Nancy Reagan, the former first lady of the United States, has died at the age of 94, according to TMZ, who learned of the news from a close family friend.
Reagan was born Anne Frances Robbins July 6, 1921, in Manhattan, the daughter of silent film and Broadway actress Edith Luckett and car salesman Kenneth Robbins, who divorced when she was a baby. She was adopted later by her stepfather, Loyal Davis, and her name was legally changed to Nancy Davis. After attending Smith College, she pursued a career in acting.
As a contract player with MGM, Nancy Davis became a well-known actress with roles in films including “Night Into Morning” and “Hellcats of the Navy.” During her time in Hollywood, Davis was involved with actors including Clark Gable and Robert Stack, but the relationship that stuck was with the man who was then president of the Screen Actors Guild, Ronald Reagan. They dated for several years and married in 1952. Her acting career continued for some years after the wedding, including occasional television roles, but by the early 1960s, she had retired.
In 1967, Reagan became first lady of California as her husband was elected governor. As first lady, she became a member of the California Arts Council as well as supporting organizations, including the Foster Grandparents Program and charities devoted to helping veterans and people with disabilities. She served as first lady for her husband’s two terms, from 1967 to 1975.
Though Ronald Reagan lost his first bid for the U.S. presidency in 1976, he won handily in 1980, and he and Nancy moved to Washington, D.C. As the nation’s first lady, she brought glamour to the White House that echoed that of the Kennedy administration, becoming known for her personal style and meticulous decoration and renovation of the White House. Also of key importance to her eight years as first lady was her “Just Say No” campaign against recreational drugs. Focusing on drug education and discouraging young people from drug abuse, Reagan mounted a highly visible campaign, appearing on talk shows, touring the U.S., and even making her pitch on episodes of “Dynasty” and “Diff’rent Strokes.”
While in the White House, Reagan was diagnosed with breast cancer and elected to undergo a mastectomy, in an echo to the diagnosis and action of previous first lady Betty Ford. Just as Ford’s cancer fight helped raise awareness and open a dialogue about the previously hushed disease, so did Reagan’s operation. In the months following her diagnosis and surgery, many U.S. women had mammograms done.
After two terms as first lady, Reagan continued to champion drug abuse prevention, establishing the Nancy Reagan Foundation with the goal of educating people about the dangers of recreational drugs. She also became involved in Alzheimer’s research organizations after her husband was diagnosed with the disease. She advocated for stem cell research and remained active in politics, hosting presidential debates in 2008 and 2012.
Tributes have been coming in for Nancy Reagan. Arnold Schwarzenegger said, “Nancy Reagan was one of my heroes. She served as First Lady with unbelievable power, class and grace and left her mark on the world. She’s with her Ronnie now, but those of us she left behind will miss her dearly.”
Reagan was preceded in death by her husband as well as by her stepdaughter, Maureen Reagan. She is survived by her children, Patti Davis and Ron Reagan, and stepson, Michael Reagan.
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