Former First Lady and theater and film actress Nancy Reagan passed away earlier today at her home in Los Angeles, at the age of 94. Deadline confirmed the news with her spokesperson, Joanne Drake, who revealed she passed from congestive heart failure. Nancy Reagan will be buried alongside her husband, former U.S. President Ronald Reagan, at the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library and Museum in Simi Valley, California.
Born Anne Frances Robbins on July 6, 1921 in New York City, Nancy Reagan started performing on the East Coast in summer stock productions after graduating from Smith College in 1943. After making her Broadway debut in Lute Song opposite Yul Brynner and Mary Martin, she got a Hollywood screen test, but it has been rumored that director George Cukor said she had no talent, which he passed along to several studio heads. Regardless, she landed roles in the 1949 film East Side, West Side and had roles in The Next Voice You Hear and Night Into Morning.
She met her husband Ronald Reagan while he was president of the Screen Actors Guild, to seek advice about being named in a Communist publication. They both married in 1952, and appeared on the silver screen together in the 1957 movie Hellcats of the Navy, her second-to-last movie before 1958’s Crash Landing. She went on to appear in TV shows such as The Tall Man and her final appearance as an actress in a 1962 episode of Wagon Train. Filmmaker/actor Albert Brooks wanted her to come out of retirement to play his on-screen mom in the 1996 film Mother, but she refused because she couldn’t bear to leave her husband’s side, since he was battling Alzheimer’s Disease. He passed away in June 2004.
During her tenure as First Lady between 1981 and 1989, she became well known for her influence over the President, helping her husband pick his Cabinet members, but she came under fire on several occasions. Her decision to give the White House a makeover, including $200,000 for new china was quite controversial, as was her influence over the decision to fire her husband’s Chief of Staff, Donald Regan. She also spearheaded the “Just Say No” anti-drug campaign throughout the 1980s.
After leaving the White House in 1989, the couple retired to their home in the Bel Air area of Los Angeles. She remained active in politics and spearheaded support for embryonic stem-cell research. The former First Lady is survived by her two children, Patti and Ron. She was recently portrayed on the big screen by Jane Fonda in the 2013 drama Lee Daniels’ the Butler.