Ronald Reagan

— 40th President of the United States —

View full portraits at:
National Portrait Gallery or the White House Presidential Portrait Gallery


ELECTED FROM: California
January 20, 1981 to January 20, 1989

BORN: February 6, 1911
Tampico, Illinois
June 5, 2004 in Bel-Air, California
OCCUPATION: Actor, governor
Jane Wyman, 1940-48; Nancy Davis 1952
Maureen, Michael, Patricia, Ronald

The oldest president in history, Ronald Reagan left office just shy of his 78th birthday. An active life-style gave the appearance that he was a much younger man. Through his presidency, Reagan survived an assassination attempt and three bouts with cancer.

Young Ronald Reagan was a busy youth. At age 14, he took a summer job digging house foundations for 35 cents an hour. When the circus came to town that same year, he worked as a roustabout for 25 cents an hour. From 1926-1933, he worked as a lifeguard and rescued 77 people in all. One man was grateful that Reagan retrieved his dentures from the river bottom and tipped him $10.

Reagan was interested in all types of sports and played football in high school. He was also a basketball cheerleader, president of the student council and booster club, and a member of the debating team and the drama club.

After he graduated from college, Reagan was hired as a sportscaster for a small Iowa radio station. In 1937, a friend arranged for Reagan to take a screen test, and his Hollywood career was born. In some 50 motion pictures, his most notable role was that of dying Notre Dame halfback George Gipp in "The Knute Rockne Story." As president, he was often referred to as "The Gipper."

Reagan dabbled in politics as an actor, but his first elected office was that of governor of California in 1966 with 58 percent of the vote. Reagan stepped down as governor in 1975, and in 1980, he dominated the Republican primaries and was a shoo-in for that party's presidential nomination. Reagan won with a 10 percent margin. Then, in the 1984 election, he defeated Walter Mondale by 18 percent.

In 1981, John W. Hinckley fired six shots at the president. One struck Reagan. It lodged an inch from his heart. Another bullet lodged in the brain of Press Secretary James Brady, and left him paralyzed. Two other security people were also injured. "I forgot to duck," the president joked just prior to surgery. Reagan made a quick recovery and returned to the White House in just 12 days.

Reagan's economic theory, called "Reaganomics," was to cut regulation and give tax breaks to businesses so the flow of money could "trickle down" to the common citizen.

The Reagan years were also touched with acts of terrorism and hostage taking, but the president stood by his policy of not negotiating with terrorists, or at least so it seemed. In 1985, the Reagan administration secretly agreed to sell arms to Iran for use in its war with Iraq. The money raised by these sales was used to illegally fund rebel activity in Nicaragua in defiance of congressional mandates. The president's role in the operation and its coverup was still being debated through the term of his successor and vice president, George Bush.

History will most likely remember Reagan's presidency for his foreign policy efforts. The official White House biography sums it up: "Reagan sought to achieve 'peace through strength.' During his two terms he increased defense spending 35 percent, but sought to improve relations with the Soviet Union. In dramatic meetings with Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev, he negotiated a treaty that would eliminate intermediate-range nuclear missiles." His term as president saw the collapse of the old Soviet Union and the rebirth of Russia as a nation, a return of national pride, and general prosperity.

After retiring from public life to his California ranch, Ronald Reagan announced in a letter he wrote to the public the he was diagnosed with alzheimer's disease. He died on June 5, 2004.

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