Former First Lady Nancy Reagan dies at 94

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Nancy Reagan, Former First Lady, Is Dead at Age 94

Nancy Reagan, the former actress who was fiercely protective of husband Ronald Reagan through a Hollywood career, eight years in the White House, an assassination attempt and her husband's Alzheimer's disease, died on Sunday at age 94, the Reagan library said.

Michael Reagan said on Twitter he was saddened by his stepmother's death. "She is once again with the man she loved," he wrote.

Reagan became one of the most influential first ladies in U.S. history during her Republican husband's presidency from 1981 to 1989.

PHOTOS: Nancy Reagan through the years

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Nancy Reagan through the years
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Former First Lady Nancy Reagan dies at 94

Nancy Reagan attends The Grand Opening of D23 Presents Treasures of The Walt Disney Archives on July 5, 2012 in Simi Valley, California.

Credit: Michael Kovac via Getty Images    

Nancy Reagan is joined by New Jersey Governor Chris Christie and Gayle Wilson (L), wife of former California Gov. Pete Wilson, before Christie delivers remarks during the Perspectives on Leadership Forum at the Reagan Library on September 27, 2011 in Simi Valley, California.

Credit: Kevork Djansezian via Getty Images

Nancy Reagan listens to President Barack Obama speak during a bill signing in the Diplomatic Reception Room of the White House June 2, 2009 in Washington, DC. President Barack Obama signed the ' Ronald Reagan Centennial Commission Act' which is intended to honor the former US President Ronald Reagan on his 100th birthday in 2011. 

Credit: Brendan Smialowski via Getty Images

Nancy Reagan speaks before the unveiling of a statue of her husband, US President Ronald Reagan on June 3, 2009 during ceremonies in the Rotunda on Capitol Hill in Washington, DC. 

Credit: Karen Bleier via Getty Images

Nancy Reagan and designer Oscar de la Renta attend the 22nd Annual Spring Luncheon by The Colleagues at the Beverly Wilshire Hotel on April 12, 2011 in Beverly Hills, California. 

Credit: David Livingston via Getty Images

Nancy Reagan holds the hands of former Soviet dissident and human rights activist Natan Sharansky (L) as she presents him with the 2008 Ronald Reagan Freedom Award during the award gala dinner September 17, 2008 at The Ronald Reagan Building and International Trade Center in Washington, DC. 

Credit: Alex Wong via Getty Images

Former US president George Herbert Walker Bush welcomes former Nancy Reagan before she presented him with the 2007 Ronald Reagan Freedom Award 06 February 2007 during a ceremony in Beverly Hills, California. 

Credit: ROBYN BECK/AFP/Getty Images

Nancy Reagan touches the casket of her husband, former US President Ronald Reagan, during his state funeral on Capitol Hill June 9, 2004 in Washington, DC.

Credit: POOL/AFP/Getty Images

Nancy Reagan attends the opening of 'Art' on January 19, 1999 at the Doolittle Theater in Hollywood, California.

Credit: Ron Galella, Ltd. via Getty Images    

Nancy Reagan arrives at the premiere of 'Peter Pan' at the Chinese Theater on December 13, 2003 in Los Angeles, California. 

Credit: Kevin Winter via Getty Images

US Fashion designer James Galanos joins Nancy Reagan during a ceremony honoring Galanos with the Rodeo Drive Walk of Style Award in Beverly Hills, California, 18 October 2007.

Credit: AFP via Getty Images

Nancy Reagan attends Ronald Reagan Presidential Foundation Gala Honoring Bob Hope on May 29, 1997 at the Beverly Hilton Hotel in Beverly Hills, California. 

Credit: Ron Galella, Ltd. via Getty Images

Nancy Reagan waves after her introduction August 1, 2000 at the Republican National Convention in Philadelphia. 

Credit: Pool photo by Ron Sachs/Newsmakers via Getty

Nancy Reagan attends the gala and dinner to celebrate the opening of "Nancy Reagan: A First Lady's Style" at The Ronald Reagan Presidential Library on November 8, 2007 in Simi Valley, California.

Credit: Lester Cohen via Getty Images

Ronald Reagan and Nancy Reagan attend Carousel of Hope Ball Benefit on October 2, 1992 at the Beverly Hilton Hotel in Beverly Hills, California. 

