Reagan was 40th President of the United States, regarded as a key figure in the collapse of the Soviet Union and the end of the Cold War.
Reagan was born on 6 February 1911 in Tampico, Illinois. He worked initially in broadcasting and then became an actor, moving to Hollywood in 1937 and appearing in 50 films. Reagan served in the US Army from 1942 to 1945 but, because of poor eyesight, was not eligible for combat. His movie career continued after the war, and he was president of the Screen Actors Guild. He gained a reputation as an anti-Communist, testifying in front of the House of Un-American Activities Committee about actors who had, he believed, Communist ties or sympathies.
By the early 1960s Reagan was closely associated with the Republican Party and in 1966, he won the governorship of California. He was re-elected in 1970. In 1980, he was elected president, serving two four-year terms. Reagan presided over a period of economic growth in the 1980s, and over the beginning of the end of the Soviet Union. In his final year in office, however, he visited Moscow for a summit meeting with the Soviet leader, Mikhail Gorbachev. Reagan's supporters credit Reagan's anti-Soviet rhetoric and increased defence spending as a key factor in bringing the Cold War to an end, because it forced the USSR to recognise it could not compete with the American-led capitalist west.
While Reagan remained a popular president, he never fully recovered his former levels of support following the Iran-contra scandal of 1986 when it was revealed that aides in the National Security Council, based in the White House, were conducting a clandestine foreign policy initiative to provide military aid to the anti-Communist 'contra' Nicaraguan guerrillas - in contravention of congressional law.
Reagan had agreed to resume weapons sales to Iran in exchange for the release of western hostages held by Iranian-backed terrorist groups in Lebanon. Some of the money raised by arms sales was then funnelled into aiding the contras. While Reagan was not directly implicated, the impression that he was not aware of what subordinates were doing tarnished his standing with the public to an extent.
In 1989, Reagan stood down and was succeeded by his vice president, George Bush (senior), for whom Reagan campaigned. In 1994, Reagan announced that he had Alzheimer's disease and died of a related illness on 5 June 2004.
This page is best viewed in an up-to-date web browser with style sheets (CSS) enabled. While you will be able to view the content of this page in your current browser, you will not be able to get the full visual experience. Please consider upgrading your browser software or enabling style sheets (CSS) if you are able to do so.