Ronald Reagan (1911-2004) was a former actor (appearing in more than 50 films) and the Republican governor of California governor between 1967 and 1975. He was the 40th US president between 1981 and 1989, becoming a popular two-term president.
Reagan cut down taxes significantly, increased defense spending and negotiated with the Soviets on a nuclear arms reduction agreement. He is also popular for redefining the aim of governance and pressuring the Soviet Union to stop the Cold War. Reagan survived a 1981 assassination attempt but died of Alzheimer’s disease at the age of 93.
Ronald Reagan was the son of Nellie Wilson Reagan and John Edward “Jack” Reagan and was born on February 6, 1911. His father nicknamed him “Dutch.” In his early childhood, Reagan’s family lived in multiple towns before settling in Dixon, Illinois, in 1920.
Reagan graduated from Dixon High School in 1928. He was an athlete, became student body president and performed in school plays. Reagan worked as a lifeguard in Dixon during summer vacations.
His athletic skills won him a scholarship at Eureka College in Illinois, where Reagan majored in sociology and economics. He was employed as a radio sports announcer in Iowa after graduation in 1932.
Hollywood Career and Marriages
Reagan signed a 7-year contract with Warner Bros in 1937. He appeared in over 50 films over the next three decades. In 1940 he married actress Jane Wyman, the same year they met. They had a daughter Maureen and adopted a son Michael. In 1948, the couple divorced. Reagan left the military ranked as a captain after making multiple training films.
Between 1947 and 1952, Reagan was the president of the Screen Actors Guild, where he met actress Nancy Davis and married in 1952. The couple had two children, Patricia Ann and Ronald.
Governorship and Presidential Bid
Reagan stepped into the US national political spotlight in 1964 after giving a well-received televised speech for the Republican presidential candidate Barry Goldwater. In 1966, Reagan won the California governorship by defeating Edmund “Pat” Brown Sr., a Democratic incumbent, by about a million votes. In 1970, Californians re-elected Reagan to a second term.
In 1968 and 1976, Reagan made unsuccessful bids for the Republican presidential nomination. In 1980, he eventually won his party’s nod and defeated the Democrat incumbent, President Carter. He won the Electoral College (489 against 49) and captured almost 51% of the popular vote in that presidential election. At 69, he became the oldest elected US President at that time.
1981 Inauguration and Assassination Attempt
In Reagan’s inaugural speech on January 20, 1981, he announced that “government is not the solution to our problems; government is the problem.” He championed national renewal and hoped that the US would again be “a beacon of hope for those who do not have freedom.”
On March 30, 1981, President Reagan’s assassination attempt was made as he was exiting the Washington Hilton Hotel with his advisers. He was hit by the assassin, John Hinckley Jr., and the bullet had pierced one of Reagan’s lungs and narrowly missed his heart. Reagan was back at work after several weeks of the shooting.
President Reagan implemented tax cuts to stimulate the economy on the domestic front. Reagan also championed an increase in military spending, reduced some social programs, and multiple measures to deregulate businesses.
President Reagan also made history in 1981 when he appointed Judge Sandra Day O’Connor as the first woman to the US Supreme Court.
Reagan dubbed the Soviet Union “the evil empire” as he pressured the Soviet Union to end the Cold War. He embarked on a massive buildup of US weapons and troops. As a president, he also implemented the Reagan Doctrine, offering aid to anti-communist movements in Asia, Latin America and Africa. Reagan also announced the Strategic Defense Initiative in 1983.
Reagan was re-elected as the US President in November 1984 in a landslide, as he defeated the Democrat Walter Mondale, carrying 49 of the 50 US states in the election and receiving 525 of 538 electoral votes. This was the largest number that a US presidential candidate has ever won.
However, Reagan’s involvement in the Iran-Contra affair tarnished his second term.
Later Years and Death
Reagan and Nancy left the White House in January 1989 and returned to their home in Los Angeles, California. Reagan revealed a handwritten letter to the US people that he had recently been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease in November 1994. On June 5, 2004, he died at his LA home at 93. Again at death, Reagan made history by being the longest-lived US president at that time.