Credit: Ron Galella, Ltd. via Getty Images

Former U.S. President George Bush Nancy Reagan exchange glances at a ribbon-cutting ceremony for the Air Force One, which was used by former president Ronald Reagan, at the new Air Force One Pavilion at the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library in Simi Valley, California, 21 October 2005.

Credit: ROBYN BECK/AFP/Getty Images

Nancy Reagan attends Spirit of America Awards on December 13, 1990 at the Beverly Wilshire Hotel in Beverly Hills, California. 

Credit: Ron Galella, Ltd. via Getty Images

Nancy Reagan attends the performance of 'Metamorphosis' on March 6, 1989 at the Barrymore Theater in New York City. 

Credit: Ron Galella, Ltd. via Getty Images

Nancy Reagan attends United Cerebral Palsy Foundation Humanitarian Awards on November 5, 1985 at the Waldorf Hotel in New York City. 

Credit: Ron Galella, Ltd. via Getty Images

Former President Ronald Reagan embraces his wife Nancy in this undated photo. The Reagans'' 50th wedding anniversary is March 4, 2002. 

Credit: Paul Harris via Getty Images

Nancy Reagan stands with Mstislav Rostropovich at the gala dinner marking the official opening of the Ronald Reagan building and International Trade Center on May 5, 1998.

Credit: Bill O'Leary/The Washington Post/Getty Images

Nancy Reagan poses with Gary Coleman of "Diff'rent Strokes. Her guest role on the show was during Episode 22, called 'The Reporter', which aired March 19, 1983. 

Credit: NBC via Getty Images

Former British prime minister Margaret Thatcher with former US President Ronald Reagan and Nancy Reagan on December 6, 1990. 

Credit: John Downing via Getty Images

Nancy Reagan attends 75th Anniversary Party for Forbes Magazine on May 11, 1992 at Radio City Music Hall in New York City. 

Credit: Ron Galella, Ltd. via Getty Images

Queen Elizabeth II presents US President Ronald Reagan with an honory Knighthood on June 14, 1989 at Buckingham Palace in London. 

Credit: David Levenson via Getty Images

Michael Jackson and Nancy Reagan at the White House circa 1984 in Washington, DC. 

Credit: Images Press/IMAGES/Getty Images

Queen Elizabeth ll entertains US First Lady Nancy Reagan on the Royal Yacht Britannia on March 4, 1983 in San Francisco, CA. 

Credit: Anwar Hussein via Getty Images

Nancy Reagan attends the premiere party for 'Sweet Charity' on March 28, 1969 at the Sheraton Universal Hotel in Universal City, California. 

Credit: Ron Galella via Getty Images

Nancy Reagan leaves Winfield House (residence of the Ambassador) for St Paul's Cathedral for Prince Charles and Lady Diana's wedding, on July 29, 1981.

Credit: ARCHIVE/AFP/Getty Images

Nancy Reagan during an interview in the White House Library on March 3, 1981 in Washington D.C. 

Credit: NBC NewsWire via Getty Images

Nancy and Ronald Reagan during the presidential campaign of Ronald Reagan In Illinois on October 18, 1980. 

Credit: Daniel SIMON/Gamma-Rapho via Getty Images

Nancy Reagan at home in 1967.  

Credit: John Bulmer/Getty Images

Nancy Reagan with host Johnny Carson on "The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson", which aired May 1, 1972.

Credit: Frank Carroll/NBCU Photo Bank via Getty

Nancy Reagan and Ronald Reagan attend the premiere of 'Sweet Charity' on March 28, 1969 at the Pantages Theater in Hollywood, California. 

Credit: Ron Galella via Getty Images

Former U.S. President Ronald Reagan and First Lady Nancy Reagan share a moment in this undated file photo. The couple celebrated their 50th wedding anniversary on March 4th 2002. 

Credit: Ronald Reagan Presidental Library/Getty Images

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Her husband, who affectionately called her "Mommy" while she called him "Ronnie," died in 2004 after a long struggle with Alzheimer's, the progressive brain disorder that destroys memory.

As Nancy Davis, she was a Hollywood actress during the 1940s and 1950s and married Reagan, a prominent film actor, in 1952. She then served as first lady of California during her husband's stint as California governor from 1967 to 1975 before moving into the White House after his decisive victory over incumbent Democratic President Jimmy Carter in 1980.

Her most publicized project as first lady was the "Just Say No" anti-drug campaign. After her husband developed Alzheimer's disease, she became an advocate for discovering a cure.

