Nancy Reagan, wife of Ronald Reagan, died on Sunday, March 6 at her home in Los Angeles. The cause of death was congestive heart failure.
Life as a Political Wife
Nancy was a staunch guardian of her husband’s legacy and was a lighting rod for controversy during his political career. Until President Reagan was elected, First Ladies had always been demurely in the background and were presumed to hold little influence over policy decisions. Mrs. Reagan was a key player in the development of Reagan’s political career, guiding his first run for governor of California and advocating for him within the halls of the Republican Party.
In 1976, during Reagan’s failed run for president, Mrs. Reagan took control of the campaign, hiring and firing advisors. Her actions helped make Reagan’s second run for president successful, and he was elected to the presidency for the first time in 1980. Mrs. Reagan took on more responsibilities behind the scenes during Reagan’s second term. After it was disclosed that he has secretly sold arms to Iran, Mrs. Reagan fired White House Chief of Staff Donald T. Regan, who she blamed for the debacle. She later convinced him to make a public apology for what was then-known as the Iran-Contra Scandal, which he did on March 4, 1987.
Rumors later swirled that Mr. Reagan began losing his memory during his time in office. After President Reagan was injured in an assassination attempt in 1981, Mrs. Reagan began frequently consulting with astrologer Joan Quigley for advice on political moves her husband should make. Reagan’s Alzheimer’s diagnosis later moved Mrs. Reagan to become an advocate for stem cell research, spurning the Republican Party’s official opposition to the practice.
Life as a Hollywood Actress
In her pre-Reagan life, Mrs. Reagan was a Hollywood actress, starring in 11 films. She was born in New York City to an actress and a car salesman. Her father abandoned the family shortly after her birth, and Nancy was raised by her step-father, Loyal Davis, who formally adopted Nancy. She graduated from Smith College in 1943 and appeared on Broadway before making her way to Hollywood. Her first role as the lead actress was in the 1950 film “The Next Voice You Hear” (1950). She also appeared in Night Into Morning (1951), where she played a woman who helped convince a struggling war veteran not to commit suicide. Mrs. Reagan believed the movie represented her finest work as an actress.
Life with Ronald
Mrs. Reagan met her husband in the 1940s when he was president of the Screen Actors Guild and she was advocating on behalf of her friend, Mervyn LeRoy, who had been accused of being a communist. She met with Reagan to help plead his case to SAG. After Mrs. Reagan was elected to the SAG Board of Directors, the two started dating. They costarred in Hellcats of the Navy, which would be her final movie. The Reagans had two children together, Patti Davis, and Ron Reagan. President Reagan also had two children from a prior marriage.
Mrs. Reagan was a breast cancer survivor who opened up about her mastectomy in 1987 in order to encourage woman to closely monitor their health. She spent the last ten years of her husband’s life constantly care-taking as he entered a slow and steady decline. Mr. Reagan passed away in 2004.