King's Row" (1942).
Reagan was set to play opposite Ann Sheridan in a World War II melodrama called "Everybody Goes to Rick's." But when Ingrid Bergman suddenly was signed for the female lead, the film moved from "B" status to a definite "A" list position and was was recast, with Reagan losing out to Bogart and the project given a new title: "Casablanca."
During World War II, he served in the Army but was exempted from combat duty because of his poor eyesight. Instead he narrated training films.
After the war his star faded. Among his roles was playing second banana to a chimp in "Bedtime for Bonzo" (1951).
But he got involved with the Screen Actors Guild, becoming its president in 1947 and serving six terms. Reagan fought to keep communists out of Hollywood unions and testified as a friendly witness before the House Un-American Activities Committee's investigation of the film industry.
At the same time, Reagan opposed studio blacklisting of people suspected as communist sympathizers.
In the early postwar years, Reagan was prominent in California Democratic circles. He co-founded California's liberal Americans for Democratic Action in 1948 and campaigned for President Harry Truman.
In 1950 he campaigned for Democrat Helen Gahagan Douglas in her losing Senate race against Nixon. Several times he turned down Democratic invitations to become a candidate.
After years on the big screen, Reagan moved to television in the 1950s. For eight years (1954-62) he was host and occasional star of General Electric Theater, a weekly dramatic series.
As part of his job, Reagan was General Electric's traveling cheerleader. He spoke to 250,000 employees at 135 company plants, always giving the same patriotic speech, once described as "This is God's country if they don't ruin it."
During that period, Reagan moved from liberalism to conservatism. "I converted myself with my own speeches," he said later. In 1960 he barnstormed the nation as a Democrat for Nixon.
Reagan married the former Nancy Davis, who grew up in Chicago, in 1952. They had two children, Patricia and Ronald Prescott Reagan. Reagan had two children, Maureen and Michael, from his marriage to Wyman.
Maureen Reagan died Aug. 8, 2001, after a lengthy battle with melanoma.
Throughout his career, Reagan was seen by some as a political lightweight who borrowed ideas from others and then simply acted them out as president.
But a 2003 book traced the evolution of Reagan's political thinking through letters he wrote over the course of decades. "Reagan: A Life in Letters" revealed him to be a prolific writer. A measure of the Reagan legacy came in 2003 when plans by CBS to televise a dramatization of his White House years titled "The Reagans" created an uproar. Supporters of the former president were angered by what they saw as inaccuracies in the script.
In the end CBS executives decided not to broadcast the program, choosing instead to shift it to the CBS-owned pay-cable channel Showtime.
Reagan always seemed hopelessly in love with his wife of more than half a century, Nancy. He frequently said that her love saved his life, and the two tried never to be apart for any length of time. In 2000, Nancy Reagan published a selection of her husband's correspondence with her. The book was titled "I LOVE YOU, RONNIE: The Letters of Ronald Reagan to Nancy Reagan."
Nancy Reagan's devotion to the man she always called Ronnie became apparent in the last years of his life as he battled the ravages of Alzheimer's.
In a handwritten letter to the American people released in November 1994, Reagan wrote: "Unfortunately, as Alzheimer's disease progresses, the family often bears a heavy burden. I only wish there was some way I could spare Nancy from this painful experience. When the time comes, I am confident that with your help she will face it with faith and courage."
And he gave what came to be a final farewell and salute to the country he loved.
"I now begin the journey that will lead me into the sunset of my life. I know that for America there will always be a bright dawn ahead.
"When the Lord calls me home, whenever that may be, I leave with the greatest love for this country of ours and eternal optimism for its future."
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A life of many roles
Ronald Reagan's public life began on radio and ended in the White House. His ability to connect with the public served him well throughout his acting and political careers, and earned him the nickname "The Great Communicator."
1911 Feb. 6: Ronald Wilson Reagan is born in Tampico, Ill., the second son of Nelle and John Reagan, a shoe salesman. His father once called him a "little bit of a fat Dutchman," providing Reagan with a nickname--Dutch--that would stay with him for life.
