He went from movie actor to U.S. president—and defined his era
AS AN ACTOR he actually kept his birth name—Ronald Reagan (middle moniker Wilson)—somewhat of a rarity among the many film stars of the 1940s and 1950s who adopted screen names. The man who would become known as the Great Communicator appeared in 53 Hollywood films before entering politics, becoming governor of California in 1967 for two terms. In 1980 the role of a lifetime beckoned, and Reagan won the Republican presidential nomination, going on to sweep past Democratic incumbent Jimmy Carter to enter the White House.
He promised a Reagan Revolution, and it was just that. As president he instituted conservative economic policies to reinvigorate the U.S. economy. He stood up to the Soviet Union—the Evil Empire, in his famous phrase-issuing the challenge: “Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall.” Reagan’s plan for a space-based defence system—Star Wars-was more pipe dream than reality, but the U.S.S.R.’s rush to
keep up with the U.S. was at least one factor in the implosion of the East bloc. There were huge blots on his record—the Iran-Contra scandal, the massive deficit the U.S. was saddled with when he left office in 1989. But when Reagan died last weekend, of pneumonia after a long struggle with Alzheimer’s disease, even former critics acknowledged that he had been true to his beliefs—and that, while he may not have made the U.S. the “shining house on a hill” that he envisioned, it was a sunnier place for his presence.
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