Former first lady Nancy Reagan has died at the age of 94. The widow of former president Ronald Reagan, to whom she was married 52 years, passed away from congestive heart failure.
The former first lady was an actress when she met her then-actor husband while on the MGM movie lot in 1949. The two, who married in 1952, starred together in the 1957 movie Hellcats of the Navy, the second to last film in which she played a role. Nancy acted in a total of 12 Hollywood movies between 1948, when she had her first walk on role, and 1958. She continued to appear on television shows through 1962.
As the Reagans transitioned from the glitz and glamour of Hollywood to the world of politics, Nancy became known more for her work on serious national issues than her movie roles. She is well known for her efforts in promoting the Just Say No campaign as part of the nation's War on Drugs, but she was also a champion for embryonic stem cell research and shed light on the need for breast cancer research following her diagnosis in 1987.
The former first lady was also known for the style and sophistication that she brought to the White House during her tenure from 1981 to 1989, and was called Queen Nancy for her impeccable taste and attention to detail. Reagan cast a close, protective eye over the appearance of her husband, who passed away from complications of Alzheimer's disease at the age of 93 in 2004, and was a known advisor to the president, with historian Mark Updegrove saying she "was an incredibly important force in driving his political career."
Reagan (nee Davis) had ties to Illinois, having graduated from the Latin School of Chicago in 1939. The former first lady and her husband also founded the Ronald and Nancy Reagan Research Institute, affiliate of the National Alzheimer's Association, in Chicago back in 1995.
Illinois' Republican Party reacted to the news of Reagan's passing via statement Sunday afternoon.
"With grace and charm, Nancy Reagan represented the best of America and captured the spirit of this great country," Chairman of the Illinois Republican Party Tim Schneider said. "She will go down in history as a woman who, alongside her loving husband, helped steer our nation through many difficult days. She will forever be missed. My thoughts and prayers go out to the Reagan family and all those who loved Mrs. Reagan so much."
President Barack Obama and first lady Michelle Obama released the following statement on Reagan's death:
Nancy Reagan once wrote that nothing could prepare you for living in the White House. She was right, of course. But we had a head start, because we were fortunate to benefit from her proud example, and her warm and generous advice.
Our former First Lady redefined the role in her time here. Later, in her long goodbye with President Reagan, she became a voice on behalf of millions of families going through the depleting, aching reality of Alzheimer's, and took on a new role, as advocate, on behalf of treatments that hold the potential and the promise to improve and save lives.
We offer our sincere condolences to their children, Patti, Ron, and Michael, and to their grandchildren. And we remain grateful for Nancy Reagan's life, thankful for her guidance, and prayerful that she and her beloved husband are together again.
Other members of the small club of former presidents and first ladies also responded to the passing of Reagan:
Former president Jimmy Carter:
Rosalynn and I are saddened by the passing of former First Lady Nancy Reagan. She will always be admired for her strength of conviction and her lifelong devotion to her husband. Her "just say no" campaign prevented many young people from falling prey to the allure of drug use; and her advocacy of stem cell research raised public awareness and influenced decision makers about vital research for Alzheimer's disease. We extend our condolences to her family at this difficult time.
Former first lady Barbara Bush:
Nancy Reagan was totally devoted to President Reagan, and we take comfort that they will be reunited once more. George and I send our prayers and condolences to her family.
Former president Bill Clinton:
Hillary and I were deeply saddened to learn of Nancy Reagan's passing.
Nancy was an extraordinary woman: a gracious First Lady, proud mother, and devoted wife to President Reagan--her Ronnie. Her strength of character was legendary, particularly when tested by the attempted assassination of the President, and throughout his battle with Alzheimer's. She leaves a remarkable legacy of good that includes her tireless advocacy for Alzheimer's research and the Foster Grandparent Program.
We join all Americans in extending our prayers and condolences to her beloved children and her entire family during this difficult time.
Former president George W. Bush:
Laura and I are saddened by the loss of former first lady Nancy Reagan. Mrs. Reagan was fiercely loyal to her beloved husband, and that devotion was matched only by her devotion to our country. Her influence on the White House was complete and lasting. During her time as first lady and since, she raised awareness about drug abuse and breast cancer. When we moved into the White House, we benefited from her work to make those historic rooms beautiful. Laura and I are grateful for the life of Nancy Reagan, and we send our condolences to the entire Reagan family.
The 2016 presidential candidates are also sending their condolences on Reagan's passing via social media. Democratic presidential candidate and U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) released a statement on her passing.
"No matter your party or political ideology, this is a sad day for America. Nancy Reagan was an exemplary first lady," Sanders said. "A devoted partner, she was her husband's most trusted advisor and, as such, served our country well. Even after her time in the White House, she was an outspoken advocate for stem-cell research to find a cure for Alzheimer's. Nancy Reagan had a good heart, and she will be dearly missed."
Reagan is survived by her two children with the former president, a daughter, who is known professionally as Patti Davis, and son Ronald, as well as her stepson Michael Reagan and brother Dr. Richard Davis.
UPDATE 1: Susan Ford Bales, daughter of former president Gerald Ford and first lady Betty Ford, issued the following statement on the death of Nancy Reagan:
Nancy Reagan's death leaves a deep sadness in America's heart. I hold dear, as most certainly Dad and Mother did, Mrs. Reagan's many personal kindnesses to us, both publicly and privately. The boundless love she shared with President Reagan is a shining example of devotion in the face of life's struggles, and courage in times of great heartache. She contributed immeasurably to that 'shining city on a hill' to which she and President Reagan served with such grace.