1932 Reagan graduates from Eureka College in Illinois, majoring in economics and sociology. The same year he becomes a sports announcer for WOC radio in Davenport, Iowa.
1937 A screen test earns Reagan a movie contract with Warner Bros., and he moves to California. Over the next 27 years he would appear in more than 50 films. Among his best-known roles is that of ailing football player George Gipp in "Knute Rockne--All American," a part that earns Reagan the nickname "The Gipper."
1940 Reagan marries actress Jane Wyman. They have two children, and divorce in 1949.
1942 Reagan is made a lieutenant in the Army Air Force's 1st Motion Picture Unit.
1947 Reagan is elected president of the Screen Actors Guild. He held the post until 1952 and again in 1959-60.
1952 Reagan marries Nancy Davis. They would have two children.
1962 Having supported the presidential bids of Dwight Eisenhower and Richard Nixon, Reagan, a longtime Democrat, officially becomes a Republican.
1964 Oct. 27: Reagan delivers a televised address on behalf of Republican presidential candidate Barry Goldwater, launching Reagan's political career. He is co-chairman of California Republicans for Goldwater.
1966 Reagan beats incumbent Pat Brown to become California's
governor. He pursues budget cuts to deal with deficits, and his
hard line with anti-war protesters makes him unpopular with liberals.
1968 Reagan mounts a brief bid for the presidential nomination.
He later endorses Nixon.
1970 Reagan easily wins a second term as governor.
1976 President Gerald Ford thwarts Reagan's challenge for the Republican presidential nomination.
THE REAGAN REVOLUTION
1980 July: Reagan wins the Republican presidential nomination.
Nov. 4: Amid rampant inflation at home and a hostage crisis in Iran, Reagan wins 51 percent of the popular vote to President Jimmy Carter's 41 percent.
Reagan's conservative platform includes large tax cuts and increased defense spending.
1981 Jan. 20: Reagan becomes the 40th president of the United
States. Two weeks shy of 70, he is the oldest man ever to become president. Iran releases the 52 U.S. hostages on the same day.
March 30: Reagan, his press secretary James Brady and two others are shot outside the Washington Hilton by John W. Hinckley Jr. Reagan is seriously wounded but makes a rapid recovery.
August: Reagan signs into law the largest tax cut in U.S. history, slashing tax rates for individuals and corporations while cutting many domestic programs.
1983 March 8: In a speech before a Florida evangelical group,
Reagan calls the Soviet Union an "evil empire."
March 23: Reagan proposes the Strategic Defense Initiative (SDI), a controversial, high-tech missile-defense system dubbed Star Wars.
Oct. 23: In Beirut, 241 U.S. Marines and sailors are killed by a terrorist truck bomb. Reagan withdraws U.S. troops from Lebanon.
Oct. 25: Reagan orders an invasion of the Caribbean island of Grenada following a leftist coup there.
1984 Nov. 6: Reagan is re-elected, winning 49 states in defeating Walter Mondale.
THE SECOND TERM
1985 Dec. 12: Reagan signs the Gramm-Rudman-Hollings Act, a bill designed to provide a balanced budget by decade's end.
1986 Reports surface that administration members secretly brokered a deal to sell arms to Iran and divert profits to rebels, called contras, fighting Nicaragua's leftist government.
1987 In testimony before the board investigating the Iran-contra scandal, Reagan appears confused and unable to recall key events.
Dec. 8: Reagan and Mikhail Gorbachev sign the Intermediate-
Range Nuclear Forces Treaty, an agreement by the U.S. and Soviet Union to eliminate stocks of land-based missiles.
TERM LATER YEARS
1994 Reagan, 83, discloses that he has Alzheimer's disease. "I now begin the journey that will lead me into the sunset of my life," he writes.
2004 June 5: Reagan dies at his home in Bel-Air, Calif.
Sources: "President Reagan: The Role of a Lifetime" by Lou Cannon, the White House, "The Complete Book of U.S. Presidents" by William A. DeGregorio, Encyclopedia Britannica, Ronald Reagan Presidential Library, PBS, Internet Movie Database.Copyright © 2015, The Baltimore Sun