She was diminutive and publicly soft spoken but Nancy Reagan's strong will, high-tone tastes and clout with her husband made her a controversial figure during his presidency.

As Reagan's wife, political partner and adviser, she became one of America's most potent first ladies, alongside the likes of Franklin Roosevelt's wife, Eleanor, Woodrow Wilson's wife, Edith, and Bill Clinton's wife, Hillary.

"I see the first lady as another means to keep a president from becoming isolated," she said in 1985. "I talk to people. They tell me things. And if something is about to become a problem, I'm not above calling a staff person and asking about it. I'm a woman who loves her husband and I make no apologies for looking out for his personal and political welfare."

Twitter reacts to Nancy Reagan's death:

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Twitter reacts to Nancy Reagan's death
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Former First Lady Nancy Reagan dies at 94

"Nancy Reagan, the wife of a truly great President, was an amazing woman. She will be missed!"

Credit: @realDonaldTrump (Donald Trump)

"I am saddened by the passing of my step mother Nancy Reagan...She is once again with the man she loved.God Bless... ..."

Credit: @ReaganWorld (Michael Reagan)

"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. (1/2)"

Credit: @Schwarzenegger (Arnold Schwarzenegger)

"With the passing of Nancy Reagan, God and Ronnie have finally welcomed a choice soul home. https://t.co/NjiOBT9xoQ"

Credit: @MittRomney (Mitt Romney)

"My friend Nancy Reagan died aged 94 The end of an era,#Love the 80s"

Credit: @Joancollinsdbe (Joan Collins)

"My first memory of Nancy Reagan was on Different Strokes. The drug episode."

Credit: @marclamonthill (Marc Lamont Hill)

"Nancy Reagan will be remembered for her deep passion for this nation and love for her husband, Ronald. The Reagan family is in our prayers."

Credit: @tedcruz (Ted Cruz)

"RIP Nancy Reagan. With your love once again."

Credit: @RealDeanCain (Dean Cain)

"@TheBeachBoys will dedicate "Their Hearts Were Full of Spring" tonight in loving memory of Nancy Reagan. https://t.co/OohUxRMXP6"

Credit: @JohnStamos (John Stamos)

"I sat near #Nancy Reagan once and felt like a teenager seeing one of my idols. She was a BOSS. #RIPNancy"

Credit: @ElizabethBanks (Elizabeth Banks)

"Nancy Reagan was an exemplary First Lady and woman. She will be missed. My thoughts and prayers are with her loved ones. RIP Mrs. Reagan"

Credit: @RandPaul (Dr. Rand Paul)

"So sorry to hear about the passing of Nancy Reagan. My thoughts and prayers are with her children today. Especially my friend Patti."

Credit: @GilbertforMI (Melissa Gilbert)

"15 years ago on Friday, former First Lady Nancy Reagan christened #USNavy's #USSRonaldReagan (#CVN76) https://t.co/yO64slvz4T"

Credit: @USNavy (U.S. Navy)

"RIP Nancy Reagan. She brought a lot of class and elegance to the White House. #Galanos #ReaganRed #Sinatra #JustSayNo"

Credit: @Andy (Andy Cohen)

"Sad to hear Nancy Reagan passed away. She stood up for us in 1984 when we were banned from playing July 4 D.C. Show. Ended up being great."

Credit: @BrianWilsonLive (Brian Wilson)

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Tiny and frail in her later years, Reagan devoted her time to caring for her ailing husband at their home in Los Angeles' exclusive Bel Air enclave. She was always a stickler for protocol and detail and stoically presided over the former president's weeklong funeral and celebration of his life in June 2004.

'I FORGOT TO DUCK'

One of her most trying times as first lady came when John Hinckley stepped out of a crowd outside a Washington hotel on March 30, 1981, and fired six shots toward the president, striking him in the chest. A .22-caliber bullet punctured his lung and nearly entered his heart.

"Honey, I forgot to duck," he told her at the hospital.

Some critics lambasted Nancy Reagan as a meddlesome "dragon lady," derided her anti-drug campaign and ridiculed her for consulting an astrologer to schedule presidential events.

President Reagan called this view of his wife "despicable fiction," saying in 1987: "The idea that she is involved in governmental decisions and so forth and all of this, and being a kind of dragon lady - there is nothing to that."

The reputation was established during Reagan's time as California governor and followed her to Washington. She was first accused of being a vacuous spendthrift interested chiefly in renovating and buying new china for the White House, lavish entertaining, her designer wardrobe and the like, then portrayed as a cunning manipulator of policy and people.

