Ronald Wilson Reagan, the 40th president of the United States, died on June 5 of pneumonia. He was 93.
Born in Tampico, Ill., Reagan earned a bachelor’s degree in economics and sociology from Eureka College. He moved to Iowa after graduation to become a weekend sportscaster for WOC and WHO Radio. While covering spring training in California for the Chicago Cubs in 1937, Reagan took a screen test at Warner Bros. and landed a seven-year contract.
In his first film, “Love Is on the Air,” he played a radio announcer. This small part sparked a 20-year career in Hollywood. Reagan acted in more than 50 films, including “Kings Row,” “Bedtime for Bonzo” and “Hellcats of the Navy.” In 1940, he married actress Jane Wyman and appeared in the picture “Knute Rockne, All-American.” Playing the part of George Gipp, a legendary Notre Dame running back and Rockne’s protege, Reagan earned the nickname “The Gipper.”
During World War II, the 30-year-old Reagan volunteered for military service. A second lieutenant in the Army, he was eventually barred from combat for poor eyesight. Instead, he oversaw the loading of convoys and narrated flight training films for bomber pilots.
Reagan returned to Hollywood after the war and was elected president of the Screen Actors Guild. He testified as a friendly witness before the House Committee on Un-American Activities in 1947, and became an FBI informant, providing the names of entertainers he said were involved in Communist activities.
Reagan and Wyman divorced in 1949; he remarried three years later to actress Nancy Davis. Nancy and Ron would remain a devoted and glamorous couple for more than half a century.
Reagan changed his political affiliation from Democrat to Republican in 1962, and entered the political arena as the co-chairman of the California Republicans for Barry Goldwater. His 1964 television address for the GOP presidential candidate raised $8 million. With the help of his large network of political and Hollywood connections, Reagan was elected governor of California in 1966 with 51 percent of the vote. He served two terms in office then built a national audience for his political career by broadcasting a popular, syndicated radio show.
At 69, Reagan became the oldest man ever elected president of the United States. Known as “The Great Communicator,” he served two terms in office, from 1981 to 1989, reshaped the Republican Party in his own conservative image, oversaw a period of economic growth and tripled the national debt to $3 trillion.
Reagan’s presidential tenure began with a hostage crisis in Iran and concluded with the collapse of the Soviet Union and the end of the Cold War. He sought to achieve “peace through strength” by increasing defense spending by 35 percent and calling the U.S.S.R. the “evil empire.” He again infuriated the Russians by announcing plans for “Star Wars,” an outer space missile defense system. This animosity cooled, however, when Reagan and Russian leader Mikhail Gorbachev formed a relationship that lead to the signing of the first Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty.
On March 30, 1981, Reagan was nearly assassinated outside a Washington hotel. A drifter named John Hinckley Jr., seeking to prove his love/obsession for actress Jodie Foster, fired six shots at the president. One bullet lodged an inch from Reagan’s heart, but he recovered. The shooting also wounded a police officer, a Secret Service agent and Press Secretary James Brady.
In 1983, Reagan shocked the nation when he ordered U.S. troops to invade Grenada in response to a bloody military coup. In his second term in office, Reagan faced scandal after former aides revealed that he had authorized secret arms sales to Iran while seeking Iranian aid to gain release of American hostages held in Lebanon. He also ordered the funding of rebels fighting in Nicaragua — in violation of a congressional ban. Despite months of Iran-contra hearings, Reagan faced no legal action and left office in 1989 with the highest approval rating of any president since Franklin Delano Roosevelt.
Reagan was named one of Time Magazine’s 100 Most Important People of the Century. He received the Congressional Gold Medal, the highest civilian honor from Congress, and was inducted into the Hall of Great Western Performers of the National Cowboy and Western Heritage Museum. His last years were spent living in seclusion, tended by his wife, as he struggled with Alzheimer’s disease, a condition he revealed to the public in 1994.