Fortieth United States president, former movie actor. Born February 6, 1911, in Tampico, Illinois. A 1932 graduate of Eureka College (Illinois), he worked as a sportscaster for several radio stations in the Midwest. Discovered by a Hollywood agent, he was signed by Warner Bros., making his debut in Love is On the Air (1937). Reagan appeared in a total of 52 feature movies, his best roles being in Brother Rat (1938), Dark Victory (1939), and Kings Row (1941). During World War II, he made training films for the Air Force. He served as a spokesman for the General Electric Company from 1952 to 1962, hosting and occasionally acting on the television series, General Electric Theater. From 1962 to 1965 he served as the host of the television series Death Valley Days.
Shifting from his Democratic Party affiliation, Reagan moved into Republican politics and emerged during the 1964 presidential election as a Goldwater Conservative. In 1966, he was elected governor of California; he served two terms, from 1967 to 1975, and carried out a generally conservative agenda. In 1968 and 1976 he failed in bids for the Republican presidential nomination. In 1980, however, Reagan easily beat Jimmy Carter in the election with promises of reducing taxes and government regulation while building up the military. Four years later, he defeated Walter Mondale by a landslide, confirming the success of his first term in office.
In 1981, Reagan was shot and wounded in an assassination attempt by a mentally disturbed man, John Hinckley Jr. While in office from 1981 to 1989, Reagan fulfilled his political and economic promises with varied results, which included a growing national deficit and a shaky financial infrastructure. He signed a Social Security reform bill that aimed at a long-term strengthening of the system, yet his unswerving focus on supply-side economics helped exacerbate the increasing concentration of wealth in the hands of the few. In foreign affairs, he maintained an adversarial approach to the U.S.S.R. and communism everywhere. Many argue that the immense military spending under his administration contributed significantly to the economic collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991. With little interest in or command of the details of government, he appealed to Americans with his genial manner and laissez-faire approach to the country's problems. Meanwhile, members of his administration, with at least his tacit approval, pursued secret and illegal arms-for-hostages deals with Iran, an enemy of the United States. The Reagan administration faced a crisis when these arrangements were revealed. After his vice president and anointed successor, George Bush, was elected in 1988, Reagan departed office still immensely popular, leaving the future to determine the value of his legacy.
In 1994, Reagan revealed that he was suffering from Alzheimer’s disease; his condition has deteriorated to the point that he very rarely makes public appearances. He and his first wife, the actress Jane Wyman, divorced in 1948; they had two children, Maureen and Michael. In 1952, Reagan married another actress, Nancy Davis; their children are Patricia and Ronald Prescott, who goes by Ron.
Nancy Reagan runs the Ronald Reagan Presidential Foundation, a non-profit organization that provides funding for the Ronald Reagan Library and Museum in Simi Valley, California (north of Los Angeles), which opened in 1991. In 1999, Random House published Dutch: A Memoir of Ronald Reagan, an official biography of Reagan, written by Edmund Morris.
Reagan's daughter, Maureen, died in August 2001 at the age of 60, after a long battle with malignant melanoma.
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