Advocates of the latter view saw her influence as virtually unlimited in such matters as the dumping of presidential advisers, efforts to get a nuclear arms accord with the Soviet Union and her husband's decision to seek a second term in 1984.

Some Reagan-watchers said reports of Mrs. Reagan's influence were exaggerated and that it was merely the protective concern of a loving wife.

She frequently clashed with President Reagan's chief of staff, Donald Regan, who lambasted her in a 1988 "tell-all" book after he was ousted from the White House during the chaos of the Iran-Contra scandal in 1987. Regan disclosed that she had used astrology to decide the timing of presidential speeches and trips, and even her husband's 1985 cancer surgery.

"Virtually every move and decision the Reagans made during my time as White House chief of staff was cleared in advance by a woman in San Francisco who drew up horoscopes to make certain that the planets were in a favorable alignment for the enterprise," Regan wrote.

James Baker, who served as White House chief of staff during Reagan's first term, took a different view, telling PBS in 2011: "If there was one person who was indispensable to Ronald Reagan's political success, it was Nancy Reagan."

Nancy Reagan acknowledged she had the ear of her husband.

"In most good marriages that I know of, the woman is her husband's closest friend and adviser," she wrote in her 1989 memoir, "My Turn." "... But however the first lady fits in, she has a unique and important role to play in looking after her husband. And it's only natural that she'll let him know what she thinks. I always did that for Ronnie and I always will."

Ronald Reagan was known for penning innumerable letters to his wife. In one, he stated: "I more than love you, I'm not whole without you. You are life itself to me. When you are gone I'm waiting for you to return so I can start living again."

'RONNIE'S LONG JOURNEY'

The former president's Alzheimer's struggle made Mrs. Reagan a campaigner for broader human embryonic stem cell research, a stand that put her at odds with many Republicans.

"Ronnie's long journey has finally taken him to a distant place where I can no longer reach him. Because of this, I'm determined to do whatever I can to save other families from this pain," she said before his death in 2004.

Some critics dismissed her "Just Say No" efforts as simplistic but she became America's most visible anti-drug crusader at a time when the crack cocaine epidemic was raging.

In 1988, she addressed the U.N. General Assembly, saying the United States must do more with tougher law enforcement and anti-drug education efforts and should stop blaming the poor nations that produce most of the narcotics used by Americans.

"We will not get anywhere if we place a heavier burden of action on foreign governments than on America's own mayors, judges and legislators. You see, the cocaine cartel does not begin in Medellin, Colombia. It begins in the streets of New York, Miami, Los Angeles and every American city where crack is bought and sold," she told the General Assembly.

Mrs. Reagan had her left breast surgically removed in October 1987 after a cancerous tumor was discovered.

She was born Anne Frances Robbins into a crumbling marriage in New York on July 6, 1921. Her car-salesman father deserted the family soon after, and her mother, actress Edith Luckett Robbins, resumed her show business career two years later.

In 1929, her mother married Loyal Davis, a neurosurgeon. Nancy came to adore him, even taking his name, and the doctor was believed to have had considerable influence on his eventual son-in-law's shift from Democrat to Republican years later.

After graduation from elite Smith College, she worked as a nurse's aide, then began a stage career in New York. Starting in 1949, she had an eight-year career in films including one - "Hellcats of the Navy" (1957) - co-starring with Ronald Reagan.

She often took supporting roles but had starring roles like one in the 1953 B-movie "Donovan's Brain" about a scientist who kept the brain of a dead millionaire alive in a tank.

Ronald Reagan divorced another actress, Jane Wyman, in 1948. They had a daughter, Maureen, and adopted a son, Michael.

At the time, Ronald Reagan headed the Screen Actors Guild. Davis was stunned when an industry newspaper published a list of communist sympathizers and her name was included (it turned out to be a reference to another actress of the same name). She sought out her future husband for assistance.

During the early years of the Cold War, Hollywood blacklisted - refused to employ - numerous people accused of holding communist views, ruining many careers and lives.

Ronald and Nancy Reagan got married in 1952 and had two children together - Patti Davis, an actress, and Ron Jr., who pursued careers in ballet and television.

(Reporting by Will Dunham in Washington; Additional reporting by Megan Cassella; Editing by Bill Trott, Diane Craft and Jeffrey Benkoe)

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