Reagan, Ronald W(ilson) (1911–2004)
US actor and Republican statesman who became the fortieth president of the USA (1981–89).
Reagan was born in Tampico, Illinois, the son of a shoe salesman. After his graduation from Eureka College, Illinois, in 1932 he became a radio sports announcer in Des Moines, Iowa, until 1937, when he signed a contract with Warner Brothers and went to Hollywood. During the next twenty-five years he appeared in some fifty films, including King's Row (1941) and The Voice of the Turtle (1948), served two terms as president of the Screen Actors Guild (1947–52; 1959–60), and hosted two television series, General Electric Theatre (1954–62) and Death Valley Days (1962–65).
Having joined the Republican Party in 1962, Reagan made his mark on the political world with his contribution to the campaign of Republican presidential nominee Barry Goldwater (1909–98) in 1964. Three years later he won the governorship of California from Edward G. Brown and was re-elected in 1970 to serve a second term. Although popular with the Californian electorate, he failed to gain the Republican presidential nomination in 1968 and 1976. Finally successful in 1980, he went on to defeat Jimmy Carter in the presidential election and became, at the age of sixty-nine, the oldest-ever president of the USA. On 30 March 1981, less than two months after his inauguration, he survived an assassination attempt.
Reagan had fought his campaign on promises of economic reform: on taking office he immediately put into action deflationary policies aimed at reducing taxes and government spending. In his foreign policy he expressed the need to take a firm stand against the Soviet Union, increasing the defence budget to maintain the position of the USA in the nuclear arms race and to fund the Strategic Defence Initiative, which envisaged a new network of military satellites in space; as a result, the federal deficit continued to grow. Relations with the Soviet Union deteriorated sharply, culminating in the Korean airliner disaster of 1983, in which a Korean passenger aircraft strayed off course and was shot down by Soviet missiles. Later that year, he authorised US intervention in Grenada and approved CIA operations against Nicaragua, provoking opposition from Congress. Despite these problems, Reagan retained his popularity with the American people and entered the 1984 presidential campaign with the wholehearted support of his party. He was re-elected president with the biggest political landslide in US history, winning every state of the USA except Minnesota, the home state of his defeated Democratic opponent, Walter F. Mondale (1928– ).
His second term of office witnessed a dramatic improvement in East–West relations with the signing (with Mikhail Gorbachov) of the Intermediate Nuclear Forces (INF) treaty in 1987 and significant progress in other arms control talks. He also undertook reform of the US tax system and late in his presidency weathered controversy over the covert sale of US arms to Iran, some of the profits of which were secretly diverted to fund the Contras, opponents of the Sandinista government of Nicaragua. He failed, however, to make much impact on the still-worsening federal deficit, which became a problem he bequeathed to his successor, George Bush, who had been his vice-president. In 1994 Reagan announced that he was suffering from Alzheimer's disease.