Ronald Wilson Reagan (February 6, 1911– June 5, 2004) was the 40th (1981–1989) President of the United States and the 33rd (1967–1975) Governor of California. Reagan was also a broadcaster and television and film actor before entering politics.
Reagan was born in Tampico, Illinois, the second of two sons to John "Jack" Reagan and Nelle Wilson. One of his four great-grandfathers had immigrated to the United States from Ballyporeen, Co. Tipperary, Ireland in the 1860s. Prior to his grandfather's emigration, the family name had been spelled "Regan." On a visit to Ballyporeen in 1984, he was presented with a family tree that showed he was distantly related to both John F. Kennedy and Queen Elizabeth II.[
In 1920, after years of moving from town to town [The family is actually found in the 1920 U.S. Federal Census for Tampico, allegedly the town of Reagan's birth.], the family settled in the Illinois town of Dixon. In 1921, at the age of 10, Reagan was baptized in his mother's Disciples of Christ church in Dixon, and in 1924 he began attending Dixon's Northside High School. Reagan always considered Dixon to be his home-town.
In 1926, at age 15, Reagan took a summer job as a lifeguard in Lowell Park, two miles away from Dixon on the nearby Rock River. He continued to work as a lifeguard on the Rock for the next seven years, reportedly saving 77 people from drowning. Reagan would later joke that none of them ever thanked him.
In 1928, Reagan entered Eureka College in Eureka, Illinois, majoring in economics and sociology, and graduating in 1932. He earned excellent grades and made many lasting friendships. The child of an alcoholic father, Reagan developed an early gift for storytelling and acting. He was a radio announcer of Chicago Cubs baseball games, getting only the bare outlines of the game from a ticker and relying on his imagination and storytelling gifts to flesh out the game. Once in 1934, during the ninth inning of a Cubs-St. Louis Cardinals game, the wire went dead. Reagan smoothly improvised a fictional play-by-play (in which hitters on both teams gained an ability to foul off pitches) until the wire was restored.
Reagan had a successful career in Hollywood as a leading man, aided by his clear voice and athletic physique. His first screen credit was the starring role in the 1937 movie Love is On the Air. An agent signed him to his first contract after saying "I have another Robert Taylor sitting in my office." By the end of 1939, he had appeared in 19 films. In 1940 he played the role of George "The Gipper" Gipp in the film Knute Rockne, All American, from which he acquired the nickname the Gipper, which he retained the rest of his life. Reagan himself considered that his best acting work was in Kings Row (1942). He played the part of a young man whose legs are amputated. He used a line he spoke in this film, "Where's the rest of me?" as the title for his autobiography. Other notable Reagan films include Hellcats of the Navy, This Is the Army, and Bedtime for Bonzo. Reagan was kidded widely about the last named film because his co-star was a chimpanzee. He has a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame at 6374 Hollywood Blvd.
Nancy and Ronald Reagan married in 1952. Nancy became a powerful background figure in Reagan's rise and roles as governor and president.
Reagan was commissioned as a reserve cavalry officer in the U.S. Army in 1935. After the attack on Pearl Harbor he was activated and assigned, partially due to his poor eyesight, to the First Motion Picture Unit in the United States Army Air Force, which made training and education films. He remained in Hollywood for the duration of the war, and he attained the rank of captain. Reagan tried repeatedly to go overseas for combat duty but was turned down because of his astigmatism. He always remained very proud of his military background.
Reagan married actress Jane Wyman in 1940. They had a daughter, Maureen in 1941 and adopted a son, Michael in 1945. Their second daughter, Christine, was born four months prematurely in 1947 and lived only one day. They divorced in 1948 (Reagan was the first president to have been divorced). Reagan remarried in 1952 to actress Nancy Davis at a time when she may have already become pregnant. (Their marriage was on March 4, while daughter Patti was born on October 21 of the same year.) In 1958 they had a second child, Ron.
Reagan was a loving and devoted husband according to all accounts. One of the most touching speeches he ever made as president was a tribute to his wife. He spoke of Franklin Delano Roosevelt and how Eleanor had been his "legs" during his term. He said "I want you to know that Nancy Reagan is my everything...thank you partner, thank you for everything...by the way, are you doing anything tonight?"
At the time of Reagan's death at the age of 93, he was the longest lived President of the United States. As of 2005, Reagan still holds this record, although Gerald Ford (born in 1913) is second.